Part-time MLIS Studies: The Benefits of Taking it One Course at a Time

by Samantha Read, Head Editor, INALJ New Brunswick  

Part-time MLIS Studies: The Benefits of Taking it One Course at a Time

2013Upload 001Figuring it Out

I didn’t figure out what to do for a career until after I had already finished a Master’s program. Now, this may seem contrary to practical common sense. Not for someone like myself, though, with baby boomer parents (who doesn’t have them?) for whom a relatively affordable undergraduate degree sufficed for the launching of a solid career.  Certainly, I knew in high school that I had to go to university. But it seems I hadn’t really managed to think beyond that in any concrete way.

After high school, university was a must for anyone who was going anywhere in life. Oh yes, and I made sure to take the “smart” high school classes and competed with my peers for grades. When I got there, though, I ended up taking classes for the pure pleasure and joy of learning. In my case, that was French Studies and International Relations. Arguably, that’s what your undergrad is for but I’m not sure I agree with that, entirely (especially when you’re left with $20, 000 + debt, or more).

Anyway, one thing lead to another and I got an M.A. in French Studies. After graduating, though, I had no idea what to do with my French. Sure, I was bilingual. But, after months of unemployment I figured I really needed to match it with an actual profession in order to make it all worthwhile. That’s when I chose library school.

Choosing Library School
I thoroughly enjoyed the first year of my M.L.I.S. I met lots of great students, and was happy to discover that many people come to the library / archives / information management field at many points in their careers and lives. However, I literally JUMPED at the opportunity to start working once I started the program. I took the first job that hired me, which happened to be an internship for the local francophone immigration service. That internship, plus a practicum for my M.L.I.S. curriculum, eventually lead to my first year-long contract as Reference Coordinator for Canada’s equivalent of Ellis Island, the Pier 21 Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Did I think twice about slowing down my studies and pursuing full-time, professional work? No, and neither should you. The salary and professional experience are likely enough to twist the arm of even the most studious amongst us. However, having not yet completed my M.L.I.S four years down the road, there are some points to consider if you ever find yourself lucky enough to land meaningful work while continuing to study at library school.

1)  First off, if you switch from full-time study to part-time in Canada and are relying on Student Loans to get you through your studies, you’ll need to consider the financial implications of working, paying for school and beginning to pay down your student loan. All at once. This can seem overwhelming, but the reality is that part-time students, as a disparate and diverse group, have not yet rallied for the same rights and privileges that full-time students receive. Depending on the school you attend, becoming a part-time student may mean that you lose out on health care coverage, a bus pass and access to the university pool.

2)  On the other hand, you’re beginning to get a taste of the professional world. Hopefully you’ll have great managers who will be flexible and understand when end-of-term group projects begin to take over your life. If you get the right manager, they’ll see that any MLIS candidate is fully engrossed in their learning and that means learning on the job, too. However open your manager may seem during an interview, though, I would not shy away from addressing this need for flexibility up front. It is a reality of your situation that cannot go ignored. Hopefully this first professional work experience, however brief it may be, will provide you with a good reference to use at a later point down the road.

3)  Next, you need to consider how your work, school and life might be balanced. You should consider just how many courses you think you can handle per term, what courses might be available to you in alternate delivery formats such as online and evening classes. You should know that although it may take a lot longer, you have the option to drop down to one course per semester. Myself, in the three years that I’ve been a part-time student who also works full-time, I’ve switched back and forth between one and two semesters.

4)   Finally, it is a good idea to look into your school’s policy on transfer courses. I am grateful that my program allows me to take up to four courses at an outside institution. This has come in handy for me as I’ve taken this whole lifestyle a step further in that I’ve moved to another province while working towards the completion of my MLIS. Although some may argue that to gain a “pure” MLIS one should only take courses in the library school curriculum, I disagree. Since attending a new university that does not have a MLIS program, I have had to be creative in my course selection. I’ve found an alternative way to cover some topics addressed in library school. For example, I took a course in the Faculty of Education on Adult Learning last semester, and am now taking a History course in Digital Archiving. The field we are in is such a diverse one, and adding classes from outside the regular curriculum has allowed me to learn with the teachers and historians who may one day be my professional colleagues.

 

Summing It Up

In short, if your life allows it, go for as much professional experience as you can while still in library school. If you land a temporary position, you can always go back to full-time studies, or your connections at the university may allow for another employment opportunity you hadn’t even considered. Many of us in this field have already gained another graduate degree, like myself, and in pursuing part-time LIS study may discover creative ways to combine their skills in multiple areas.

It’s true that those who I started library school with have graduated, two years ago by now. When I meet with any of those people, they find it hard to believe that I haven’t yet finished the program. I myself sometimes wonder if that day will ever come. I do know that some of those who have graduated have not gone on to do anything with their degrees, while I myself am about to start a third professional position in this field. When I finally do graduate, I’ll have three years of professional experience under my belt.

What do you think, though? Should you ward off professional experience until you’ve completed your degree? Or is it better to put off your studies for your career?

 

 

 

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ.com. INALJ has had over 19.5 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 & 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro. She presents whenever she can, most recently thrice at the American Library Association's Annual Conference as well as breakout talk presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa and as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting, at the National Press Club, McGill University, the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has relocated to being nomadic. She runs her husband’s moving labor website, KhanMoving.com, fixes and sells old houses and assists her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food as well. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 

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  11 comments for “Part-time MLIS Studies: The Benefits of Taking it One Course at a Time

  1. Jodi
    February 15, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Jill,
    I have the same concerns about missing opportunities due to work. I’m currently trying to decide whether to enter a part-time weekend MLIS program (a 3 1/2 hour drive from my home) and work full-time too. I really want to throw myself completely into school and the library profession, but finances prohibit it. Will missing all the internships, conferences, networking events, workshops, student groups, etc. put us at a serious disadvantage? I suspect so but hope others will comment. Perhaps starting out slow and finishing big would work?

