In this monthly series, student members of SLA from library and information science programs across the United States share their thoughts and experiences in response to a themed prompt. See our introductory post, first post, or second post to get to know us better.
For our third post, the prompt was:
Are you working while going to school? How did you find your job/s, and what are your responsibilities? How do you achieve balance between work and classes?
Amy Frazier (Emporia State University)
I spent most of my first year in library school working the circulation desk at the Oregon Health and Science University Library, doing the usual sort of circ desk things: slinging books, serving patrons, and working on a few special projects. It was a lovely job for which I remain grateful. Students from my school have sort of handed down a couple of those student jobs from cohort to cohort, and I was lucky enough to be given the good word by a friend who preceded me there. I still had to win the job on my own, but having a trusted person give me the tip on the job and then vouch for me was an enormous help. (I have successfully handed it down to another young library student since then. No way that chain breaks on my watch!)
A few months ago, as I transitioned into my second year of school, I was offered a student position in another part of the library, working in the digital collection of the OHSU library’s archives. My primary function is to write metadata for the archive’s image collection, but I also do a bit of reference support and research, and I help with any other odd jobs that need doing. And then I’m also interning at the Portland Art Museum doing similar work, so I’m definitely learning my way around digital collections this year! The quiet concentration of a more technically-oriented job is such a counterpoint to the busyness of circulation, I feel lucky to have had a range of experiences so early on. Choosing a favorite would be tough, though!
Balance is still a challenge for me. There’s so much I want to do, and I want to excel at all of it. But I’ve had to learn that maybe I can’t do everything all at once; one of my big goals for the new term is to get better at measuring out my time and energy. But I can’t imagine going through library school without a library job. I have genuinely learned at least as much from my work as I have from my courses; my education would be so much poorer without it. The capacity for real-world application, and the opportunity to learn from professional librarians in a living, working library, has totally transformed my time as a student.
Brianna Marshall (Indiana University)
I have always felt that the my real library education occurs when I go to work. In that spirit, I have a whole glut of jobs–five, to be exact, totalling 40 hours per week. (I have to be careful not to go over 40 hours; since I work for IU, I’ll find myself in hot water with HR if I surpass that amount.) I work for the Digital Library Program as the Avalon Media System Project Assistant (20), the Kinsey Institute for Sex, Gender, and Reproduction as the Digital Projects Assistant (8), the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center as the Center Assistant (6-10), the School of Library and Information Science as a Faculty Assistant (5-7.5), and the Wells Teaching and Learning Department as an Instruction Assistant (0-2). An assistant wearing many hats! I found out about some of these jobs through my program’s listserv and the others from friends and colleagues. I won’t go over my exact responsibilities for each, but here’s a summary of all the stuff I get paid to do: manage social media and communications for an IMLS-funded open source software project, work on editorial projects and MOOC usability testing, digitize and create metadata for an archival collection, supervise volunteers, assist with organizational/administrative tasks for information science courses, and teach information literacy classes to undergrads (and try to get them to laugh at my nerdy library jokes). My schedule can be a circus but I have so much fun! As you can see from my total hours, there is some fluidity to my schedule. Classes don’t always need to be taught and there aren’t always projects for me. This suits me just fine. It usually works out to just about 40 hours anyway.
For me, balancing work and classes means two different things: actually being able to fit them into my schedule and not getting burned out. The former has been much more challenging for me in the past, when all of my jobs required 8-5 M-F in-person work. In my new position as a Faculty Assistant, I have the flexibility to work nights and weekends, and I am extremely grateful for this. To avoid burnout, I’ve developed good habits that help me stay productive. I prioritize and ensure that I am expending my energy effectively. I know my limits. And I genuinely love my jobs and the work that I do, which makes the long days worthwhile.
Chealsye Bowley (Florida State University)
This prompt has such good timing! Last semester I was working as a Graduate Assistant and as a part-time Curatorial Assistant, which worked great for my Fall schedule. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts I was forced to choose between my second job and classes for the Spring semester. I ultimately decided to resign from my Curatorial Assistant job in favor of an internship and on campus law course. It was a tough decision, and I wrote about it in a post on my personal blog.
I briefly mentioned the jobs that I held during my first two semesters of library school in our introductory post. I found those positions through College Central Network, GovernmentJobs, the FSU SLIS program website, and a university listserv. I worked two part-time jobs during the traditional work week and took online classes at night, and I felt pretty comfortable with the time commitment and schedule. I prefer on campus courses, but online courses are definitely more flexible for a work schedule.
