Advice to a library school student from One Big Library

Whenever I come across really good advice for library school students, I like to post it on here, so today I want to share something I came across (thanks, Amy!) from One Big Library: Advice to a library school student.

The best advice anybody ever gave me when I was finishing library school and looking for a job was “look at all your options and choose the most challenging one. If it scares you, like you think maybe you won’t be up to the challenge, you’re on the right track and should go for it.” If you don’t feel challenged now, you’re right to be looking elsewhere (especially if you’re young or don’t otherwise have lots of obligations to other people and can freely look around).

When I was in school I found there was a lot of handwringing amongst my classmates about whether they would be up to the challenge of professional positions. When I started at the Howard Ross Library of Management, I was a bit concerned (read: terrified) by my lack of knowledge about anything business-related. But I saw the position as a challenge, and guess what – I’ve learned a whole lot, both in terms of business information and in terms of librarian skills that will be applicable to any job I may have in the future. So what do I think about scary challenges? I say bring them on!

As always, click through for the rest of the article – you’ll be glad you did.

Conference season is upon us

I recently attended the SLA conference in New Orleans, and it was an incredible experience. I want to remind everyone, students and professionals alike, that going to conferences is an invaluable opportunity for networking and learning more about the community. If you’re interested in hearing my thoughts on SLA 2010, check out my post on the Re:Generations blog (Re:Gen has other great conference posts as well).

Of course, you may not be able to travel as far as New Orleans (unless you already live near there), so keep your eyes peeled for local conferences. For those of us in Quebec, the ABQLA puts on an excellent conference each year in Montreal. Whether you take advantage of discounted student registration rates or work as a volunteer (which usually means avoiding registration fees altogether), you should absolutely make a point of fitting at least one upcoming conference into your schedule.

You’ll find the biblioblogosphere is already filled with conference tips, so I’ll refrain from adding more of my own, but I will suggest that you check out Stephen Abram’s tips. And as always, if you have questions for me, just ask.

Library school student power

Today I’d like to delve a little deeper into a topic I’ve briefly mentioned before on more than one occasion. I’m not sure whether students actually know about this; perhaps they’re completely in the dark, or perhaps they’ve been told but they can’t believe such an outrageous idea. At any rate, as far as I can tell, most students certainly don’t act as if they know about it. At its core, what it boils down to is this: library school students have power.

I can’t tell you whether this applies to students in other professional programs, or other Master’s programs, but I can certainly tell you that it doesn’t apply to most undergrad programs. Library school students are in a unique position to influence their peers and the profession as a whole, but they don’t seem to realize it. Here’s how I would describe this power:

  1. Professionals in the LIS community are not simply willing to listen to students; most of them are very much interested in hearing the student perspective.
  2. Library school professors are usually willing to change their classes based on student feedback.
  3. Students have a wide range of opportunities to set themselves apart from their classmates.

Before we get started, I’d just like to urge everyone to use this power for good, not for evil. Frankly, if your main goal in life is to hold power over other people, librarianship is the wrong field for you anyway. All of my suggestions should be fulfilling and add to your professional development in and of themselves; please don’t do any of these things just to feel powerful. Having said that, everybody wants to change the world, and it’s okay to make your voice heard.

Regarding point #1: librarians are notoriously nice people, so I can’t really blame a student who has a brief conversation with a professional and comes away saying, “well, of course he was nice to me. He’s nice to everyone. That’s his job.” But take it from me, professionals really are interested to hear what they’re teaching in school these days and we really are interested to hear fresh ideas. So how can a student get in touch with a librarian? I can think of a number of ways, some of which may be out of some people’s comfort zones, but there should be at least one that works for everyone.

  • Join a mentoring program, like McGill’s Professional Partnering Program. I know I keep mentioning this, but it’s really a no brainer: if there’s one available to you, sign up. And if not, start one on your own. This is a super low stress way to meet someone, since you know the professionals have volunteered because they’re interested. For bonus exposure, ask your classmates about their mentors and consider organizing a group event.
  • Attend events put on by professional associations. Later I’m going to urge students to become involved with their student chapters, but a great way to meet professionals is to go to events that aren’t designed specifically for students. For example, I’m involved with the Canadian Library Association Montreal Chapter, and we often organize informal social events. Students are encouraged to come to these events, and no one is treated differently than anyone else: professionals learn from students and vice versa. For bonus influence, start asking around to find out whether the chapter will be looking for new exec members after you graduate.
  • Start a blog. This is another piece of advice I’ve given before, but consider this: every time another blogger mentions your blog or quotes something you’ve written, you are influencing the biblioblogosphere. While I was a student, I got in touch with a number of librarians through my blog and formed some lasting professional relationships. And for every blogger who mentions your blog, there will probably be a bunch of professionals who read it, enjoy it, and don’t leave a comment. For bonus power, leave comments on other LIS blogs.
  • Find a professional you admire and contact them. This is where it gets a bit scary, and I’m afraid I can’t promise every librarian will want to be your best friend. You might be surprised, though, at the number of professionals who would be more than happy to spend some time telling you about what they do, or even showing you around their place of work. If there’s a particular library you’re interested in working at, get in touch with one of the librarians there. A good way is to look up the library’s website and find the email address of a librarian who has a job that looks interesting; just write to them explaining that you’re a student and asking whether you could meet with them to ask a few questions. For bonus points, make sure you have a few specific questions in mind when you actually do meet them, since some librarians may not have a good idea of what to tell you unless you ask.