    • Samantha Read
      February 16, 2014 at 9:37 am

      Hi Jodi

      My experience is a little different from yours, so I got to experience all of those things you think you’d be missing out on during my first year when I was a full-time student.

      I’ve never heard of a weekend MLIS program, interesting. I know there are some on-line opportunities out there, and I’ve taken some courses online but am unsure about how I feel about an entire MLIS program online. You might be disconnected, just as you describe. ..

      Personally, I don’t think missing all the events you described would put you at a serious disadvantage. At this point in my MLIS, the people I’ve started with (and the next group after that) have already graduated. At this point, I think I know one or maybe two people still taking it part-time, like myself. You may feel excluded socially, as I am, but honestly I identify more now as a professional than as a student, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on too much….

      Maybe others would disagree?

      • February 22, 2014 at 12:47 pm

        Jodi, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one worrying about that! And Samantha, thank you for your input. It is nice to hear that it won’t be a disadvantage. I suppose I identify as both a professional and a student, which makes it difficult. I just worry that my resume won’t be as padded with activities and workshops and that I won’t have the chance to network as much because I am not on campus much. For instance, a group in our program is hosting a resume workshop, where professionals come to look at individual resumes and give feedback. Unfortunately, it is during a weekday, so I will not be there. I just worry that I am going to miss out on some crucial advice or help that would have benefited me in a way that the daily work does not. It helps to hear from others experiencing the same issues!

      • February 22, 2014 at 12:48 pm

        Jodi, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one worrying about that! And Samantha, thank you for your input. It is nice to hear that it won’t be a disadvantage. I suppose I identify as both a professional and a student, which makes it difficult. I just worry that my resume won’t be as padded with activities and workshops and that I won’t have the chance to network as much because I am not on campus much. For instance, a group in our program is hosting a resume workshop, where professionals come to look at individual resumes and give feedback. Unfortunately, it is during a weekday, so I will not be there. I just worry that I am going to miss out on some crucial advice or help that would have benefited me in a way that the daily work does not. It helps to hear from others experiencing the same issues!

  2. February 14, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    Good thoughts. I did the PT route while in library school – I took two courses a semester, whereas most of my cohort took three (or more). However, I needed to work to keep costs down. It also led to some great work experience – when the librarian at my law firm went on maternity leave, I offered (and was allowed) to fill in. Work experience FTW! But with work, commuting (I lived an hour away from work and school) and school, I felt like I was on a treadmill. So it has its benefits and drawnbacks.

  3. February 13, 2014 at 10:00 am

    I am currently a part time MLIS student at the University of Pittsburgh’s Pitt Online program. I work full time at a US Government Library and could not take off to move to Pittsburgh to pursue this program fill time. I take two classes a semester and put in 40+ hours a week at work. I have had great support from my supervisors who have allowed me to schedule time off to write papers or drive up to Pittsburgh to attend classes in person. I do feel that the years of experience I have working in the library helped be get through the introductory classes.

    It took me almost 20 years of working at the library in various positions to finally get the courage to take these classes and I am living a dream. In August 2014, I will finish my degree at the age of 50.

    • Samantha Read
      February 16, 2014 at 9:33 am

      Thanks so much, Shawn! You know, it takes so long to figure out what your interests are and what your ideal career is. It sounds like when you graduate, it will really be worth it. Well done, and good luck getting through the final push until August!

  4. February 11, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    Thank you for this post! I am a part-time MLIS student, working full-time in a library setting and commuting to school. I love my job and know that it is giving me as much experience as I gain in school. I feel this whole experience has been the quintessential “well-rounded education.” However, I do find myself worrying about the opportunities I miss due to work: conferences, workshops, networking, and even just fun social nights with colleagues. Do you have any perspective on that? I can’t be the only one who wishes sometimes that my grad school experience was a bit different. Thanks again for highlighting the challenges and benefits of part-time grad school!

  5. Brianna Wolbers
    February 11, 2014 at 11:17 am

    I also left a full-time study program for full-time work. I took 2 yrs off to focus on my job, and then returned to school one class at a time. It took me 6 1/2 yrs to graduate from the day I started a 2 yr program. My pros for doing a degree part-time are I have no debt because I was able to pay for each class while taking it, and I was able to study beyond the assigned coursework because I didn’t have to divide my time between classes. My cons are having to manage a full-time job with school, family, and social obligations, not developing strong relationships with classmates because I didn’t see them in other classes, and that I’ve gotten so far ahead in my other career that accepting one of the library positions I’ve seen would be a huge pay cut.

    This path worked for me because I was fortunate to have a good manager that let me be flexible with my lunch hour so I could attend classes. I think library schools need to adjust to be more accommodating to part-time students. I’m still looking for a position in a library, because it’s a career I love, but I’ve been able to transfer those skills to other careers while waiting for the perfect opportunity.

    • Samantha Read
      February 16, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Hi Brianna

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, really immersing yourself in one course at a time is another benefit of studying part-time. I’m currently taking a history course while working at the archives and man, am I ever living and breathing history right now! Same goes for my other courses, I don’t believe I would have gotten so much out of them had I been swamped with other course material at the same time ;)

  6. Gretchen
    February 10, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    I agree. If you find a great job you love or really like, jump on it now. As someone who is still trying to find library work since graduating in June 2011, I can tell it’s worth it.

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