My position as a Graduate Assistant in Digital Scholarship and Technology Services comes with a variety of responsibilities. I primarily assist the Scholarly Communication Librarian with managing DigiNole Commons, FSU’s institutional repository. I have regularly written up assessments on the scholarly publishing record of various faculty, currently am writing the DigiNole Commons Annual Report – 2012, and am crossing all my fingers and toes for the FSU Law Review to begin publishing through the repository. It is a great experience, and I’ve been looking into Digital Initiatives Librarian and Repository Manager positions because of it. Previously I have coordinated plans for Open Access Week and TEDxFSU: Digital Directions in October 2012, developed LibGuides, and created how-to videos for students. Additionally, I cover open access news for OANow.org, which I discussed in our first post.
Balancing work and classes is pretty easy for me, since I prefer to stay busy. But balancing work, classes, relationships, and sleeping can be tricky! I plan ahead to get homework done the weekend before, make sure I have me time for relaxing and cooking in order to maintain my sanity, and especially choose realistic projects for class that I have a sincere interest in. Often what I chose for group projects has grown out of something I’ve learned as a GA. I think what helps the most is to enjoy where you work, since it takes up the majority of your time. I’m a night owl, so having to be at work or my internship by 8:00AM isn’t my favorite thing but I’m happy once I get there. It is a great gig.
Esther Marie Jackson (SUNY-Buffalo alum)
I made a point during my time in library school to gain as much experience working in different library settings as possible. Some of these positions were volunteer, such as my project at WNYBAC, and a few were paid. Balance between work and school could be tough at times, but my employers were very understanding about my many and varied time commitments, and, so, thanks to that fact, I was able to work roughly 30 hours a week. The line between work and school started to blur at a point, which I think is probably a challenge that many students face! I coped with the workload by having a very detailed calendar, an addiction to OmniFocus, and trying not to procrastinate… within reason.
My main goal with the positions I sought out was diversity; I wanted to try out a few different areas of librarianship, not only to learn about different aspects of the profession, but also in order to be a very strong applicant for jobs that might include a variety of tasks. To this end, I very much feel that I was successful. While I volunteered at several cultural sites, worked for the Department of Library and Information Studies at SUNY Buffalo, and also worked in the Preservation Department at UB, I am going to focus on my work in the InterLibrary Loan Department for the purposes of this blog entry, as it was my primary job.
Getting a feeling for a layered and powerful software such as Illiad, as well as understanding best practices in terms of document delivery, (including promptness, quality of scans sent, and an emphasis on customer service – both in terms of internal and external patrons), really allowed for me to gain experience of how interesting and complex an access services position can be. Though this is not my focus in terms of my current job-hunt, I feel that it is crucially important for anyone working in a library to have an understanding of the jobs and workflow of his or her institution. This position also gave me the experience of being thrown into a situation where I was required to learn, use, and master a variety of software products that I had no experience with on my first day. While it was a bit nerve-wracking at first, the experience led me to value my ability to learn and adapt quickly in difficult and challenging situations – a vital skill in library land.
Since my time at library school has ended, I have been working in a volunteer capacity at several libraries and archives in the hopes of building my resume and making myself a more well-rounded and viable candidate as I hunt for jobs. It should be exciting to see where this goal takes me in the next couple of months. I’m on the hunt for more digitization projects and hope to study more about database creation and management. In library school or out, there is never a dull moment!
Samantha Leigh Barry (University of Arizona)
While in the IRLS program at the University of Arizona I have worked two student jobs. I searched and applied for both positions through the University of Arizona’s job network online.
My first position was as a Student Web Worker with the University’s Main Library in their Instructional Services group. I worked on a team to improved the library’s website presence, including the University Libraries and the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) websites, as well as the mobile website. Most of the semester I worked on the CCP’s site, which was a great challenge and a lot of fun. My team worked on a new organization for the site, and I also worked individually on new copy for the site. I was able to work with many staff members at both the library and the CCP, and have kept those contacts. You can see the final site redesign at http://www.creativephotography.org/
The next semester I was lucky to get my internship at the Pima County Public library, which I wrote about in a previous post.
This semester I am working with the Marketing and Communications department for the Chief Information Officer at the UA. I will be writing stories about University Information Technology Services (UITS) and research being conducted through the university’s high-performance computing services and virtual lab.
Working on campus definitely has its benefits. Even though I take my classes almost exclusively online, being on campus, especially in the library, has given me the opportunity to make many connections. I have worked with a lot of wonderful people who have given me great recommendations and their help has led to other opportunities. In fact, I have now applied for two long-term positions through this network, both at the university.
Another benefit of working on campus is that they are flexible with scheduling, since they depend on student workers. I have been able to plan and schedule study time, and since I am also a mother, time to be with my kids.
I hope to continue working at the university after graduation.