Life After the iSchool: Survey Results
Worst financial crisis. No end in sight. These are the headlines that have been populating the pages of newspapers (sorry, "digital news products") ever since I began the MLIS program in the fall of 2007. Even though my tour has been marked by a tone of overwhelming optimism and promise, I sometimes find my confidence nonetheless shaken. The fact that I am trying to tap this very article out before 8:00 pm -- before the Columbia City branch library closes, and I have to go back to my wireless-less friend's apartment, the place that I have been staying (mooching) since graduation -- demonstrates just one of the many inconveniences that I create and blame for my not being able to find a job. But, seriously though, if one more person asks me to watch his computer, or if that gate wrongly beeps again, I am going to snap, cause some real havoc. Like pull out all of the hold slips or color on the walls. Or, worse, maybe I will start another blog.
Despite this chipper and energetic attitude, I still find myself needing a little boost, a little pick-me-up to get me through the job hunting process. So, since I no longer have those unsubsidized loans rolling in to support my dope habit, I've done the next best thing: I've contacted recent graduates of the ischool who have found jobs. And then I've asked them how they got them. Now, I am sharing their success stories with you -- spreading the joy so to speak. I'm an American after all; accentuating the positive is what we do.
Five alums out of fourteen contacted have responded: One works as a public librarian for teen services; three are academic librarians; and one is a usability tester/engineer. Although these specific professions may not match your interests, I encourage (!) you to read and heed their advice anyway; it can be applied to almost any information profession. For those of you still in school, pay particular attention to their emphasis on obtaining practical experience. And, for those of you recently graduated, find relief in the fact that it is normal to wait, and it may take you six months to land a job.
Now read for yourself! Repeat as needed. I have, and I'm beginning to see life through rose colored glasses. And I don't even have glasses on! Yeah, exactly.
Jack Bauer: Public Librarian, Teen Services
Working as a Teen Services Librarian for the Berkeley Public Library System. I split my time between the Claremont Branch in the affluent Elmwood neighborhood, and the South Branch in impoverished South Berkeley. While it’s a bit difficult having two desks, two bosses, and two routines, I also get to work with two very different communities, so there’s a lot of diversity in my day-to-day work.
More than anything, my time at the iSchool helped me develop a vision for what role the library can and should play in a community and got me ready to commit myself to that vision, no matter what kind of library I landed in. That’s been far more important than any skill-set I picked up. That said, I did learn some very important skills that help me with the day-to-day work of the library: primarily a familiarity many different kinds of resources and teaching my patrons to use those sources. But skills you can learn, whereas vision and commitment require a kind of indoctrination that I think is the most important aspect of library education.
My favorite thing about my job is the freedom I have in my position. There’s great support for Teen Services within my system which makes it relatively easy to get permission and funds to do whatever my patrons want. I inherited a really great group of fun and engaged teens from the previous librarian in my position and just listening to them and doing what they want ensures some great programming. I like the diversity of my responsibilities – desk work, outreach, Web design, developing programs – because it keeps me on my toes and ensures that if I get bored with one thing I can just move to something else. Finally, because I’m in Teen Services, a huge part of my job revolves around comic books, which is a dream come true for me. If I could go back and tell my thirteen year-old self that one day I’d get paid for building and promoting a great collection of comics in the library, I know he’d be proud.
Get all the experience you can while you’re in school. There are tons of opportunities to intern and volunteer and they’re all valuable. Anything you do now will give you ammunition for interviews. Cast your net broadly and don’t limit yourself when thinking about the kind of work you want to do because – especially now – your flexibility will be a huge asset. If you’re thinking of working at a reference desk take as many 520 courses as you possibly can – THAT’S the kind of stuff you use everyday. Also, if you’re going to work in a public library at all, you owe it to yourself to take Book Lust. Finally, start getting on hiring eligibility lists now, and talk to the HR managers in the systems you are applying to. Seriously, I owe my entire job to the fact that I had a 15 minute conversation with the head of HR for Berkeley Public Library at ALA and stayed in touch with her.
Deb Raftus: Academic Librarian
I am the Romance Languages & Literatures Librarian at the University of Washington. My main duties include Reference, Instruction and Collection Development, and I am the liaison to the French/Italian Studies and Spanish/Portuguese Studies departments. On top of that I serve on many committees on campus (within the libraries, and campus-wide) to support and/or promote our libraries and services. I am also involved in ACRL's Western European Studies Section, where I am able to participate in the national conversation regarding library services and collections in my subject areas.
My first permanent job after graduation was at the University of Georgia Libraries, where I was a Reference & Instruction Librarian / Psychology Librarian in an Information Commons setting. I also was a member of the Instruction Coordinator Team (3 librarians, each representing one of the 3 library buildings).
The iSchool gave me a good well-rounded understanding of the library world. When I came to the iSchool, I had 2 years experience as a Reference Assistant at Cornell University Library, which has an outstanding training program. I felt like I had a really good grounding in Reference work. The iSchool helped to fill in gaps in my knowledge of other areas of libraries operations (which also helped in my Reference work). I can better see how these operations and services are interconnected, and have a more complete vision of the library's mission. For example, I took LIS 530, 531, 533. By taking cataloging courses through the advanced level, I learned how to use information retrieval systems more effectively. Same goes for 540, and 542. By understanding how to build a database, I know how to use databases more effectively. I had no experience in Collection Development, which is a big part of my job now, so that course helped give me a starting point to jump off of. The friends I made are also an invaluable resource...the people of my cohort are now my colleagues...and I depend greatly on this network for ideas and inspiration.
