Thursday, May 23, 2013

What the Heck Am I Doing Here?, by Ruth Frasur

If you’ve found yourself in “library school” as a graduate student, you may have asked yourself this question. Maybe, at some point in your life, you equated your love for reading and quiet with a natural progression into one of the most stereotyped professions. Maybe, once you got into that MLS program, and started delving into the coursework and community, you started wondering for what exactly you’d signed up.

After working for several years in a public school setting and then at a public library, I found myself wanting to finish up a long atrophied education. I talked to an advisor and asked what degree, after years and years chasing this and that major, I was closest to finishing. Turned out it was  a bachelor of general studies with a math and science concentration. After completing that degree, I wasn’t ready to start paying back student loans (a not uncommon predicament for students with worthless degrees). Because I was working in a public library and generally loved it, I figured that it was only natural to continue on to a master’s degree and finally decide on a career path. It sounds pretty haphazard. If that’s what you’re hearing, you’re hearing right.

In spite of the circuitous route it took to get here, I truly believe that public librarianship is where I belong. Now, as the director of a small, rural public library, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the value of the MLS as well as the keys to being a successful librarian. Hopefully, you can get both some encouragement from my reflections.  

The discussion often arises with regard to the value of an MLS for public librarians. In my state (Indiana), one may or may not need to be a Master of Library Science to direct a library depending on how many people reside in its service district. In my library district, one technically only needs to have a bachelor’s degree (even my “worthless” one will do) and a few library classes (which you can take at a local community college). So, what’s the point of the master’s degree? From my perspective, you can’t beat library school as your first intense taste of professional networking. Even if you’ve worked at a library for years, it’s in library school where you get people talking about its other important aspect – a philosophical foundation for librarianship. Don’t worry, when you get a job in a library, you’ll spend a lot of time “doing.” In library school, you may not learn all the processes related to that “doing,” but you’ll be given the opportunity to think about the WHY of that “doing.” Take advantage of this time to philosophize and do theoretical implementations. The value you get out of your degree will be directly proportional to the value you place on it.

So, is an MLS a guarantee of success as a professional librarian? We can all look around and find examples of individuals with degrees but no jobs or no professional direction and vice versa. In librarianship, as well as any other profession, in order to be successful, I’m convinced that the most important quality an individual must possess is a healthy knowledge of one’s self. For me, I know that I love people. I know that one value I prize highly is the inherent value of the individual and my belief that access to information is a right; not a privilege. I know that I always question authority but, once convinced, am a fierce advocate for policy and procedure. I know that my tendency for the absolute makes me less than ideal for things that require calculated diplomacy. These are neither “goods” nor “bads.” They’re realities. Once you know the reality of yourself, you’ll be much better guided to take that MLS and apply it appropriately for a successful library career.

Ruth Frasur is the Director of the Hagerstown-Jefferson Township Library in Hagerstown, Indiana. She is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Library and Information Science in Indianapolis. She resides in rural Indiana with her husband, three sons, and fat dog. She’s passionate about equal access to information and the culture of open source. And she tweets @rfrasur.

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