The Perils/Possibilities of Attending Library School Online

by Justin de la Cruz

There’s an old adage that you only get as much out of something as you put into it. But what happens when you end up in a class that you really don’t need? Or one that doesn’t hold your attention? Despite my undergraduate experience in a psychology research lab, this semester I chose to take a basic research methods course designed to teach those without a social science background the fundamentals of researching in the field of library studies.

When I found myself in my first few class sessions being introduced to terms like “independent variable” and “causality” — subjects I’d been exposed to a number of times before — I at first let my mind wander, and then eventually took advantage of the online course format by opening up some internet browser tabs. I started checking social media for links to interesting websites, articles, or news bits. I surfed the net, listened to music, played some guitar, and checked into class from time to time to add a brief comment — to pretend like I was there. Only later did I realize that I could be better utilizing my time.

If you should ever find yourself ahead of the curve in one of your classes, try to reign in your goofing off and block out your class time for something that will help with your professional development. Consider:

  • Schoolwork — Check out your upcoming reading or writing assignments for your class and see if there are any you can do while class is being conducted. You’ll have the added benefit of having your instructor and classmates there if you have any questions.
  • Local networking — If you’re ahead of the curve, chances are that some of your classmates are too. It might be hard to figure out who, but try reaching out to your classmates outside of class to see if you can form a discussion group that can serve as a supplement to the class. You might be able to get into more complex issues that will hold your attention, and you’ll gain some peers in the profession.
  • Global networking — If you’re going to mess around on the internet, at least make it relevant. Library studies programs exist to lay out the foundations of the field — self-study and internships are how students begin to develop into professionals with specialties. So read an interesting library science-type blog like ProfHacker; write your own library-related blog post; find and learn how to use an interesting computer tool like Plixr’s Editor or Dropbox; or search out new professional contacts on Twitter or Facebook.

You may feel that since you know the material you’ve earned the time off from class. It’s certainly okay to take a break when you feel that you need it, but remember that when you signed up for this class, you mentally blocked out certain times to devote to studying. Don’t lose all that time that you pledged to yourself.