Tips for Library Students

There are a few things I wish I had known back when I was studying. Or things that people mentioned that I didn’t heed enough! People would give advice, and sometimes I’d think – “but I don’t have time for that”. Well I would have if I’d prioritised better. So, some of my tips for students (in no particular order):

  1. This is a weird one to start, as it’s kind of backwards. But, try to be working first, before you study. The people I have met who have easily gotten work after graduation, were already working somewhere when they decided to get the qualification! For example, they had been working in public libraries as customer service officers, realised they loved the job and wanted to work their way up, so started the course and continued working. Then they graduated and moved up the ranks, or moved across, as they already had contacts, skills and experience. So if you’re thinking about doing the course, maybe get some low level employment first. This can also help you ensure it’s something you really enjoy and want to continue with. Study part-time if need be.
  2. If you’ve already started studying – don’t worry! Try your best to get work experience while you are studying! It can be really hard to find volunteer work at some public libraries, but just keep on trying. Go on websites like ‘Go Volunteer‘ or ‘Seek Volunteer‘ (search engines for volunteer work, there are many other sites like this too!), or try to apply for the volunteer intake at the State Library. Some volunteer work might just be book delivery or unpacking of boxes, but getting your foot in the door for when they need someone for more library related work can be helpful. Apply at your university’s library for casual or volunteer work. They usually hire library students for positions, though the competition can be harder!
    • This is a super important tip!! GET THE WORK EXPERIENCE! Don’t have time? seriously – spend less time on your assignments and uni work. Sounds counter intuitive I know! But trust me. I got the highest marks in multiple classes, finished with a HD average and this literally meant nothing! Other friends who spent less time studying and more time volunteering and working (of course they still did quite well, just not the highest marks as I was worried about getting) have done much better in obtaining work after graduation! Most continued on at places they were already working or volunteering and got higher-up positions. One dropped to part-time study due to the great work he was offered. One went overseas for her work and deferred her masters. All have done exceptionally well. For me it was a lot harder. After graduation, I have spent a year working as a Library Tech just to get the work experience they already had, now I can finally assure employers that I know what I am doing practically and not just theoretically. I wish I had known this, and I would have spent less time on grades, and more time working! Thankfully, it’s all still worked out, just took a little longer. But I suppose I did get a bit more down-time for socialising 😛 so one upside!
  3. In line with these last tips – get practical skills and utilise your placement! Getting the skills can be done as said above, or by any means you can think of really. Learn how to catalogue a book for real, not just the theory. Learn the Library Management Systems (LMS) being used in places you would like to work. Learn how to lend out a book and recommend a resource. Otherwise there’s a very steep learning curve (I will post about that next time!). The placement is also key. Many students who got a good placement managed to maintain these relationships and get work out of it after graduation. I was lucky and unlucky at the same time. My placement was at the Botanic Gardens Library. This was amazing, I learnt so much. I loved the uniqueness of the library, the work on botanic information, the historical aspect, all the different types of items housed there (regalia, maps, rare books, botanic artworks, lots of stuff in latin etc). I’m really glad I got to experience such an interesting and niche special library, and learn the skills I did from there. I also managed to make great friends with my supervisor, and we still catchup for the occasional coffee and chat, she’s a great mentor and I’m glad to have met her. Unfortunately, unlike those who were placed in a large university library, there was never any hope of employment or more networking. There was one librarian at the botanic gardens, and she was planning to stay for a while. There were no other positions, as there were limited funds. So there were pros and cons. Others got perhaps a less interesting experience, but were able to find a position as the libraries were much larger and already knew the students and their abilities. Think about which is more important to you when you are signing up for a placement. Do you want a small niche special library that may very interesting, but never be able to employ you? or do u want a large general library that has more employment opportunities?
