This post is a bit of a departure for me; as YALSA’s communications specialist, I usually post about the latest goings on in YALSA or put up advocacy alerts. (You’ll see that post on Friday.)
But this is 30 Days of Back to School, and along with two of my fellow students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies, I’m going to talk about the new SLIS student experience.
I’m currently pursuing my library degree through Madison’s distance program. It’s been almost ten years since I finished my first master’s degree, so it’s been a bit of transition to get back into the school mindset. Last time, I was straight outta undergrad, I went full time as an on-campus student, and I had almost no responsibilities. This time, I’m going as a part-time distance student, which certainly has its advantages â€” flexibility, cost, less disruption to my life. Plus, Wisconsin retooled its distance program so that it takes place entirely online (it used to be done via videoconferencing), so it’s kind of an experimental year for our program.
To get some differing perspectives, I invited two of my classmates to join me in Meebo so we could talk about our experiences going back to school and working full-time. I’m joined by Kayce Austin of Fort Myers, Florida, and Kathrine Rogers of Bettendorf, Iowa.
I began our conversation by reflecting on the social aspects, particularly in a distance program, and our weeklong bootcamp on campus in Madison last August, which was basically like summer camp for adults who really like libraries, ice cream, and ethnic food. (â€œMy kind of summer camp!â€ quipped Kayce.). We moved on to many other topics: why we’re going back, how we’re fitting it into our lives, and what we hope to do when we’re done.
Stevie Kuenn: I want to start with the social parts of this, particularly our week together at bootcamp. Because I was nervous about how we’d all get along and was pleasantly surprised to discover that pretty much everyone in our cohort got along really well. I feel like I made connections, professional and personal, that I’ll have the rest of my life.
Kathrine Rogers: We have some very strong personalities – but getting to know each other at orientation will make interactions easier in some ways. Some will be life long friends and others, maybe not.
Kayce Austin: I thought we would mesh pretty well. Many of us have similar interests and it’s easy to find common ground. Part of the reason I wanted the face to face meeting to be required is that I didn’t feel I would be able to have these lifelong friends without some face time.
SK: Right. And I wasn’t expecting that a) we would all get on so well and b) we would form some pretty intense friendships. But looking back, I don’t know how I didn’t anticipate that.
KR: My sister was at a leadership training the same week we were at bootcamp. She said we were doing similar things. We are the future leaders of the library world.
SK: So to switch gears a bit, to go beyond the social experience. We’ve been in class a little over a week now, so it’s still early. What’s been the hardest transition for you?
KR: Getting into my STRUCTURED routine again.
KA: I have to prepare for class differently. I have decided that it’s best for me to focus on readings for one class at a time
KR: I was so good before… used my breaks at work and buckled right down before or after work. I’ve had a lot of “life” issues that are making this transition hard.
SK: The structure is an issue for me too. I’m used to having a lot of unstructured free time, and I can’t really do that.
KA: In the past you did lots of reading, then went to class and had the prof reinforce the concepts. Now we just have to create some of those reinforcements for ourselves.
KR: This is my first time to have 2 classes at once and I’m finding I HAVE to focus on 1 at a time!
SK: Doing a lot of organizing before class helps me. I have a folder on my desktop called SLIS. In it, I’ve made folders named 450 and 451. I downloaded all of my course readings for the next three weeks and saved them into appropriate folders.
KA: It’s hard for me to give up my personal reading time, but I always have so much else to read…
SK: Yeah, me too, Kayce. I read two or three books a week. (I commute to work by train, which takes about 40 minutes each way.) And now I’m spending that time reading schoolwork.
KR: Stevie I remember you jumped right on the folders! You inspired me!
KA: I am taking 3 classes. I have a folder for each and a file that I keep each week for my notes on the readings and the impressions that I have as I go.
SK: I also started carrying a notebook in my purse, so that if I have an Aha! moment with one of my readings, I can scribble it down if I’m not near my computer
KR: That’s a good idea
SK: I was NEVER that organized as an undergrad or during my first grad school stint.
KA: I only commute 7 miles a day, so I don’t have a lot of time there.
SK: But without that structure, I think I’d be lost.
KR: Classes now are so different then when I was an undergrad. Take out the online or on campus aspect.
KA: I have to create the structure for myself. Otherwise I don’t think I would be able to absorb as much.
KR: I agree on the intrinsic aspect too. You GET what you put into this
KA: I’m really enjoying reading our classmates postings as well.
SK: Me too, although I find myself thinking really carefully about what I’m going to say when I type. Maybe more carefully than I would if I were just raising my hand in a lecture.
KA: It is fascinating to see the different points that they bring up that I might not have considered before.
KR: I like knowing everyone enough to HEAR their comments.
KA: I agree Stevie, I compose my messages in Word and revise them before posting. I would never have thought that much about it before. I think that is both good and bad though.
SK: I rewrote my first discussion board post four times. Which is good, because I think I articulated what I wanted to say. But bad because four times is maybe two or three too many
KA: I made my husband read it. I keep talking to him and saying I want to say…….now how do I write that.
SK: Ha! I thought about doing that too! I did have my husband read my book review assignment
KR: I think that’s why orientation made me feel so good… even if it was intense. Like-minded people on our callings in life and to discuss important topics in our worlds was SO enlightening.
SK: Yes. And I came out of that completely energized.
KA: Me too!!!
SK: I know that I’m going to have to say no to certain things. And that my life is going to have less free time. But just what you said, Kat, that experience was so inspiring that I came home and thought, I have zero doubts that this is what I want to do right now.
KR: It is amazing how much you can accomplish when you’re that focused.
