by Samantha Starmer, MLIS Day
As may be obvious from the title of this column, I am an "i" person. It's funny, when I first thought about getting my MLIS about 10 years ago, I was planning on being a YA librarian. I have always adored libraries; as an only child growing up in a neighborhood of childless yuppies, I was reliant on my local library to provide much of my entertainment and dream fodder. After too many post-English degree years of working in restaurants and wondering what the heck I was going to do with myself, becoming a librarian suddenly made perfect sense. But then fate did some strange things and I spent a number of years working in a "high tech" environment. I began to become very interested in the acronym-heavy world of CM, KM and IA. When I finally resurrected my MLIS dream, it was with the intention of focusing on the information science side of things. I wanted those 70 hour weeks at the high tech job to count for something, so leveraging that experience with the iSchool degree seemed like a smart next step.
I remember last winter when I started thinking about internships and directed fieldwork opportunities. I have to admit that I was kind of shocked that there didn't seem to be much information to help me get started. I wasn't expecting to have my hand held through the process of finding an internship, but I guess I did expect some resources to be available, such as a database of the previous internships that students had held or even a list of the types of "information" jobs in which I might be interested. I talked to student services and was basically told that there was quite a bit of information and contacts if I wanted to work in a library, but otherwise I would be on my own. I wasn't even sure what kind of jobs I might possibly be interested in, let alone how to find them. In my admittedly biased opinion, it seemed as though the options were fairly straightforward if I wanted to work in a building with the word "library" on it, but that if I was focusing more on the "i" side of the degree I couldn't turn to the school for any help.
While trawling the internet for job ideas, I came across resources that other schools provided, such as the University of Michigan's "iTrack." This fabulous resource has now been restricted to UM students and alumni, but last year I could search through it and suddenly found out about jobs that I never even knew existed, such as technical research analyst, human factors analyst, and organizational change consultant. Wow! Suddenly bursting with ideas I sent off a bunch of targeted resumes and had a newfound excitement for my degree. While I ended up at a job I found through help from a mentor, I did have some positive interviews with companies I had found out about via the UM website. Why didn't the UW's iSchool have something like it? I brought up this perceived lack of support at an "Open Mike" meeting and unsurprisingly was told that it would be a great "portfolio project." And I did think about doing something about it for quite a while, until I decided it would be too much to do on my own, at least if I actually got the sort of internship that kicked off this whole idea in the first place.
When this year's ASIS&T officers first got together to discuss our vision for the year and the kind of activities we wanted to focus on, it was clear that we all felt there could be more opportunities for career planning and just plain learning about what kind of jobs a person with a MLIS might be qualified for. After much discussion, we decided to organize a week-long series of events hopefully targeted towards iSchool students' interests to help fill this gap. I expect that if we had anticipated the massive amount of work this project would take to pull off, we wouldn't have gone through with it. But we were young and na´ve and became thrilled by the idea of providing at least a tiny slice of what we felt was missing in part from the program. Through amazing dedication from the whole team, we created a survey, analyzed the results, picked a week, found and reserved rooms, chose events, pursued panel attendees and presenters from the field, did PR, arranged for audio recordings, got fantastic help from other student groups, and I think we can call our efforts a success. Portfolio fodder aside, we are pleased with the results and hope it was a valuable event for many students.
So now what? Was iCareer Week a one-time thing brought about by a bunch of slightly crazy overachievers? Should something like this become a yearly event at the iSchool? What place does the administration have in the support of career planning and job search strategies for its students? I don't know the answers to these questions. I do think that some sort of organized event or series of events centered around LIS careers would be very beneficial for helping students decide on what kind of jobs they might be interested in and how to get them. I don't think that this kind of task should be left entirely to student groups to accomplish - it is far too much time and responsibility to expect a group's officers to tackle every year, and many of the logistics could likely be better supported by the administration. However, I agree with my fellow officers who think that a large part of the event's success was due to it coming from students for students. It would be fantastic if there was a way to combine the drive of students to help fulfill their own interests and desires with some official support from the iSchool. I think we should find a way to create a regular set of events designed to help us figure out our career prospects and get a job we love after we graduate. Isn't that what getting this degree is about for most of us?