Erin Dorney

Blogging life & librarianship

5 Surprises from first year as an MLIS

with 12 comments

OutreachLibrarianInspired by a post by Cynthia Lambert on one of my favorite blogs Library Garden, today I am writing about five surprises from my first year as an MLIS. In May of 2008 I graduated from Syracuse University with my MS in Library and Information Studies as well as my CAS in Digital Librarianship. Unlike Lambert, librarianship is my first career and I entered graduate school immediately after finishing my undergraduate degrees. This makes me a millennial with tons of student loans to boot… (typical, eh?). Another difference between our circumstances is that I have found my calling in the academic library realm, while Lambert’s reflections focus on the sphere of public librarianship (however, you may see interesting parallels between our observations).

It is my hope that this list will alert new graduates to some of the unanticipated factors that might end up influencing their experience in an academic library. There have been many more than five surprises over the past year (and there are likely many yet to come), but here are some main ones that come to mind:

#1) Meetings

I have to include a vehement ditto to everything Lambert says about the necessity and cost of never-ending meetings. Not a week goes by that I am not scheduled for one or more meetings (usually more). Some types of meetings include department meetings, all-staff meetings, library committee meetings, university-wide committee meetings, library and university training sessions, reappointment observation meetings, vendor demonstrations, one-on-one student research meetings and more. As the Outreach Librarian, I also have a lot of meetings with faculty/student groups and organizations related to collaborative library events and displays. Add in professional development in the form of online chats, telephone conference calls, and webinars and sometimes I wonder when I can find a solid 8 hours of sleep (just kidding… kind of). I think I’m a decent multitasker, and being a librarian with good organizational skills really helps with scheduling. I’m also getting better at working on projects in quick bursts, transitioning between group meetings and independent work.

Good = Strong collaborations & information sharing.     Bad = Time suck.

My advice: If you are the one planning a meeting, ask yourself if there is a less time-consuming way to conduct the same discussion. Consider your options before scheduling.

#2) Development Opportunities

The sheer number of opportunities that have been offered or available to me in my first year as a librarian are astounding. For some reason, I was under the impression that it was difficult to get involved (in ALA, in local/regional organizations, in university governance, etc). Completely wrong (in my case, anyway). I am finding that many groups and organizations welcome new librarians and are willing to mentor them along the way. My colleagues seem very open to introducing me to their library contacts and sharing requests for information & input. The same goes for on-campus people and groups, with co-workers willing to point me in the direction of like-minded peers. I have had lots of chances to join task forces, attend conferences, and contribute my viewpoints.

Good = Meaningful involvement & the chance to bring change.

Bad = Sometimes you have to say no.

My advice: Talk to people. Network. Ask to be involved. You never know who you will meet and what opportunities they might have for you to improve your professional or personal life. At the same time, don’t immediately say yes to everything that lands on your plate – you could go insane (think of all the meetings!). Take time to assess your current involvement and choose the activities that are best for your long and short term situations.

#3) Work/Life Balance

It’s nice being a working professional in terms of the money, other benefits, and the fact that I am in a field I enjoy. But I am also one of those recent library graduates who had to move to find a job. Which means for the first time in my life, I am away from my family as well as the friends I grew up and attended college with. Living in a new city has put a bit of a damper on my social life, and with so many opportunities available at work, I have begun to see my work/life balance become askew. It’s really easy to wind up staying late at the library to work on projects if I don’t have tons of people to go to coffee/dinner/movies/shopping/parent’s houses with. Don’t get me wrong, I have met some great people here and have some budding friendships in the works. It’s just the first time I have ever had to even think about the overall dynamics of my work and social relationships… in the past, it just balanced on its own!

Good = Feeling productive, fulfilled, and busy.

Bad = Risk of unhealthy balance & burnout.

My advice: Seek the perfect balance… take some yoga? Seriously though, be aware of the “big picture” once you are no longer a full time student. It’s a strange transition to go through.

#4) Autonomy

Having control over my daily work flow is a new concept for me. It’s something that coincided with my move from an hourly employee to a salaried employee, so maybe  lots of people go through it. Not having to clock in and out is cool. Coming into my own office, sitting down at my desk and deciding what I want to work on feels really good. Based on my mood (and deadlines), I can choose which projects I want to work on. My job autonomy is a constant reminder of how lucky I am. I don’t have to adhere to corporate baselines, deal with being under a supervisor’s thumb, or work on pointless projects. Because my time is valuable and limited, I get to determine what is most important; how I can best contribute to the library and essentially the overall university learning experience. A few months ago, I honestly couldn’t believe that I was actually being given such a level of responsibility (including thousands of dollars in collection development funds) but I can feel myself becoming more and more confident as I gain experience under my own terms.

Good = Self governance and direction.

Bad = Can be overwhelming & a bit lonesome.

My advice: Identify people around you who will help keep you on task. When you’re on your own (a one person department or individual office space for example), it’s easy to get off track and wander a bit before settling down into a good work rhythm.  Enjoy, but be accountable for your time.

