Top 10 tips…
For getting the most out of your iSchool experience
- Choose your poison -- slowly
You can’t be up to date on everything. At first I tried to read every article on just about everything related to libraries, information science, information architecture, usability, user centered design, XML… you get the idea. I couldn’t keep up and I got sick of it all. So I slowly put some things on the back burner, stopped collecting articles to read when I had that mythical thing called ‘free time’ and started to listen for what excited me, gaining more depth in those areas when the time felt right.
Conversely, don’t worry about choosing a focus right away. If you don’t already have a burning desire to be an archivist or children’s librarian, don’t force yourself to decide. Now is the time to play around with different ideas, see how they fit, and learn about what is out there. No one will fault you if you enter the program convinced you are going to be a systems librarian and exit it with a passion for reference. Having returned to school after a number of years in the corporate world, I think it is thrilling to have the opportunity to be unfocused if I want to be. Just repeat “I am sponge, I am a sponge, I am a sponge…”
2. Get involved –- both within the iSchool and outside of it
One of the things I was most excited about when returning to school was the sense of community. I wanted to be around people learning the same things, getting excited about the same things, stressing about the same things. When the winter gets long and 540 is getting on your nerves, hanging out with the iPeeps can really help your mood, whether it is being part of a student chapter group, knitting with iKnit or just grabbing a beer after class.
Think about joining a professional organization. There is likely at least one for each area that interests you, and dabbling in these can help you meet people who are working in one of these fields. A sampling of some I have found intriguing:An association of Moving Image Archivists A very active e-mail list for new librarians An electronic discussion for those managing or participating in library web sites A new organization of Content Management professionals There are tons more – just ask around or search on the internet.
3. It’s a small world after all
Networking. It always seemed so slimy to me, making me think of the overly slick blazer-wearing types at a previous job. They expressed great interest in what I was working on and yet I KNEW it was all fake and was just part of some weird game to rack up contacts like belt notches.
So it was with great trepidation that I decided to give the networking thing a go this year. I began at the MLIS orientation by going up and starting conversations with professors who sounded interesting to me. This was a pretty safe way to practice, and when I later tried the same thing at a conference I felt much better about it.
I ended up meeting some great people last year who have given me invaluable advice at various times and helped me brainstorm internship possibilities. Networking is a place where being a student can lead to a lot of opportunities. Folks know you will be eventually looking for a job and generally recognize that subtext, but since you are currently in school they also know that you aren’t talking to them just because you are desperately looking for a job (that comes later). This seems to make people more receptive, especially when you approach it from the ‘I want to learn from you’ angle.
The amazing thing is how much networking can spiral. The information world seems to be a very small one. Once you have an area you are interested in, you’ll probably find that the same names keep popping up over and over, making it pretty easy to have a list of people to contact when you do have a specific question or are beginning to look for internship or job prospects.
Attend conferences in your area(s) of interest.Yes, they are expensive. Yes, they are time consuming. Yes, they can be incredibly hard to consider taking time out to do when you are heads down with that nightmare information seeking behavior model. But conferences can be worth working extra hours, forgoing first run movies, or drinking two buck Chuck instead of French merlot.
Last year I had dial up internet access because I was poor and cheap but I attended two out of state conferences. This year I finally sprung for a cable modem and wireless access (thank you, summer job), but I’m still planning on attending at least three out of state conferences. Why? Because they broaden my horizons, get me totally jazzed about my studies when I need a lift, and let me meet luminaries in the fields I’m interested in. They can also be great ways to find out about career opportunities – I’ve heard of more than a few folks whose first job out of grad school was due to a connection they made at a conference.
5. Make your own opportunities
One of the things I’ve decided that I hate most about being an adult is that no one seems to give you anything anymore. Remember the days of spending months wanting that new Atari game and finally getting it for Christmas? Well, these days my wants have gotten far bigger and my benefactors less powerful, so waiting and wishing on a star doesn’t seem to cut it anymore.
Is there a topic you are interested in and the iSchool doesn’t seem to offer a class on it? Or maybe you have taken all of the cataloguing classes you can find but still feel like you aren’t getting enough MARC love? Make use of all of the amazing resources we currently have as students. There might be a class in another department. There might be a professor or PhD student at the school researching your area of interest. There even might be someone at another school you could contact.
Being a student can open up a lot of doors – academics are more likely to communicate with you, many seminars and conferences are cheaper, and you can volunteer for things. You can be an intern. If you are like me and do best in ‘real world’ situations, you might even learn more with these ‘alternative’ opportunities than with a formal class. Be creative – talk to everyone you can think of and you’ll find a way to create great situations for learning and gaining experience!
(Part 2, containing tips 6-10 will appear in an upcoming issue of The Silverfish)