  4. NETWORK! I was told this many times, but I found it hard. So I avoided it. Bad move really. Again, I would say, “oh but I don’t have the time”. Mostly I was a bit lazy, liked having time to relax and socialise more, and didn’t want to make the extra effort. Typical student I suppose! haha. But WOW is it worth it! Where do most jobs come from? – someone you know! Seriously. I used to think, “but my amazing grades and skills and whatnot will speak for themselves, I should be hired on my merits not by who I know”. But alas, that’s not how it works. Sure you need those merits, but you’ll never get to show them to anyone without networking. Generally, a lot of library jobs don’t seem to get advertised much, and when they do, there’s usually someone in the position already, or they have someone in mind. It’s a small field and most people know each other, or know of someone who’s perfect for that role. And they’ll be hard to beat as you’re a stranger in comparison. I got my last two roles purely from networking. Sometimes, nothing will come of it. You’ll get an email address and never hear anything. But sometimes, you’ll get a great bit of advice, a bit of inspiration, an offer of a mentor, or even some work. When people see you are engaged and hard working, they want you to work with them.
    • How do you network? Generally, you can join some professional associations, especially student and new grad ones (I will write a full post about professional development and the associations you can join later). You can volunteer your time, you can attend meet-ups, conferences and events. The school will run things. Even getting to know your professors well is a great help. One of my professors became my first referee before I had much work experience. Another helped me with some questions I had whilst I was working as a graduate, and sent me some of his lecture notes on the topic. They are knowledgable and have many contacts. Get to know your fellow students – many are already working in the field! I found many opportunities through knowledge they shared with me. It’ll save you time to collaborate and share info, and you’ll develop friendships. When you’re all working, these friendships can be professional networks. Don’t think that this will all cost a lot of money. If you are creative and spend time looking around, there are many things you can do for free, or cheap. (again I will delve into this in more detail in a future post – stay tuned!) I have been to a free full day ‘unconference’, I have joined free professional networks. You can join LinkedIn groups and email groups (list servs), forums and newsletters for free. You can post your ideas and questions, and get your name out there – all free. Start a blog. Join Facebook groups. Keep up to date with library things (you’ll also have smart things to discuss when you are networking then too!) You can go to drinks and lectures and events – talk to as may people as you can. You can ask for people’s details and retain contact with them for the future. People in this field are very willing to help new grads and provide advice. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to get involved, it may take some of your spare time, but i’ll be so worth it when you graduate and you’re not flailing for a job!
  5. One last thing. Stereotypes. Don’t let this frustrate you. There are so many articles about library stereotypes I wont reinvent the wheel here discussing them all. But we all know them – cardigan, glasses, book worm, ‘sshhhhh quiet in the library!’, “you need a qualification for that? but don’t you just read books all day? I could do that!” etc etc etc . It can drive you mad! YES – I am very highly qualified. NO – I don’t just read books all day! HOW can I even begin to explain all this to you people who are stereotyping us?! Calmly and with a sense of humour of course! Enjoy the stereotypes, like I said in my first post: being a librarian is like working in a secret world that only we get access to. Let those others sit with their misconceptions, and then WOW them. Break the mould. Sure, I do love books, and have glasses and wear cardigans (they’re warm and comfy!) but I also have a lip ring, I used to have blue hair, I am an excellent snowboarder, I make comic strips, I have a law degree, a psychology degree and a Librarian qualification. This confuses and interests people, then we have a good chat. I tell them more about what I do. I laugh at the silly ideas and explain otherwise. I enjoy being different and this means I constantly have to explain myself, oh well. At least I am educating people, and that’s what I like doing in my work anyways.

So that’s it. Five-ish sort of simple tips that will make your life easier. Or maybe a bit harder at first, but then easier later 😛 I hope even one of these tips will help you students make a positive change, and see the benefits of some of the things you know you should be doing, but are procrastinating (guilty as charged – it’s the hallmark of a student I suppose!). You can alway do better, don’t be scared of the challenge – embrace the growth. You might fail sometimes, or feel stupid sometimes, but you’ll always be growing and getting better. And that will feel good!

Please comment if you have more great tips to add!

Thanks for reading!

Tune in next time when I post about: Starting work as a Graduate (with very limited previous work experience! This won’t apply to you if you follow my first few tips! 😛 )

Michelle DeAizpurua

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