To co-op or not to co-op?
I can’t say I know any statistics on how many people go through library school with little to no professional or working background in libraries or information science, but I do know that I am one of those people.
I knew when picking schools that the availability of a co-op program was very important to me, because I feel like a lot of employers follow the trend that recent graduates are not valuable (not true, but you can’t argue reality). At least, that was my experience job hunting post-undergrad, and it was not fun. Maybe this isn’t the case for master’s degree holders, but I knew I didn’t want to go through that again.
Sure, my work experience in retail, residence halls, and a dog kennel could be tailored to fit certain positions, but customer service, multi-tasking and attention to detail can only get you so far.
So when I got accepted into a program that included a co-op, and then actually nailed the co-op interview and got my placement, I was ecstatic. I would finally be able to put my skills to the test, gain a better understanding of the information science field, and get some solid work experience under my belt.
I’m working in knowledge management, and as such, I am using databases and HTML and strengthening my communication, information architecture, metadata, and writing skills within a professional environment. It feels different to put something to work instead of just writing a paper or having a class discussion.
I now feel like I can put something on my resume that I can be proud of, and that I can talk about, and I’ll no longer struggle trying to answer questions like, “When did you have to handle a difficult situation in the work place?” or “When did you go above and beyond on a project?” Before, I would have to stretch for answers, now I’m being given opportunities every day to learn new things, grow my skill base, and challenge myself.
I am sure it helps that where I am working has been doing this co-op position for a few years and a handful of my current team did this co-op themselves and ended up working here, so they know how to work with students to make the best of their time. However, I think any of the available co-op positions would have proved useful and valuable.
So now it comes down to the question – should you do a co-op?
As a student, especially if you’ve never worked in the field before, I say absolutely yes. Even if your school does not have a program, find places near you and try to make your own co-op, even if it’s unpaid. Your school will probably work with you. It may add some extra time to your degree, but it would be worth it. As a job seeker, a co-op position could be just as valuable as a contract.
No matter what position you are in, the most important thing I am getting from working here is the network. I am working with fellow librarians who have been all over the field, who are members of SLA, and who know people who know people. I will be leaving here at the end of my term with my foot in door with some great people, and that alone should be enough to show the merits of a co-op.