MLSing the Good Old Days– A Retrospective on the Degrees

by Alphild Dick, Head Editor, INALJ Washington

MLSing the Good Old Days– A Retrospective on the Degrees

alphild-dickIt was with no small amount of relief that a year ago this month I wrapped up my final year of graduate school and started working. It was the end of five years of graduate education, having (ridiculously) subjected myself to two MA degrees. But even for those with a more moderate approach to education, an MLS program can be a beast–group work, your regular job(s), practica and internships, and special projects with totally unreasonable deadlines. Oh, and plus there is the other thing that you call a “life” that doesn’t tend to patiently wait for you to take care of all this other stuff.

I’ll admit it. The lack of schoolwork during the last year has been glorious. I remembered what it was like to read for fun, nap, and have conversations with people that didn’t revolve around some sort of theory or another. Yet as my other MLS-school friends finish up their degrees this month, I’ve been feeling nostalgic, reflective, thinking about the multitude the things that I learned during my program, both within and without of my program’s curriculum. Although school was aggravating, stressful, and sometimes awful, it undoubtedly helps me be a better professional.

Among the multitude of things I learned include:

1. Creativity counts (a lot). In my technology class, we had to write a three-year tech plan for a library of our choosing. Most of us went with the libraries that we work at and frequented. However, one group decided to do a tech plan for Hogwarts. And you know what? Even though it wasn’t a project you could reproduce in most real-life library settings (except this awesome job in Boulder), thinking outside the box is good for your brain. It’s akin to lying down on the floor and seeing how many socks/tennis balls/loose change is under your couch. A change in perspective will help you find many an amazing thing.

2. Balance your life. Seriously, when you are trying to squeeze in an extra fifteen minutes of reading for your course on collection development between your shifts at your two jobs; you don’t have any more clean socks or clean coffee mugs; you’re going on three nights with hardly any sleep because you have a group project due the next day; and your dog keeps dropping a tennis ball at your feet, maybe you should pick up the ball and forget the other stuff for a bit. Take moments to relax when you can find them. Your work will be all the better for it. I don’t remember the exact grade I got on any paper, but I do remember going for ice cream with my husband in the middle of a stressful week. I remember a long phone call with my cousin, a night out with my friends. I keep this in mind when I leave work yet find myself tempted to do just one more thing on a project from home. Need advice. INALJ has great articles on this (try this one on self-care and job hunting by Kate Koturski, to start)

3. Ask for help when you need it. Asking for help is actually a professional strength. Whether it is help understanding the parameters of an assignment or help figuring out your OPAC, asking both current and future librarians for help should be a no brainer. We’re in the helping-you-out profession. Seriously, we all love helping people figure things out. Somehow, though, I didn’t come to this realization until my program was almost over. I was in the middle of a web design class and it dawned on me that while the dynamics of my web team were wonky, I actually had one classmate who was able to help me hash out my misbehaving code. Why had I been insisting all along that I didn’t need help figuring things out? Save yourself the agony and ask your classmates/colleagues when you are stumped. Think of it this way: in exchange for getting help with your question, you’re helping THEM with their professional development.

To be realistic, though, there were also in which was my program was seriously lacking. I’m getting solid on the job training in these areas, but I’m sad I didn’t learn these things earlier. Mostly, it’s practical stuff, like how to not get aggravated when I get asked the same question for the 100th time or how to keep my eyes from crossing when I shelf-read. I also wished my program would have included the following in the curriculum:

1. Confrontation 101: Whether it’s with a patron or a coworker, confrontation happens on a daily basis. Sometimes, it is as small a thing as asking a user to turn down the volume on their headphones or requesting that a coworker rework their read-alike list. But it can be much bigger, too. Things can get ugly and they can, unfortunately, get dangerous. Especially when you are dealing with the public. Some people are naturally gifted at standing their ground, but others (like myself) are not so fortunate. However, my program offered no coursework on dealing with conflict and/or confrontation. I like information-seeking behavior theory as much as the next girl, but after two years as a public librarian, I wish I would have had some more training in handling attention-seeking behaviors.

2. Leadership. I’m lucky. I like being a leader, and I have few compunctions about being in charge. But I’ve known so many highly intelligent, creative, motivated librarians who shy away from stepping into leadership roles. Is this because MLS programs put so much value on teamwork? Maybe. But teamwork and leadership go together like peanut butter and bananas. A good leader knows how to build and use a team. A good team knows how to listen, how to interpret, how to ask good questions, and how to disagree. Yeah, we’re all adults in these programs and we need to figure these things out. But given the difficulty many people have with leader/team member roles, why not make it a little more productive and provide some directed learning?

3. Experience. This one is important, and it’s about more than just work experience. It helps to bring as much library experience to the table as possible when getting your MLS, but just as important is to know how to translate the value of your skills into the job market. How to make what experience you have work for you. My MLS program put zero emphasis on teaching us how to translate our experiences into salable skill sets, yet putting even a little bit of time into this would have the potential to massively improve hirability of its grads. Don’t tell us that librarians can do anything, and then not give us the tools to demonstrate it.

Of course, these things are the product of my experience. Everyone’s education is a little (or a lot) different. What was the most useful thing that you learned in your MLS program? And what do you find yourself wishing you had learned more about?