Unexpected Lessons from Library School

The MLIS program from which I earned my degree morphed from being a hybrid in-person-plus-online program to being completely online while I was in it. Because of this, the number of students that were in the program at one time was in the multiple hundreds. I had opportunities to interact with a wide range of people from many different places. Here are some of the things I learned in library grad school that have stuck with me longer than the course material.

I’ve learned that there is always time to read if I try hard enough. I was doing grad school full-time. At the same time, I was working a full-time job, a part-time job, and a volunteer position that involved hundreds of hours of work every year. In my 4th semester I took a course on Young Adult materials. The final project included consuming fifty pieces of YA material, 30 of which had to be books and the other twenty were a mix of music albums, websites, video games, and movies. This was on top of the other coursework for this particular class, since that was the final project, as well as the coursework for my other two classes. It’s remarkable the amount of time I found to read when I was forced to do so. I read on the train. I read when I ate meals. I only listened to audiobooks while I drove. I went to bed late, got up early, and sacrificed the occasional going out with friends or if I went out I came home much earlier than I would have if I didn’t have to read dozens of books. Now, years later, I no longer allow myself the excuse that “I don’t have time to read” because I know the time is there if I make space for it.

Similarly, a lesson that always stuck with me was from a particular professor who was fond of saying, “Thrive within limits.” At the beginning of class he showed a YouTube video of people making intricate latte art. Do the best with what you got. Rarely in life, both personally and professionally, will we have all the time, money, people, and other resources we would like to have. There will almost always be limits. I learned that it’s up to me to get creative with what I have and to not only survive, but to thrive.

Something I learned from observation is that just because someone is an adult it doesn’t automatically mean they have their act together. “Adulting” wasn’t even a thing yet but I realized really quickly that it’s not necessarily something that comes with age. I encountered people who always had excuses as to why they were late to sign in to class, or that their dog spilled water on their laptop, or any of a number of reasons for why they hadn’t yet completed their part of the group work. I’m sure they were all perfectly nice people and this is not a judgment on their character nor whether or not their excuses were valid. But I did learn that things such as integrity and respect for teammates are things that are deliberately cultivated and don’t just happen overnight.

In my final semester, I had a classmate plagiarize my homework. I caught her in the act (it was in Second Life and the whole thing was plain weird) and immediately reported her to the professor. The professor was shocked and even though I had screenshots (receipts, as the kids these days say) his initial reaction was to try to make it seem like a misunderstanding. It was my turn to be shocked. Through this, I got an unexpected lessons in trust, boundaries, and the difficulty of speaking up for myself. I have seen it reflected in other women in the workplace: not speaking up for ourselves because we don’t want to look like the “bad guy.” I learned that I would rather risk being the bad guy than to ever again feel how I felt back then.

Perhaps these aren’t the lessons I imagined I would learn in my MLIS program but I am grateful that I did and given the choice I would do it all over again.