by Marlena Barber, Head Editor, INALJ Tennessee
When beginning my studies in San Jose State University’s completely online MLIS program, I had no professional library experience. My experiences have been in editing, quality control, restaurant service, and working in television and film production. While all of my work experiences that I have had have led me to where I am today, I read many online articles throughout my program that stated that it is much harder for new graduates to obtain the work they truly desire if they are in an MLIS program and not presently working in the field. I would not let this discourage me to the point of giving up. Tennessee has so many opportunities for the virtual student to gain relevant experience while completing their studies.
Being an online student, I really wanted to meet people in person who were already in the practice. As many of my classes required research papers, I took those opportunities to conduct my research through completing informational interviews with librarians, touring their libraries, and learning about their collections. As a result of one of those informational interviews, I was offered the opportunity to volunteer at an academic library where I presently live.
At SJSU, I learned the principles and rules of cataloging and how to use cataloging tools, but I was entering the metadata for course assignments into word processing software. I was over the moon to be offered an opportunity to be able to use the library’s ILS and update records in their OPAC and in OCLC. I gained wonderful experience while volunteering at the library and in their archives. This experience helped me to reaffirm my decision that I was on exactly the right path as a future librarian.
As part of my volunteer experience, I was invited by the library director to attend a local one-day library conference where I met many other librarians in the practice. That was a wonderful opportunity to meet professionals in the field. My volunteer experience led to my fall internship as a cataloger for a library services firm. I continue to contract work with that firm since completing my MLIS degree. And, I have just accepted an opportunity to begin work soon as a librarian at a medical library at a university. I am thankful for every opportunity that has led me to this moment, and I believe great opportunities will come to each of you as well. Being a virtual student didn’t close doors for me, but it opened up the possibilities to learn more about the field through serving at a library near my home.
I cannot recommend volunteering enough to other MLIS students who are in virtual programs when you do not yet have specific library experience or when you want to learn more about your area of interest. No matter where you are, there are volunteer opportunities abound. Check out the volunteer opportunities in Tennessee that are listed as part of my resources if you live in or around the area. Many of the companies listed in the Websites for Jobs section have specific volunteer opportunities listed on their websites at the links provided on the INALJ-TN page. If you’re not in Tennessee, I want to welcome you to check the site out anyway to get ideas for places where you live.
As a final word on volunteering, I have had people share with me from time to time that they do not have time to volunteer. The commitment you make to volunteer is up to you and the organization. You don’t have to volunteer 40 hours a week. Companies definitely understand that as we all have financial and personal responsibilities to uphold. Make a schedule that you know that you can commit to, and enjoy the time you have at your site learning from the professionals in the field. I believe that the renewed joy that comes with being inside a library around the professionals in the business made completing my other responsibilities that much easier as I was so happy to be in the field, even as a volunteer. I hope you find a great opportunity to volunteer as well. I wish each of you reading a wonderful career as a librarian.