KA: I was so worried going into bootcamp. Not about the people, but that everyone else would be so much smarter than me or something. I liked meeting everyone and learning about them as people.
SK: I am having some life-school-work balance issues.
Kr: In what way?
SK: I mean, nothing bad. But I had a very busy week at work, and then I felt like I spent every free minute on schoolwork. Which, I really didn’t. It just feels that way. So how are you two handling that, because I know you both work full-time?
KA: Well, this week has been challenging. I’ve moved to a new library and that has created its own set of headaches. When you add my kids and husband it gets a little nuts.
KR: So new staff expectations and responsibilities on top of it all. ‘ I totally went internal taking my last 3 classes. It’s hard but I’m VERY serious about this program and wanting to give my all. Prove that I can do it and do it well. I’m in an easier place with no kids – this was a great time to put time and energy into school
KA: I have to set aside quite time everyday to focus on school. I do a lot of my readings and writing on the weekend, then just keep up with the posts during the week.
SK: That’s my strategy, too. I also read a couple of my textbooks over the summer. My husband and I are going to do a better job of planning our meals and making things ahead as much as possible.
KA: Everyone laughs at me because I make menus up 2 weeks at a time and grocery shop every other week.
KR: Are you still making your own bread?
KA: I also make up some stuff that I can freeze and pull out in a pinch. Yeah, still baking bread too!
SK: When I don’t do that, I have a night like Tuesday, when I’m doing my homework and writing my discussion board post four times and thinking, what am I going to eat?
KR: Kayce, that’s probably helping your family adjust too â€“
KA: My family has been great. They all pitch in and we all work together to get things done at home.
KR: I think it will get easier once our routines are established.
SK: I wanted to talk a bit about how our program was a good fit for our future goals. What do you guys want to do with your degree when you’re done? I am interested in working with older teens and with populations that are sort of historically underserved. I’m very interested in a community college setting. With working with high school students who are trying to get ahead, lifelong learners, people for whom English is a second language… I’m also interested in maybe working in outreach or in a library’s pr/marketing department.
KA: In the immediate future, I want to work to become a C/YA librarian. Long term however I want to go into Admin. I want to help to highlight the youth perspective in the Mgt end of things. My background in business will help me along my path.
KR: Which you would be great at!
SK: And I’m thrilled to hear you say that. ‘ Because we NEED management in libraries who get YA. Because tomorrow’s voters are today’s youth.
KR: Just from our few conversations on the topic Kayce… I think you would be a fantastic manager
SK: Me too! How about you, Kat?
KR: Well, right now I just want to work somewhere safe and feel successful. I LOVED doing outreach! Long-term, I would like to have the opportunity to manage a Youth Services Department again. I LOVE programming. I’m a big idea person.
KA: What is your favorite program for teens?
KR: Teens at our library have been flocking for anime and gaming programs. I’m not YA in this job but if thats a hook to get them in GO for it.
KA: We have a gaming program and its attendance is inconsistent.
KR: I’d be back in the schools and offer lunch book clubs.
KA: I think the most fun I have had in a teen program was a duct tape craft program. We had about 3 times as man y kids as we expected show up for it.
KR: Can’t go wrong with duct tape and Red Green! Another big thing now is Hunger Games activities.
SK: That actually leads me to good question that you two are just demonstrating. How will working on your LIS degree help your day-to-day work?
SK: BTW, I did make time to read MOCKINGJAY.
KR: I used things all the time from my last 3 classes. Not all of our classes will allow for that much but I used as much as I could
KA: I’m jealous.
KR: Lot of frustrated readers in my world.
KA:I think that the skills that I build will be used every day. From more effective ways to search the database to my current goal of setting up a teen advisory board, I will pick up info from class and fellow students
KR: Yes, I agree Kayce. Just off of this convo.. we can get so much from each other!
SK: well, I think we can count on one another for a lot of practical help.
KR: and support!
SK: Just from learning how to better use databases, I’ve used that in my day-to-day work already.
KA: Me too Stevie
KR: Speaking of databases, I told everyone about the database we presented on at bootcamp. Area, teachers, area libraries, homeschool momsâ€¦
KA: Our database person won’t even look at it until the new budget year starts!
SK: Well, hopefully they’ll think about it.
KR: Bring on the new $$!
KR: Me too… I hope it’s useful to the people I’ve talked to .
SK: It’s probably time to wrap this up. We’ve gone over how we’re working the program into our lives, what we’re going to do when we’re done (we hope), and how we’re using what we’re learning now.
So is there anything you two want to add?
SK: I guess mine is that I wish I’d done this sooner. I go into our syllabus and get excited about our assignments. I really look forward to doing my homework, if not making time. I mean, I never thought i’d like homework.
KR: Yep… oh and getting into professional organizations0 (ALA) if we hadn’t already.
KA: I am such a nerd. I LOVE school. I always knew I would continue.
SK: I thought I was done. I have learned never say never!
KR: I think everyone comes to grad school in the right time… hokey or not
KA: Hokey is okay sometimes
KA: I guess my last thoughts are just how excited I am. Not only do I have an interesting profession, but I have some fascinating people that I get to interact with.
SK: Yeah, I feel idealistic in a way I haven’t in a long time.
KR: I will strengthen my belief in a positive future!
KA: I love to learn, and I am just thrilled that I have this opportunity.
SK: Yes. To both of those! It’s so easy to get cynical.
SK: And this experience is taking me away from that.
KR: And there are a LOT of cynics out there….
KA: Too easy to get cynical, but this does help.
KR: That’s what’s so great about being with people who ARE excited about the future of libraries.
KA: The excitement is contagious.