Point #2 is fairly straightforward: if you don’t like the way a course is being taught, or if you have suggestions for how it could be improved, just tell your prof. Your best bet is to schedule a time to meet your prof in person, since this shows that you’re serious. Naturally, make sure your suggestions are constructive; don’t criticize anything unless you also suggest how it could be improved (this will serve you well in your professional life as well). At the very least, put in some serious thought when you fill out your course evaluations – profs read these comments and adjust their teaching based on them.

Point #3 mainly applies to having power over your own career path. As I briefly mentioned recently, many students choose to sit back and let library school happen to them, arguing that they can’t do much more because they’re “just a student.” Simply attending classes and showing up to an extracurricular event here and there means that you will receive your MLIS and impress potential employers to exactly the same degree as everyone else from your class. Fortunately, setting yourself apart is relatively easy, and not even terribly time consuming.

  • Get involved with a student group. And don’t just attend their events; if you actually participate on the group’s exec, you can put this on your CV or cover letter. In my experience, it doesn’t even matter that much which group you work with. SIS has a wide range of student groups, but they all do fairly similar work, so don’t worry if there’s no position for you at your first choice of group.
  • Organize an event. For example, in my second year of library school, I was co-organizer of Web 2.You. It can be intimidating to contact a well known speaker, but you will find that they are very friendly to students, and in many cases speakers who usually charge a fee will reduce it or waive it altogether for a student-run event. This is really a fun way to gain some experience, get some exposure, and help your fellow students (not to mention helping the local professionals who attend the event).

I hope this helps motivate students to take control of their careers. To the professionals reading this: do you have any tips for helping students exercise their power? Leave your advice in the comments!

Advice for recent grads

This is just a quick post to point you to some info that I think is valuable for anyone graduating from a library program (or anyone applying for a library job, for that matter). I don’t have any hiring committee experience to share with you, so I’ll pass you on to someone who does. Meredith Farkas from Information Wants To Be Free shares her Tips for library job applicants in a tight market (click through for all of her tips):


  • This first one can’t be stresesed enough — tailor your cover letter to the job you’re applying for. Most importantly, address the specific requirements in the job ad. You may be particularly proud of how you designed your library’s intranet, but if the job you’re applying for has nothing to do with any of the skills you exhibited during that project, it’s not worth detailing in the cover letter. In all of the committees I was on, we’d go through each cover letter and resume with a list of required and preferred qualifications and would see which ones the applicant addressed. If they didn’t show evidence of one of the required qualifications, they’d be out of the running. Period.
  • Tailor your resume to some extent to the job you’re applying for. Highlight things that you’ve done or skills that you have that are on the list of required’s and preferred’s for that job.


  • Send a generic cover letter. Passing off a generic cover letter makes you look like you don’t want the job that much. And usually, it’s pretty darn obvious that a cover letter is the same one you’ve used to apply for 10 other jobs.
  • Just list everything you’ve done in your cover letter. Specifically address what the search committee cares about — the required and preferred qualifications.

Web 2.You 2010 is coming up on Feb 5th

As you may recall, a year ago I co-organized an event called Web 2.You. It was a terrific success, and my co-organizer, Amanda Halfpenny, has gone on to take the lead in arranging another one this year. As you’ll see below, Amanda has lined up another outstanding set of international and local speakers, and I will have the privilege of giving a presentation as well. Whether you’re a student or a professional, if you have any interest in technology in libraries, you should register ASAP.

Also, for any students wondering how to gain some experience before graduation, I highly recommend Amanda’s blog post on how to get a part-time job while in library school.


A new year has begun and the 3rd Annual Web 2.You Conference is only a month away, so it’s time to start thinking about registering. Web 2.You is a full-day event featuring international and local speakers on the implications of Web 2.0 technologies in professional information settings. Professionals who attended Web 2.You in past years were blown away by their experience and we are confident that this year’s speakers will take it to the next level.

Here are the details:

Regular rate:
$40 full day (includes catered lunch)
$20 morning or afternoon only

Student rate:
$15 full day (includes catered lunch)
$10 morning or afternoon only

The event will take place Friday February 5th 2010 at McGill University’s Thomson House and feature presentations from Michael Porter, Jenica Rogers and Graham Lavender as well as a panel discussion on democracy and technologies.
The deadline for registration is Friday, January 29th 2010.
To register and for more details on the event visit the Web 2.You Wiki.

