I want to straight-up start by saying I am a person who is sick of reading books and blog posts about life hacks and how to achieve your goals from single, straight, affluent, white, American men. As a married, Australian middle-class woman with five kids, most of those suggestions are unattainable at best.
This will not be a blog post like that.
I want to tell you how you can hack your degree and make it work for you. I cannot promise you’ll get all HDs or get a job at the end, but I can tell you how to make the most of your opportunities as a student, to give you the best chance of success once you get that piece of paper to say that you are a fully qualified Librarian. (Or library technician, archivist, teacher-librarian or whatever your study is in. Use your imagination).
- Join. Join your local library/records association at the student rate while you can. ALIA has great student rates (and also offers discount rates to new graduates) as do RIMPA. Not only that, but take advantage of the benefits it gives you. Members of ALIA can sign up for mailing lists that give them articles to read for professional development, you have access to ebooks and ejournals, you hear about great events and get a discount when you go to a paid event. When you go to events you meet new people, especially in the industry you are hoping to be employed in.
- Volunteer! Volunteer for ALIA – the Students and New Grads group are always looking for new team members. You can learn great skills, network with other new professionals and students, and it looks great on your CV as you then have proven skills in social media platforms, event coordination and the like. You can also volunteer at events. Earlier this year I volunteered at ALIA Information Online 2019 and I got so much out of it. While the volunteer role is important, most of the time I was still able to listen to the keynote speakers, and participate in workshops. I learnt so much and met so many new people. NLS9 is currently calling for volunteers – they want you to volunteer a day of your time in exchange for free entry to the conference the other day. If you’re able to volunteer at a conference like this then take the opportunity.
- Jump in. Join committees and working groups. While this isn’t something that’s exclusive to being a student, you possibly have more time now as a student than you will as a full time employee, plus its something students feel like they have no place putting their hands up for. IFLA have working groups you can join from anywhere in the world. ALIA have sub-groups, working groups and conference committees. If you see a call out for volunteers to be involved in something you are interested in, put your hand up!
- Learn. Most universities have student subscriptions to online learning platforms such as Lynda. If you look at job ads in your preferred field and notice they are all asking for knowledge of or experience with budgeting, social media marketing, project management or change management, take a look at these platforms to see if there’s a course you could do that can skill you up in this area.
- Complete. Complete your assignments, but not just as an assignment. When you write that collection development policy or disaster recovery plan, treat it like a piece of work that you would do for an employer. Have it as evidence of your knowledge in this area. Treat essays as though they were articles to submit to journals, and then rework them a little and submit them to journals or blogs.
- Write. Beyond your assignments, write. Write for Incite. Write for shared blogs. Write for journals. If people read what you’ve written and like it, they’ll remember you and it may just come in handy one day.
- Connect. Join Twitter, Linked In or another social media platform and connect with librarians around the world, both in your preferred field and outside of it. Get to know what other librarians are talking about. Learn the problems with the theories and ideals we are taught in university. Join the conversation.
- Look. Look out for any free or low-cost professional development activities in your area. Look for free webinars. Attend whatever you can, and learn. You’ll meet new people and learn a lot. If you’re an ALIA member, even as a student member, you can log your PD hours on the website.
- Ask. Ask for help if you need it. Ask for recommendations of papers to read, journals to read, libraries and librarians to follow. Ask for a chat over a coffee with someone you admire. And don’t be upset if it doesn’t work out first time around. Librarians are generally generous people and if you ask a few, telling them you’re a student and would like to buy them a coffee and pick their brains for an hour, you’ll find someone willing.
- Deviate. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm. I didn’t like the remaining electives I had to choose from, so I requested permission to complete a different subject (that was in a closely allied field) and was given permission. So now, I’m studying Game Based Learning. Don’t assume you have to follow the cookie-cutter course. I can’t guarantee you’ll get permission to study a subject on pure mathematics or viticulture as a part of your librarianship degree, but if you’ve got a burning passion for something in a related area, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Maybe you can’t do all of these things. That’s ok. Just take one step.
If you’d like to hear more about this, I recommend the final episode of the podcast Beyond the Stacks, which inspired this post.
Written by Liz Parnell