#5) Students

Is it odd to say that the students have surprised me? This is mostly in regards to my interactions with students who are using the library. For one thing, I enjoy doing reference a lot more than I had anticipated. I get a good number of actual research questions (opposed to the technical ones which are still important but not as fun) and many of the students I help seem very, very thankful. On more than one occasion I have been stopped by a thankful student days after our interaction to be told that I helped them do well on a paper or secured a sought-after book through interlibrary loan. This is also due in part to the amazing work of the library’s support staff and student workers (whom I appreciate hardcore!). Is it selfish for me to enjoy feeling appreciated? If so, oh well. Overall, students seem to be understanding when our technology is down or their space is interrupted with an event. When asked, they provide valuable feedback and are willing to voice their opinions on how we can better support them.

Good = Job satisfaction.     Bad= I can’t think of any?

My advice: Don’t just see students as the people who use library resources and services. They are truly the *reason* we are here, and should have the chance (and in my opinion, the right) to be involved in many of our library decisions. Listen to what they have to say because it will make us stronger as a profession/institution. The whole ballgame is changing right before our eyes.

So I guess those are my top five surprises! I was going to talk about bureaucracy above, but that’s really no surprise as it’s to be expected in any academic setting. In closing, I want to give a shout out to:

  • My friend and spring intern Amy who will be starting the LIS program at Clarion University this fall
  • My friend and previous co-worker Lindsey who will be starting the LIS program at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill this summer
  • My friend and fellow blogger Karen the Librarian who is halfway through the LIS SMS program at Syracuse University
  • All of the recent library school graduates and incoming students! Let me know how I can help. 🙂

Written by Erin Dorney

May 19, 2009 at 7:03 PM

12 Responses

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  1. Erin,

    It’s so nice to hear you voice so many of the issues I’ve also had in my first professional job! The meetings, the being overwhelmed with opportunity, the thrills and pitfalls of autonomy… I’m feeling it too. I’m constantly wondering how to deal with it all, and what the next steps are for me. Thanks for an excellent post!

    Jaime Hammond

    May 19, 2009 at 7:22 PM

  2. Makes me feel lucky I don’t have the same amount of meetings as being widely reported… =D


    May 19, 2009 at 7:38 PM

  3. I have really enjoyed finding and reading your blog. I am planning on applying to library science graduate programs for next year. Your blog has been inspiring…now just to find some type of internship to get experience before I apply!


    May 20, 2009 at 2:48 AM

  4. Jamie – Thanks for your comment, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one encountering these issues at work 🙂

    Andy – So lucky!

    Sage – Welcome to the fold! What school will you be applying to? Let me know if you have any questions moving forward. Experience is always a plus and will demonstrate the issues you talk about in your classes.


    May 20, 2009 at 5:32 PM

  5. I don’t work in a library (yet!!) but I do work in a professional field and I agree with 4 wholeheartedly. I’m in a management position, which I was promoted to just before my 23rd birthday, and HOLY CRAP was it intimidating. A year later I still get freaked out about making real decisions, but I’m getting used to it, ha. It’s crazy though to go from being an assistant/minion/whatever your college job was to a professional spot where you’re allowed to make choices, and those choices have a real effect. Cool, huh?

    It’s also nice to see this from an academic librarian, since that’s what I want to do. Well, OK, I want to work in Special Collections or something along those lines but academia is like a magnet for me……


    May 21, 2009 at 1:30 AM

  6. great post, erin! you have no idea how much i appreciate your advice and experience!


    May 22, 2009 at 1:00 PM

  7. Kate – I totally agree, it’s different and kind of weird but definitely cool.

    Karen – Thanks! I’m looking forward to working with you on something in the future! I bet you can’t wait to graduate 🙂


    May 28, 2009 at 12:14 AM

  8. Hi Erin – first time on your blog, and being a MSLIS student currently, this post was absolutely wonderful – thanks for sharing!

    Could you expound a bit on what you perceived as the weight that your degree from Syracuse brought to the job selection process?

    Once again – great blog – I look forward to reading more!

    PS – Adding you to Google Reader now.

    Jason Dean

    August 4, 2009 at 11:19 AM

  9. Jason – Thanks for the kind words! Just added you to my RSS feed as well. I love the look/design of your website! Great pics and stuff. So you’re in the distance program at SU currently? I think having my degree from Syracuse opened a lot of doors for me. The networking power with alums is simply amazing. It has been great at conferences and stuff because once I say I’m an SU graduate, the others seem to welcome me with open arms. It was a lot of money (as I’m sure you well know), and I can’t say for *certain* but I have a feeling it has influenced my success in some ways thus far. What do you think of your experience so far?


    August 5, 2009 at 11:56 PM

  10. You’re welcome, Erin – and glad to have another reader! I am indeed in the SU LIS program right now. Thanks for the input on the job market. No kidding on the lots of money, but it seems that in this case, you get what you pay for. What I have experienced thus far is really great. I’m actually in a location with two other ALA accredited programs (UNT, TWU) but I feel like (and have heard) that a degree from SU helps one to stand out from the pack.

    So, overall – I like it so far! Thanks for the response!

    Jason Dean

    August 7, 2009 at 10:57 PM

  11. […] for the library where I now work full time. Recently I’ve been thinking about how some new librarians have taken stock of their experience of the first couple of years in their blogs. They […]

  12. […] association is the PaLA Academy of Leadership Studies (PALS). After a blog post last May regarding surprises from my first year as a librarian, I was honored to be invited to speak to the inaugural PALS class of 2009 about “Achieving […]

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