This post is part of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! I’m an online University of Maryland MLS student, the social media manager for UMD’s iDiversity organization and a library clerk on a public library’s reference desk. Come back every day this week to learn more about what it’s like to be a MLS student. And be sure to visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone participating this week. And read all of my HLSDITL posts here.

I thought I would chat a little bit about how I got where I am today. Until very recently, I worked as a newspaper designer. It was an okay job, but I didn’t love it and it wasn’t worth the commute or stress. There’s also that other little pesky aspect where my values didn’t really line up with the media industry’s values and goals. So I made the decision to switch careers. In late 2011, I applied for a few online library science programs. Online programs get a lot of flak, but I think that if they are done right, they are really great for people who can’t afford to relocate for school (you can read about how I defend the online degree here). I ended up choosing to go to the University of Maryland, which had only just starting offering an online version of their well-respected and accredited MLS program. I began the program in 2012 while still working 40- to 60-hours per week at the newspaper. Eventually, I realized I needed to be in an environment where I could apply what I was learning. So I applied for and accepted my part-time position on the reference desk, which I began in July of this year.

Working in a library is more than just stacks and stacks of books.

Working in a library is more than just stacks and stacks of books.

It turns out it was (and is) the best thing I could have done. I love my job and the great people I get to help. And I love my coworkers and the librarians that inspire me everyday. And if you are switching careers like I did, getting that hands-on experience before you graduate with your MLS is incredibly important. Here’s just a sample of things I do almost every day I work on the desk:

  • Hand out guest passes and reservations for our public computers.
  • Process new books and magazines
  • Field phone calls from people asking everything from library hours to whether we have that one book by that one person that has a chess piece on the cover (yes, that happened to me!).
  • Help people on the computer. This means everything from helping people set up emails so they can apply to jobs to helping people format Word documents to making flyers for their new business. I love my patrons. They are usually always grateful to be helped and always surprised by what you can do on a computer.
  • Recommend new books to patrons based on some books they already like (also known as active readers advisory).
  • Design monthly book displays (This is what I call passive readers advisory. More on this later).
  • Weed the collection of damaged books, books with multiple copies or books that haven’t been checked out in 10 years.

    Inspiration cards for NaNoWriMo.

    Inspiration cards for NaNoWriMo.

Sprinkled throughout are a variety of side projects my boss assigns to me. This week is about sprucing up a new section for NaNoWriMo, which is a monthlong program that encourages amateur writers to write a 50,000-word novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. We’re offering an inspiration zone in our library, complete with reference resources on writing, quotes from our favorite authors, and (my idea) inspiration cards (business-card sized) so people can take a little inspiration with them for later.

Tomorrow, we’re receiving training on answering questions about the Affordable Health Care Act, so I might share some of the my insights about that. My job offers monthly training in some aspect of the services we offer. I’ve done training on using OverDrive for our eBooks and navigating WestLaw, a database of legal resources, forms and cases that we offer to our patrons. This is just one of many reasons I highly recommend getting a library job before or during library school, especially if you are part of the growing number of online students. Ask any librarian in charge of hiring (and the folks over Hiring Librarians have asked many, many of these individuals) and they will tell you that no amount of schooling beats that hands-on experience. And later this week I’ll talk a little bit more about my classes and how much time I really have to put into school to succeed.


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