My favorite parts of my job are interacting with people and building and maintaining the Romance Languages & Literatures collections. I love partnering with faculty for instruction, with students in support of their research, and with my colleagues within and outside of the libraries. I also enjoy the wide variety of tasks I get to do every day. It's never boring.
If you are hoping to work in a library, try to get some library experience while you are in school, either through a part-time job, independent study, or directed field work.
Be patient and flexible with the job hunt. I wish that someone had told me that there was a good chance I would not have a job lined up on graduation. It took me 9 months after graduation (a full year from the time I started applying for jobs) to land a full-time position, which I never expected. I was fortunate to have a temporary librarian position during this time, and eventually got a fantastic job that I thoroughly enjoyed at UGA. But I think the sense of panic I felt at graduation would have been lessened had I known it was the norm. Of course, some people do have permanent, full time jobs lined up straight away...but I think it takes a while for most of us, even if we've got loads of experience coming in. It's okay...you'll get there eventually!
Read this article before you go on your interviews: http://www.liscareer.com/cunningham_eiq.htm
While you are at the iSchool, try to make connections with faculty that don't work in your area of interest. My adviser was not a Reference/Instruction specialist. She had truckloads of great advice and insights for me, coming from a different perspective. I really valued this opportunity to step away from my narrow academic reference lens, and to learn from someone with different connections to the information world.
Sonja Sutherland: Academic Librarian
I'm currently a reference librarian, instructor and electronic resources librarian for the Odum Library at Valdosta State University, a mid-sized university in Georgia. I've recently been accepted into the MA Linguistics programme at the University of London, and will be moving to the UK in September of this year (2009). After getting my second master's degree, I hope to work as a reference librarian/subject expert with a large university library.
Probably the two most useful classes I took were LIS 521 with Joe Janes and LIS 560 with Trent Hill. In LIS 521, the experience of volunteering with the Internet Public Library (IPL) was good practice for my current job, in which I do a lot of email reference. I credit Trent Hill for helping me realize that even shy people can get up in front of a room full of college students and teach. But honestly, some of the best preparation I got for this job was working as a Student Reference Specialist at Suzzallo Library. You can talk about theory all day, but it's meaningless without practical experience.
I love working on the reference desk - every day there are new questions and new challenges, and I'm constantly learning and refining my research techniques. I was surprised to find that teaching information literacy classes is my other favorite part of the job.
Do everything you can to get work experience. You may go into the iSchool thinking you want to go into a certain area, only to find out there's something else you like better. This was the case for me - I thought I was going to go into public libraries, but after my experience working at a university library and my DFW working at Seattle Public Library, I realized I preferred academic librarianship. Also, I thought at one point that I might go into cataloging, but my experience volunteering to catalog the collection at a private school made me realize very quickly that I liked reference work much better. Not to mention the fact that it's very difficult to get a library job without any library experience!
Destinee Sutton: Academic Librarian
Several things. I'm an Engineering Reference Librarian at UW (I was a student reference assistant there, and when I graduated I was lucky to be offered the job as a temporary gig). I'm also subbing for the Seattle Public Library (they call me a LIP Librarian, though I'm still not entirely sure what LIP stands for--maybe "Library Intermittent Personnel"?). And I'm still going on job interviews hoping to land my dream job (i.e. permanent and full-time).
I'd say the real world work experience I got while earning my degree has been the best preparation for real world work. Who knew?
My favorite part of my job is working with people who need help with their research. I prefer being out on the reference desk to being alone in my office, which my co-workers will tell you is a little unusual.
The best advice I can give is to do as many DFWs as you can and to do them in settings where you think you want to work. You can never have too much experience or too many enthusiastic references.
Aaron Louie: Associate Director of User Experience
I'm an Associate Director of User Experience at ZAAZ, an interactive web agency in downtown Seattle. What I do is user research, information architecture, interaction design, and all the consulting, people management, and planning that goes along with it. Outside the office, I'm blogging, twittering, writing a book, and gardening, among other hobbies...
The iSchool didn't really directly prepare me for what I do now. I had to tweak the program - through independent studies and side projects - to get what I needed out of it. However, I doubt any UW program at the time could have covered everything I need to know for my current job. Most of what I know now is drawn from experience or from applying knowledge in disparate disciplines to new areas.
What I love about my job is that it's creative, fast-paced, and always changing. I'm always learning new things, discovering and testing new methods, and collaborating with smart people. It's also very rewarding to be in a position to help the world in a very direct way - I solve information issues, usability problems, and business challenges with design.
My advice is this: know, challenge, and extend yourself, all the time, in whatever you're doing. Find ways to apply your schoolwork to the real world - go out and DO something with your knowledge, don't just passively absorb it. Most of all, collaborate, share, and learn from your classmates - they are your professional network, and they'll be your managers, co-workers, employees, or clients someday.