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News + Views
How to get the most out of your library school experience

A LIS course is a big commitment both in terms of time and financially so you have to make the most of the experience.† I have just completed the taught element of the full time Librarianship MA at the University of Sheffield. Now that I have (almost) finished the course these are my top tips on how to make the most of the experience for those thinking about or soon to start a LIS course.†

Be Confident

Confidence is key.† Starting library school is scary: new people, a new subject and possibly a new city.† For many people† library school marks a return to education after a long gap.† This can make it even more intimidating and scary but donít worry if you feel like that because everyone else probably feels the same.††

My advice is that confidence will help you to get the most out of the course.† Donít be afraid to speak up in class, share your stories and ideas. Even if your not sure they are any good, speak up anyway because what you have to say is probably great.† Whilst at library school I became conscious of the fact that often people are reluctant to speak in class.† At first I thought it was because nobody was interested, then I realised it was more of a confidence problem. Even though it is a new academic subject you undoubtedly have buckets of knowledge from the jobs youíve had before.†† So be brave and share your experiences.† It will enrich the experience for you and everyone else.

Get Involved

Library school is a great time to get yourself lots of experience for your CV.† I felt like my CV was lacking in library experience as my only experience was my traineeship. So if you are like me then this is the perfect time to get more experience.† If you manage to get a part-time job which fits alongside your course that's great.† But if you canít find a job or have a funding arrangement which means you canít work or something else then you can still find ways to boost your experience.†

Look for volunteer opportunities but approach with caution. Bronagh McCrudden discussed volunteering in her New Professionals Conference paper, offering great† advice; make it count and let anyone take advantage of your eagerness to gain experience. Use contacts you already have to scout out potential opportunities and ask staff in your department for advice.† Use any unpaid work to boost your CV by filling in gaps or enhancing areas that you want to have lots of experience in.†

Itís not just work that is useful, consider joining committees such as those of your local CILIP branch or a special interest group.† Alternatively some of my fellow Sheffield students set up the student magazine The Regent Librarian, which is another excellent way of adding experience.† Iíve been rubbish at boosting my experience so far this year, after deciding that volunteering in a Cathedral archive wasnít for me and plans to volunteer in a museum library fell through. Itís never too late to start though so I'm currently trying to arrange projects for the summer.

Broaden Your Horizons

Library school teaches you a lot but it canít cover everything.† Luckily as a student there are many fantastic opportunities to take advantage of outside of your course.† Iíve been on library visits (including a very exciting prison visit, which shw34 blogged about) and attended free professional events including an SLA Europe talk in Manchester and an ISKO UK event in London, which were both worth travelling for. Not only did I learn about things that my course isnít able to teach me but I was able to meet some great people too such as information professionals from a range of sectors as well as other LIS students .†

Twitter is a great place to find out about interesting professional events.† Go to as many free events as you can and if something isnít free get in touch and ask if there is a discount for students. † There are lots of conference bursaries for students so apply for them all. Iíve been lucky enough to win a bursary to attend BIALL 2011 this summer whilst others on my course have been successful in gaining other conference bursaries.† If you canít get bursaries, then enquire about volunteering at events. Next month Iím volunteering at† Open Culture 2011, a collections management conference saving myself the £100 student fee for the event and gaining lots of CV boosting experience too.

Work Smart

There is a lot of work to be done at library school, the courses can get quite intense and stressful. At Sheffield deadlines all come at once (Iím presuming other courses full-time courses are quite similar) so plan your work well and donít leave it all to the last minute.† It sounds obvious but it is so easy to feel like you have lots of time to get started but before you know it 4 weeks have passed leaving you feeling stressed and in a panic.† At Sheffield the module outlines distributed at the start of each module give all details of the coursework so I recommend thinking about what you might want to do as early as possible.† It will save stressful sleepless nights towards the end.†

The other main point about work is group work.† The Sheffield course requires a lot of group work which may come as a shock to those not used to group work (my undergraduate degree was in theatre studies I thought I was well versed in the art of group work but still find it difficult here), the key is to be smart about it.† Make good use of technology; for nearly all my group work Iíve used Google Docs meaning everyone can work on the same document stopping the annoying emailing back and forth.† The nature of library school means working with people who have busy lives, jobs and families so meeting up in person is not always possible but the internet can help.† Keep notes of what is discussed in group work meetings and email them round so everyone is clear about what was agreed.† Finally be sensitive to the commitments of others (everyone does different modules and has different things going on in life which will affect the way they work) but if someone isnít putting the effort in sort it out earlier rather than later. I learnt this the hard way. † Donít let problems fester, go see your personal tutor or module coordinator for advice and get them sorted.

Enjoy it!

Itís important to work hard but it is equally important to have fun.† Get to know your course mates in the pub after lectures or over a coffee during the gaps in a long day.† The people you meet at library school will undoubtedly pop up throughout your career because thatís how the information sector seems to work.† We are a massive network where everyone seems to know people everywhere.† Library school is the place where you will meet some of the people who will stay in your network for the rest of your career.† Find time to relax and enjoy being at university.† If you can find time (and I recommend that you do!) then get involved with sports and societies.† There is usually something for everyone and it's a great way to meet new people and talk about something other than libraries.

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