A common complaint in library school was the amount of group work that was required. The GIF posted above and found on Librarian Problems is hilarious to anyone and everyone who has gone through this experience. Many of the MLIS students in my cohort at McGill including myself were coming from a Humanities BA where marks were reliant on individual work in essays and exams. It was an especially huge learning curve because for all of our first-year mandatory courses there were at least two group projects. The atmosphere when a group project was announced was usually panic-stricken as the majority of librarians are introverts and in first semester we were essentially partnering up with strangers. As an extrovert, I was perhaps less stressed than my fellow students, I mean, I figured that since all potential group partners had been accepted into the Masters program I could only assume that we were all fairly intelligent studious people. In retrospect, I was generally lucky to have “good groups”. Around me I could see people who took group work to the extreme forcing their fellow group members to spend hours longer than required on projects in the attempt of attaining a perfect assignment. Other group members could go AWOL without notice leaving their groups in the lurch. The only bad experience that I had in a group (that will not be named to protect the innocent) seemed so disastrous at the time but 5 years later I brush it off knowing what it taught me in diplomacy and the importance of knowing when it’s time to cut your losses. Now as the only librarian in my schools I honestly miss the group dynamic. I miss having other librarians to bounce ideas off or to work collaboratively on a library-focused project. The skills that I learned in group work are still there and I made some good friends during these projects. So much that I was tagged 3 years after graduation in a friend’s Facebook post about that featured this GIF making fun of our shared experience of group work. If you are in library school now, don’t worry, you get through the group projects and to those who clench up looking back upon those assignments, what was your best or your worst group experience? Do you ever talk to those people anymore or have they developed into lifelong friends?
1) Never underestimate the importance of developing friendships with classmates
I only really got this concept near the end of my studies. Librarians and more specifically library school students can form a unique bond based on shared interests. People who decide to pursue a MLIS often come from diverse academic backgrounds and can be at various stages in their lives. Some classmates have just completed their undergraduate degree, some want to start a second career, and some are parents who must coordinate homework and group projects around their kids. Regardless of different backgrounds, your classmates in library school will most likely be passionate about libraries. Take advantage of this common ground to start great discussions and develop meaningful friendships! During my studies, I took for granted being surrounded by people who shared my librarianship values, now that I am the only professional librarian at my library, I completely appreciate being able to reconnect with my friends from library school through the internet to discuss the new library trends and annoying patrons!
2) Your passion for becoming a librarian will be tested. Stay strong!
I guarantee there will be many moments during your MLIS when you will wonder what the heck you are doing. I knew a few people who dropped out of the program in first year because it was not what they were expecting. I promise that your studies do not reflect what being a librarian is actually like. Everyone has dark moments in Library School; mine usually came while researching particularly difficult reference question assignments in my Humanities and Social Sciences class. When I couldn’t find the answers, I’d convince myself that I was going to make a horrible librarian. One of the best librarians I know almost failed Cataloguing. Don’t be discouraged! Never forget your initial dream and hold onto that throughout your studies. Remember, a MLIS is only 2 years but being a librarian will be a fulfilling life-long career!
3) Don’t buy all the textbooks (and certainly not at full price in the bookstore)!
During my undergrad, I had to buy all of the required books on the reading list. I wrote essays on these books and my exams were based on their content. It would have been pure insanity not to have had my own personal copies that I was free to highlight and make notes in the margins. In library school, there are certain courses that have a required textbook but that I swear will never again be mentioned for the rest of the semester. Most often, the professors will summarize the contents of the readings in their lectures. The most ambitious students continue to follow the reading list for perhaps a month but in the end, being Masters students and all, we are smart enough to realize that our time is more productively spent doing something other than lengthy readings that will be summarized for us or not ever discussed again. I especially recommend talking to the second year students to get advice on which textbooks are important to purchase. If you must purchase a textbook try and organize buying one second-hand as you can save lots of money!
4) Learn to like or at least be able to feign an interest in cats
The stereotype that librarians are cat-people? It’s true.
