I completed Western’s MLIS program in 2015. I’m posting this for future and current students, in hopes of helping them through their own journey.
The most important communication you will receive from your classmates is online. Join our program’s Facebook group. There is usually someone in your cohort who will set up a separate group for your individual cohort. These are places where you can ask for advice from fellow students and alumni about the program, courses and anything else related to the field. Social events are also promoted on Facebook.
Begin to cultivate your professional online identity. You need to manage your online presence to set the best impression for present and future colleagues and employers. Sarah Morrison‘s article further explains what you can do with various social media and why. Set up a LinkedIn profile and at least one other social media handle, such as a Twitter account or blog. Connect with your classmates and professionals. Be active online and demonstrate your skills and interests. These days, employers are checking on your online activity; be proactive about presenting yourself.
I would recommend students/budding professionals subscribe to the following sites, as they have invaluable information and news: CAPAL Students (for academic libraries), University of Toronto Academic Librarians (for academic libraries), OLA Special Libraries (for special libraries), Hiring Librarians, Hack Library School, Open Cover Letters, International Librarians Network, Circulating Ideas. Library Journal and Library and Archives Canada Blog.
The co-op program provides great opportunities. If you can, apply. This is the chance to delve into an aspect of the profession that interests you. You will be able to develop your skills in ways that you can’t in the classroom.
Read my post about the co-op process.
Other Work/Volunteer Opportunities
If you’re uninterested in co-op, there are other opportunities available.
Throughout your time in the program, you will be informed about various volunteer/work opportunities. For example:
There are also various student associations running. They host a lot of events where you can socialize with peers, network with professionals, get involved with projects that can develop skills (i.e. cataloguing, public speaking) and learn about what’s happening in the field.
Run for an exec position. Participating in these clubs is a great way to get experience with things like planning events and budgeting.
The MLIS program has an emphasis on report writing, group work and presentations, as that is a reflection of what you’ll be doing in the field. Essays ranged anywhere from 2-8 pages, though there were exceptions.
The course work is practical, ranging from planning a fictional library’s budget to creating a report that you would generate for an employer. I (and others) have used course work to create an online portfolio to demonstrate our abilities. These are things you can showoff during interviews.
I strongly recommend taking at least one technical course. As information professionals, we really need some familiarity with technology, as it’s associated with how information is stored. Don’t be afraid. The tech courses are taught at a beginner’s level; you aren’t expected to be familiar with it.
Also, take a wide variety of courses. Even though you’re uninterested in working in a special library, the course has assignments that are useful. Special Libraries’ major project involved planning a budget and designing a library; such a project is experience applicable to every type of library. Don’t limit yourself!
Being a Professional
If you can find a mentor (i.e. at school, at work, in an association), accept it. They will have invaluable insight in the field and are usually more than happy to help you.
As a student, you are entitled to membership discounts in library associations. Take advantage of it. Official associations run various events, socials and conferences throughout the year. They also send newsletters that keep you up to date with the field.
I would recommend all students attend the OLA Super Conference at least once during their studies. It’s the largest library conference in the country. There are also smaller, but relevant conferences that happen as well:
- CAPAL Conference (for academic libraries)
- SLA Conference (for special libraries, usually in the US)
Print your own business cards and give them out at professional gatherings and conferences. There are various, affordable providers out there, such as MOO and Vistaprint. You can also design and print your own. Put relevant contact information and social media handles to connect with others.
Try New, Scary Things (but Also Enjoy Yourself)
This is the time to challenge yourself and try things you haven’t done before; go attend a networking event, travel to a new city for a conference, be a presenter in a webinar or learn a new programming language. There are many opportunities and possibilities available to you during your studies; don’t waste it. Do everything you can and have fun!
The FIMS and Nursing Building (FNB)
Most of the classes are held here. Be familiar with the space, as you’ll be studying and collaborating here a lot. Of particular note is the Graduate Resource Centre (GRC), as they have some of your course readings.
You’ll also be spending a lot of time in the computer labs. Those labs are accessible 24/7, so long as you have your student ID with you.
I lived in the apartment residence. I enjoyed the living quarters and the building staff were friendly and accommodating. However, it was pricey. London has a lot of places for rent at a lower cost. Many students within the program can help you find a place. Such opportunities are advertized on Facebook.
Other than the FNB and its surrounding buildings, you won’t have to set foot in most of the other buildings on campus. That being said, there are various places that you can and should visit:
- Western Film offers viewings of recent and old movies at a discounted price
- The Grad Club is a common place to eat and socialize amongst your fellow classmates
- The libraries are also a great place for individual and group study
There are various scholarships/awards/bursaries available.
SSHRC is something to consider if you’re not a mature student.
Aside from the ones offered by the faculty, there are also scholarships offered by various associations. These scholarships can be highly specific, such as awarding someone based on their province of origin or the specific type of librarianship applicants want to pursue. There are a lot of scholarships out there, so start researching about this kind of funding before you start school.
Most conferences will offer a bursary/award for student attendees.
Start the job hunt in your final term. No excuses. It takes six months on average for the job hunt to conclude. Some organizations take months to hire a candidate, so start looking and applying ASAP. Many employers are willing to hire you before you officially get the degree, so long as it’s completed soon.
Apply early. Even though the deadline of an ad is a month away, submit an application a week after it’s opened. The earlier you apply, the better your position is in the slush pile; the fourth application is going to be more memorable than the fortieth one. This also shows initiative to a potential employer. Make sure your cover letter and resume have been customized to address the specific needs/requirements of the position; use their key words, express interest and knowledge about their organization.
If possible, be willing to apply for contract and part-time work. There’s always a possibility that you could get extended or your position is turned full-time/permanent. Consider applying outside of your geographical comforts. Also apply to alternative occupations within the field (i.e. other than libraries).
Even if you think you’re underqualified, apply anyway. The requirements on job ads are usually just an ideal for the organization.
Signup for listservs, as they usually send out job postings in their emails.
The following are jobsites that I’d recommend (this is not an exhaustive list):
While you’re practicing for your interviews, there are plenty of resources that can help you prepare. I personally recommend What Color is Your Parachute? and this Library Interview Question ‘Database.’
You will need to continuously stay in the loop about the developments in the field and learn new skills.
Associations have various events that take place, including workshops and webinars. I recommend attending those events, if you can. Conferences are also a great way to stay up to date and develop professionally.
MOOCs are free online classes that can be a valuable resource for information professionals. I, personally, look forward to taking some technical classes offered by lynda.com. Other free sites I would recommend would be Codecademy, Open 2 Study and Open Culture.
The Partnership occasionally offers free webinars.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Western’s MLIS program. Entering the program pushed me to do a lot of new things that I hadn’t done before and forged friendships that will last a lifetime.
I hope that you, dear reader, have been informed about Western’s program and can make the appropriate choices to forge your own successful path through the information field.