by Samantha Read, Head Editor, INALJ New Brunswick
Part-time MLIS Studies: The Benefits of Taking it One Course at a Time
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?