5) Facebook will become an invaluable informal learning tool
Most people in the MLIS program will have a Facebook profile. This is a great way to connect with your busy classmates while outside of class and get quick answers to your burning questions on assignments and where people are hanging out on the weekend. When I started library school, I was extremely selective of who I confirmed as a Facebook friend. I declined those who were casual acquaintances because I maintained that a Facebook friend needed to be someone who I truly considered to be a friend. I soon realized that adding other library school students and professional librarians on Facebook was a fantastic way to find out more about that person and that it could become a valuable sharing tool. I have discovered so many interesting articles, videos, and websites that have been posted by people in the library field. Also, on more than one occasion, I sent out a desperate message asking whether anyone could help me understand an unclear question from an assignment. Luckily someone was always online, usually working on the same assignment so that we could discuss the ambiguous question together. So if you haven’t done so, clean up any potentially embarrassing personal pictures/info and add some new library school friends who will help you integrate more smoothly both socially and academically into your MLIS program!
Obtaining a MLIS can set a foundation of theoretical and practical knowledge that is valuable for succeeding in career as a librarian or information professional. However, one aspect of a MLIS degree that is not often discussed but that is invaluable is the creation of a network of friends in libraries/archives/knowledge management. I have just recently begun to reflect on how lucky I am to have studied for the past two years with such a wonderful group of people. Like most students, I had a choice of what universities I could attend for my degree. I could have easily taken the same program at l’Université de Montréal instead of at McGill. But I have a hard time imagining what my experience would have been with a completely different set of classmates. So many things create a strong bond between classmates: working on group projects, complaining about exams and assignments, discussing/poking fun at various professors.
Unfortunately this year I was so busy with school work, associations, and my part-time jobs that I did not socialize as much as I would have liked. For those who wanted, there were lots of opportunities outside of class to hang out with friends and classmates. An informal MLIS group called “Pub Club” even set times and places for people to meet together to enjoy Montreal’s exciting nightlife.
A few weeks ago on the Librarians Without Borders Guatemala Trip 2010 with fellow McGill students, I really appreciated what it was like to be part of a close-knit group of incredible individuals who all share a passion for libraries. Everyone displayed such a strong desire for the library project at Asturias Academy to be successful and we all worked very hard together to develop recommendations and library standards based on the school’s objectives and resources. In addition to the library project, we all bonded as a group while having somewhat crazy but fun experiences travelling around Guatemala. In the last few days of the trip someone mentioned how wonderful it would be if we could develop a form of telepathy amongst the group members. He mentioned that since most of us were going our separate ways after the trip, it would be great if when we encountered problems in our library careers we could simply close our eyes and contact someone telepathically to ask how they would handle a certain situation. Like many ongoing jokes that developed during the trip, we referred to this idea of group telepathy quite a bit. Despite our great plans for telepathy being unrealistic and likely be replaced by other means of communication (email/instant messaging/telephone), what I really love is the idea that due to this bond that I’ve developed with my McGill classmates I know we will continue supporting each other as we begin our careers and beyond.
The friendships that I have developed at McGill mean that I can now share the highs and lows of a career in libraries and seek advice from graduates who work in various positions from Montreal to California to South Africa. I also applaud two classmates who will shortly begin their PhDs at McGill; I completely admire their further pursuit of academia, who knows in a few years I might want to join them!
McGill’s MLIS Graduation is June 2nd and although some students have already left Montreal to pursue new jobs and projects elsewhere, I’m very excited at this chance to get together with so many of my classmates before we all go out into the real work world.
The past few weeks I have been going a bit crazy trying to finish my final assignments in order to complete my MLIS degree! If I had more time, I would blog about our preparations for the Librarians without Borders McGill Student Chapter’s upcoming 10-day trip to Guatemala. I can’t believe we leave in six days! Luckily Jen Cyr, the only professional librarian to join our group of McGill MLIS students has written a great summary of our eminent trip on her blog A Canuck Librarian. Check it out and feel free to post comments on her blog or mine! You can also check out more information on the LWB Guatemala Trip Blog.