Please feel free to circulate this information to your network of colleagues.

See you there!


Amanda Halfpenny, MLIS II McGill University
Adrienne Smith, MLIS I McGill University

Tips for surviving library school – and possibly even having some fun

It’s back-to-school time, and although I’m not heading to any classes, the fact that campus is now swarming with students reminds me that there is a new group of students starting library school. And if these people feel half as lost and confused as I did during my first few weeks, then they could use some advice. First, take a look at Biblioblond’s Thoughts on “Back to School” for MLIS Students, where she lists her Top 5 tips for incoming students. Then, if you’re not afraid of slightly stale information, you can take a peek at my post from last September.

Now, thinking back on my two years at SIS, here’s my advice:

  • Get involved with a student group. I remember when I was doing my undergrad, I thought student government and groups were totally lame, but trust me, in library school they’re worthwhile. If you’re at McGill, you can find some good info on the SIS website, and if you’re a student elsewhere, I’m sure you can find what you need online somewhere – you’re a resourceful soon-to-be information professional, after all. Figure out which group (or groups) is best aligned with your interests, and attend their first meeting. This is a great way to meet people and learn more about the field. Plus it looks terrific on a CV/resume!
  • Run for the executive of a student group. Okay, so this is an extension of my last point, but it really is that important! Each student group’s website should have info about running for exec (e.g., the McGill CLA Student Chapter – pay attention to the positions that say TBA in September: that could be you!), but if you can’t find that information online, just ask someone. The first year student who becomes VP often automatically becomes President in their second year, so keep this in mind if you’d like to run the show next year.
  • Go to social events organized by the student groups (or by anyone else, for that matter). In my experience, these events are usually poorly attended, but those of us who made the effort to go always had a blast.
  • Keep in mind that all the other first year students feel just as nervous and lost as you do – so go up to people and introduce yourself, because everyone is trying to make friends at the beginning of the year.
  • Don’t be shy to approach the second year students for help – like you, they chose this profession because they like to help people.
  • And finally, here’s one for McGill students only: join the Professional Partnering Program. It’s an incredible opportunity to get to know someone who’s working in the field, and the time commitment is completely flexible. You have no excuse for not joining this program!

CASLIS Bulletin Special Issue

If you’re like me, you’re still slogging through your final assignments: don’t give up! You can do it!

But if you’re lucky enough to be finished your semester and need a break between job applications, allow me to suggest some reading material. The Canadian Association of Special Libraries and Information Services (CASLIS) recently published a special issue of their bulletin that students should find interesting. The issue is freely available online, so go ahead and download it now. The first feature article is about student experiences with CASLIS and features a number of LIS students, including my classmate Sarah Severson (in fact, I participated in some of the CASLIS activities she helped organize in Ottawa last summer).

Scroll down to page 19, and you’ll find a piece summing up the year’s events at SIS, written by our very own Brittany Trafford. I need to remember to thank her for saying such flattering things about Web 2.You!

Current and prospective students should definitely check out this issue to get the inside scoop on how CASLIS is helping students, and to discover what’s going on at library schools across the country. As for me, I need to get back to my descriptive bibliography – but as of tomorrow afternoon, I plan to be entirely finished my MLIS!

Thoughts and advice from a fellow graduating student

I just came across a post that anyone interested in the MLIS program at the University of Western Ontario (or simply interested to hear another pespective on library school) should find interesting and helpful. A lot of it sounds similar to my experience at McGill, with a few obvious exceptions, such as the co-op program and life in the city of London, Ontario. Warren Layton blogs at Libre-arian:

Final Thoughts on Western’s MLIS Program

Guest post – Amanda discusses presentations by professionals

As my spring graduation approaches and I face the idea of no longer being a library school student (inspired or otherwise), I hope that the next generation of students will continue to blog about the issues that affect them. I’ll keep blogging, of course, but I think it’s important for students to hear authentic student voices, as well as professional ones. One way I’m promoting this is by encouraging other students to write guest posts for the ILSS. Today’s article is from Amanda Halfpenny, who’s in her first year of the MLIS program here at McGill.

A common complaint of students in MLIS programs is that our classes are often too theoretical and that we are not receiving enough practical information on what it will really be like once we are professional librarians in the real world. Students at McGill University decided to take matters into their own hands and since we got back from Winter Break there have been student-organized professional speakers on almost a weekly basis during lunch hours. These presentations have been organized by different student associations and the turnouts have been extremely impressive (in some cases higher than the number of students who actually attend their classes). It is not difficult to understand why: we are all curious to listen to librarians talk about their careers and we are hopeful that they will impart some words of wisdom that will help us as we prepare to begin our careers.

