Reflections on being an Inspired Library School Student

Back in my student days.

Before my blog’s former life as The Inspired Library School Student fades into a distant memory, I would like to share my thoughts on being a student blogger.

As you may know, I started my blog in February 2008, during the second semester of my MLIS, after seeing a presentation by John Dupuis. I have always enjoyed writing (having a writer as a father and a teacher as a mother probably helps with that), and I had already started reading library blogs on a regular basis, but the thought of becoming a blogger had not crossed my mind until I watched that presentation.

My plan was to write about topics that other students would find exciting, especially the things they don’t teach you in school. And boy, did I ever write. I posted 20 times in my first full calendar month of blogging, which honestly blows my mind now. Of course, many of those posts were quite brief, but I think it still reflects the fun I was having with my new toy.

It wasn’t long before I began receiving comments on my posts from well respected and established bloggers. This usually happened after I had left comments on their blogs and included my URL in my signature, but it was exciting to get a positive response. I quickly developed a sense of how welcoming and encouraging the library blogger community could be.

When I attended the IFLA conference in Quebec City that year, I printed up business cards for the first time (at moo.com, which I still use to this day). As a student, making business cards is a bit awkward because you don’t have a job title or an institutional logo, but I found that including the URL for my blog was a great conversation starter. Shortly after that, Jessamyn West linked to my post-IFLA write-up and sent my stats through the roof, which is pretty much the most exciting thing in the world for a new blogger.

Soon I began receiving emails about my blog from around the world. Many were from the proprietors of websites of dubious integrity who wanted me to link to them, in some cases even offering to write guest posts in exchange for links; naturally, I turned these offers down. Some were from people who had enjoyed my posts and wanted me to write more on a certain subject, such as Zotero or why I decided to go to library school; I did my best to accommodate these requests, though sometimes I felt I had already written as much as I was willing to write on a topic. And some were from prospective students, asking whether I would recommend McGill, and current students in other parts of the world, thanking me for sharing my experiences in a Canadian MLIS program; these emails really made me feel that I was helping people, and I always responded with any advice I could give.

I began encouraging other students to become bloggers and join the community. I wrote a short article for my program’s newsletter describing the benefits of being a student blogger, and later, as a librarian, I presented on more than one occasion to students and recommended starting a blog. I strongly believe that blogging is a fantastic opportunity for students to put their thoughts into writing, connect with the online community, and develop a reputation for being thoughtful and insightful. Of course, this goes for professionals as well, but students in particular are often looking for ways to take their experience beyond the classroom, and blogging can be a constructive form of self-directed learning.

Although I sometimes struggled to stay motivated, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. Blogging was a valuable part of my education (indeed, more useful than many of the courses I took), and I feel it made a positive contribution to shaping the professional I am today.

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A new student reports on McGill’s MLIS program

I’ve already recommended Hack Library School, but today I want to point out a recent post on that blog. People often ask for my thoughts on McGill’s MLIS program, so this article may be of interest, especially to prospective students. As always, follow the link to read the full post.

From Back to the Beginning by Laura Sanders, AKA @laurainthelib:

Many students work part time through the year. However, because Montreal is a bilingual city, it can be tough to find work if you don’t speak French. That said, McGill has a Work Study program where you can find a job at one of the campus’ many libraries, and French is not required for these positions. Work Study is also a good option for international students, who may not be able to work off campus because of visa restrictions. (On that note, I should add that McGill’s program has a large number of American students. Although international tuition fees are higher than those paid by Quebec or Canadian students, they are still much lower than the tuition fees of many American library schools.)

Learn more about programs from Hack Library School

Every now and then, someone contacts me to ask what I think about the library program at McGill. I’m always happy to share what I can, but it’s a tough question; I’ve never been in an LIS program anywhere else, so how do I know how McGill compares?

If you’re looking for a variety of perspectives on various programs, I suggest you check out Hack Library School. They have a series of posts called Hack Your Program, where students provide both facts and commentary about the programs they attend. The majority of the programs are in the United States, though the latest one is from Israel.

Of course, there’s more to HLS than just Hack Your Program; much like the ILSS, the blog covers a variety of topics of interest to library school students (e.g., getting involved with student organizations, which continues to be a surprisingly tough sell). And if you’re a student looking to become more involved with the community, here’s your chance:

HackLibSchool is seeking more contributors. We need students who are new to LIS programs! We need museum studies and archivist students! We need students that represent the diversity of the field! Where are you all??

What are you waiting for? Go join in!

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!

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.

Hello!

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!

Co-organizers:

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

Still inspired, no longer a student

For anyone who hasn’t already heard the good news, I’m extremely pleased to announce that I am now a Liaison Librarian at McGill! I had spent the summer at McGill as a casual employee, working on the new soon-to-be-launched Library website and applying to just about every academic library position I heard about. I became quite frustrated when I didn’t hear back from any of those libraries, but eventually I was invited to an interview at McGill and later offered a one-year appointment. I’m now in my second week in the new position and it’s all very exciting. I work with a great group of people, and I can’t wait for things to really get moving when the new semester starts in a few weeks.

I still haven’t decided what to do with this blog, since the title is no longer appropriate. I may just rename it, or I may start a new blog altogether. At any rate, I’ll keep you posted. For now, please indulge me while I link to the McGill Library newsletter, the June 2009 issue of which features a photo of me at graduation.

Oh, and one more thing. The fantastic Amanda Halfpenny has started a library blog of her own – she calls herself the Biblioblond. Go check it out, and be sure to leave her a comment!

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