Thursday, March 27, 2014

Achievement Unlocks: Lessons From Grad School I Use Every Day, by Sara Bryce


Graduating with my MLIS in 2010 marked the end of an era: prior to that, I had been a higher education student for ten straight years. I had also been working full-time since 2004; school was my hobby, of sorts, in the sense that I had no time to do anything else for fun. It had to be my fun.

It stands to reason, then, that I am in fact one of those people that believes in school and professional development as a way to make myself a stronger librarian. I know for certain that I use everything I’ve learned every single day.

Similar to Giso Broman, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what I wanted to do with the degree (I knew I really didn’t want to work with kids, which is pretty laughable now as a Youth Services Librarian), but I found that getting a general degree worked best for me.

Despite being a generalist, I decided not to write “general studies” on my questionnaire for my Emerging Leaders trading card when asked what my “specialization” was, for fear I’d look somehow lesser. But I shouldn’t have been embarrassed, and current non-track students shouldn’t either: I was able to take a variety of classes, and I still got an MLIS and, perhaps more importantly, a job!

Here’s some of the best classes I took, and the skills I picked up that made me into the librarian I am today:

1. Marketing of Library and Information Services
: Not a single day goes by that I do not use everything I learned in this class. I learned how many bullet points are too many (5), how many words each phrase on a sign should have (3), and basically how to keep library information  from getting relegated to the TL;DR category.

Also, the final project was about mission statements and objectives, and whether an organization is doing what they set out to do, and weighing internal versus external perceptions of an organization’s value. I can’t say enough about this course. Please take it if it’s offered at your graduate school, future librarian. [Editor’s note: there are great books, articles, and more – both in and out of the lis literature – if you’re out of grad school or are working in the field but have no interest in the MLIS.]

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: I create informative signage and have an elevator speech prepared for people who say, “Librarian, huh? Why are there still libraries anyway?”

2. Project Management: This is definitely one of those classes I was sure I wouldn’t use until I had a “manager” title. BUT… 8 months into my first (and current) librarian job, I became project manager of our second grade library field trips. I helped write a grant, scheduled all classes (11 schools total), wrote a tour, and reported our evaluation of the program. Bringing all second graders into the library was seen as so valuable that we’ve since added kindergarten and 7th grade versions of this project.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: By keeping our main objective at the forefront of our plans, I avoided multiple epic freak outs and became a successful project manager as a first-year librarian.

3. Digital Tools: This class was the foundation for my entire online presence. I was introduced to professional uses of social media, and it was where I created a Twitter account. Every student in the class had posting access to a Wordpress blog, and we took turns writing about ourselves and about library issues we researched. I learned how a professional post online was different from the LiveJournal that I kept, and how comments can steer a conversation (for better or worse). Also, Digital Tools taught me about the wonder that is open source software, like Open Office and GIMP!

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: While I’ve never been someone with a “brand,” I’m definitely better off than I would have been had I not learned about being a librarian on social media.

4. Behavioral Psychology/Brain Development: These were classes I took for my OTHER master’s degree, in reading education. I’m telling you, though, that if you can take electives outside your program, look for ones that will help you get where you want to go.

Behavioral psychology is a great class to take for anyone who works with other people (basically, everyone). I’m not just talking about the public, here; many librarians work on a team or in a hierarchy, and understanding what makes other people tick can help those “dreaded” group projects and meetings work in your favor. Knowledge about brain development helps anyone who deals with children [Editor’s note: It’s also super helpful when dealing with college students.].

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: This definitely helped me be a better librarian. I know now that an adult’s attention span isn’t that much longer than a child. So my school tours are 7 minutes, and presentations to the Library Board will be 10.

I can’t say that these are classes I planned to take, knowing their desired outcomes. I took classes that sounded interesting or challenging, and didn’t even know when or how I would use them in the future.

What were some of the most valuable classes you took in school?

Sara Bryce is a youth services librarian for La Crosse Public Library. She was a 2013 ALA Emerging Leader and a 2012 Wisconsin Library Association Rising Star. She blogs at Bryce Don’t Play and tweets at @PLSanders

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