what i learned in grad school

Yesterday, karen the librarian turned two, which means that I started my WordPress adventure shortly before officially starting grad school.  I wrote my introductory post with all the enthusiasm and optimism that this brand-new life journey merited, and casually speculated on what exciting opportunities the future would have in store for me.

In six days, karen the librarian will be relocating to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  After seven years and one recently-acquired MLIS, I’m saying goodbye to Rochester with the same enthusiasm and optimism.  Maybe it’s just my desperate attempt to put off packing, but I’ve been thinking a lot about those two years in between: what I’ve learned and who I’ve become.  Has graduate school prepared me for my next big adventure, otherwise known as real life?  This is an important consideration for me, but it’s also relevant to those who are considering an MLIS or are currently working toward one.

To gauge my librarian preparedness, I’ve come up with a few of the biggest things that rad school has equipped me with for this stage of my career:

  • Good networking is absolutely imperative.
    I’m not a fan of acknowledging that I use such cheesy buzzwords, but this is legit.  Whether you’re trying to complete an assignment, get a job, or help a patron, it really is all about who you know; the more contacts you make and maintain, the broader your pool of resources will be.  My mantra is, “I don’t know all the answers, but I do know where to find them.”  Emailing an associate or talking to a friend on Facebook has been my go-to resource more often than I can explain, and knowing an expert or two is just as valuable as navigating online databases.
  • I have the skills that good networking requires.
    Thanks to my experience as a distance learning student, I am completely comfortable with the whole networking business.  I’ve developed strong friendships with faraway classmates over social media, through which we’ve completed tough assignments, shared ideas, and bonded over the perils of grad school.  It also forced me to contact local librarians, begging for their guidance in my quest to fulfill fieldwork and practicum requirements.  I met many amazing librarians this way, and learned so much about how different libraries function.
    I’m already reaping the benefits of my recently honed networking skills: I’ve scoured library websites, sent emails, and followed Twitter accounts for relevant parties in my new neighborhood.  As weird as it seemed while doing it, I’ve already managed to score post-move coffee dates with North Carolina librarians.  Even though I don’t have a library gig lined up, I’m excited to become familiar with the scene down there and make some cool librarian friends.
  • As a school media specialist, lesson plans are the least of my concerns.
    For most of grad school, creating lesson plans was my biggest fear.  When I got into the actual teaching part, though, I felt foolish for letting those tiny monsters get to me so.  Lesson plans are very important, of course, but a school media specialist has so much more going on- budgets, meetings, resource management, inventory, ordering… et al.- that creating and executing lessons are the really fun part.  It’s really sort of like elementary school: everything is kind of fun, but nothing tops recess.  I wonder how many teachers are fuming because I just equated instructing with recess?
  • They weren’t kidding when they stressed the value of continuous assessment.
    All through my program, our professors focused strongly on the importance of recursive assessment of any system to ensure its effectiveness.  Well, professors, you were right.  Libraries are changing at an unbelievable rate, and it’s important to conduct frequent self-analyses to investigate the relevancy and effectiveness of a service or system.  Even this post is an assessment, because I’m taking careful note of what I’m doing well and what still needs work.
  • When you’re stuck on something, seek help.
    There’s a pretty good chance that whatever it is you’re doing has been done before.  Find someone who has already done it and, more often than not, he or she will be willing to provide advice and support.  This saved me hours of grief during grad school, and I have every intention of continuing this practice in the future.  Our library patrons do it every day when they walk in the door with a problem or a question… librarians should take advantage of their resources, too.
  • When someone else is stuck on something, offer help.
    There’s nothing wrong with a little good karma.  What’s the point of being good at one thing or another if you don’t use your expertise to help someone else?
  • Nobody really told me how important good marketing is.  I’m telling you this right now: good marketing is incredibly valuable.
    A well-planned marketing strategy can overshadow a meager budget, and a creative resumé can help set you apart from other job candidates.  I’ve been astounded to see the impact that a clever promotion can have on a library event.  On the flip side, poorly executed advertising can keep your service (or yourself) from reaching its fullest potential.
  • Believe it or not, coursework actually is worthwhile.
    When I was in the midst of creating my PMA (which can be found on the Program Administration page of my portfolio), I moaned and groaned at the process and wondered what benefit it was to me.  As I prepared the presentation of my document, it all came together and I could see just how much I’d accomplished through that assignment.  Graduate school is a lot of work, but it trained me to consider a lot of things that I would have otherwise glossed right over.  As it turns out, those graduate professors really know what they’re doing.  Strange!
  • Procrastination will inevitably hinder your success.
    Now, I’m not here to be giving anyone advice on how to study.  I believe that everyone just needs to figure out what works best for him or her and run with it.  But when it comes to distance learning, you have to stay on the ball.  Learn from my mistakes: putting things off will result in more than one missed deadline or misunderstood assignment.  If something is due at midnight, there is absolutely no chance that your professor will be checking his or her email at 8 p.m., and your insanely important question will remain unanswered.  Further still, there are a lot of little graduation and/or certification requirements in all different places, often with early deadlines.  Take it from a former procrastinator.  Repent!  Get organized right away, and keep up with it.

Of course, I could keep going here for a while.  When I take a moment to think about it, I’m downright impressed with my progress over the last two years.  Today, I am confident in my skills as a librarian, and excited to jump in and continue growing as a librarian.  I always said that I was in grad school for that piece of paper, but, as it turns out, I actually did get quite a lot out of it, thanks to my wonderful program and superb classmates and mentors.


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