Last Thursday, the ABQLA (Quebec Library Association) student chapter hosted JoAnne Turnbull the general director of the Reseau Biblio of the Laurentians. She was an enthusiastic speaker and succeeded in engaging all the students with her witty accounts of the ups and downs of her career as a librarian in a variety of types of libraries (academic, corporate, law and public). In general, the students in our program are all concerned with whether or not they will find an interesting position after graduation. However, when JoAnne explained how bleak the job market was for librarians when she graduated in 1987 (1 position was posted for 60 graduating students), the students at her talk realized how fortunate we are that, despite the present economy, we have strong prospects of finding a library job soon after graduation. Another encouraging message that JoAnne shared was that if you are bored with your current job, it is fairly easy to create new challenges by either helping to develop new projects or simply by applying to a new position.

I strongly encourage MLIS students at other universities to stop waiting for your professors to organize professional speakers and to do it yourselves! You will not only learn a lot from the librarian who comes to give the talk but you will also gain valuable experience in organizing events (finding a speaker, advertising, etc.). For professional librarians, I would hope that you are all open to the prospect of speaking with groups of MLIS students. We are truly interested in what you have to say! So thank you JoAnne, and all the other guest speakers in the past month who have taken the time to come and meet with McGill’s MLIS students. We truly appreciate it!

How did I get here?

Steven Chabot over at Subject/Object has a Question for men (and women too!) in the library field: How did you get here? I’ve given a pretty brief explanation of this already, but I haven’t mused much on my choices as they apply to my gender.

The short answer that I love to give is that the decision to go to library school was inspired by seeing a t-shirt design online, with the phrase she blinded me with library science. And that’s true, but I hope no one believes I’m a shallow enough person to base my career entirely on a t-shirt slogan.

As a young boy, I wanted to become either a major league baseball player or a scientist, both of which are male-dominated professions. Of course, at that age, I didn’t fully appreciate the extent of either career; I believed that being a star baseball player mainly involved showing up to games and hitting home runs and that being a scientist mainly involved wearing a white coat and mixing chemicals. At any rate, I believe my interest in both of these fields waned before I discovered at school that I did not have the aptitude for either one.

In high school, I dreamed of becoming a computer programmer (another typically male career) after witnessing the popularization of the internet and watching movies like Hackers, but again, the activity turned out to be much more difficult than I’d imagined. To make matters worse, for some strange reason the university computer science programs I looked into also required chemistry, which I’d already dismissed.

I discovered psychology in my first year at UBC and fell head over heels for it – I loved studying the way people think, and I especially loved the fact that it followed the scientific method without being too, well, sciency. I opted for courses in social and developmental psychology (the least sciency ones), which meant that my classes were overwhelmingly female, as the men were taking cognitive and biopsych. Then again, even my honours class, which was made up of students from all areas of psych, was disproportionately filled with women. At any rate, I had no objection to being in a female-dominated field, and to be completely fair, although there were fewer male students, the ratio was much more even at the faculty level. My plan at that point was to one day become a psych professor myself.

After graduation, when I made the decision to choose library school over psych programs, I don’t think I was fully aware of the gender disparity in the LIS field. Of course I knew the stereotypes of the shushing librarian with her hair in a bun, but my high school librarian was a man, and I’d dealt with a number of male academic librarians at UBC. And then there’s the hero of Questionable Content (the webcomic that produces the aforementioned t-shirt), who is male and works in a library. In fact, one of the only librarians I actually talked to between applying to library school and starting the program was a gentleman I happened to meet while working at a restaurant in downtown Toronto. Even from that time, I’ve always been most interested in academic libraries, and I equate academic librarianship with academia in general, which was once a male-dominated domain but is now much more gender-neutral (at least in terms of the gender ratio of academics – I’m not trying to start a debate on whether male and female academics have equal opportunities!).

So when I finally started at SIS, I was quite surprised to find that my class was literally about 90% female. To be fair, men in my year are especially scarce – there are significantly more in next year’s graduating class. I haven’t found it to be much of an issue, though. I believe my gender has neither hindered nor helped me at SIS, except that professors are quick to learn my name because there are so few male names and faces to keep apart.

Steven wants to know how to encourage more men to take librarianship seriously, and here’s my advice:

  • Show them that it’s challenging and intellectually stimulating, that it’s an academic pursuit that can lead to tenure
  • Show them that it’s not about shushing and making sure no one tries to walk off with the reference books
  • Show them that it involves technology and keeping up with the latest innovations
  • Show them that it can take a variety of forms, each with its own strengths, including academic, public, school, and special librarianship

I’m certainly not saying that these points will only appeal to men – show them to women too! What I’m really suggesting is that we make people look beyond the stereotypes and see what the field is really about. Show them the breadth of opportunities available, and surely there will be something that they find appealing.