university of western ontario

Life after LIS: A Reflection on Western’s MLIS Program

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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.

Social Media

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.

Co-ops

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 Courses/Coursework

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.

The Campus

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

Funding Resources

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.

Future Employment

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.’

Continuing Education

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.

Conclusion

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.

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harper government library closures

How many federal libraries have been closed since 2011? Cate Hana, an MLIS candidate at Western, created a table listing the libraries in her blog post. Of course, the closure of these libraries have had a profound impact for researchers, our culture and collective memory.

poor cate

For LIS9130 – Information Policy, I wrote my final paper on the closure of federal libraries since Harper gained a majority in 2011. Information about the closures is scattered and sometimes difficult to find, so as part of my research I compiled a table with dates, departments affected, and outcomes.

After reading a tweet about yet another library that has been “modernized” (i.e. dismantled, with many of its resources dumped), I thought I’d share the table here:

Date Department Outcomes
2012 National Capital Commission Library closed.
2012 Transport Canada Gatineau library closed. Seven positions lost.
May 2012 Public Works and Government Services Library closed.
Sep 2012 Citizenship and Immigration Library closed.
Jul 2012 Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities Ottawa library closed.
Apr 2012 Library and Archives Canada 215 positions cut, including 21 archivists and archival assistants, and 50% of circulation and digitization staff. Interlibrary loan unit closed. National Archival Development Program eliminated, resulting…

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OLA Super Conference 2015

I attended this year’s OLA Super Conference, held in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. I attended the conference on Thursday and Friday. I will be summarizing my experience and provide advice for future attendees.

Speed Networking

I could not skip the opportunity to network. It was a great way to meet professionals from the information studies field in quick succession. I had the opportunity to exchange business cards and ask them about their position and the path they went through.

Though I myself am introverted, I found that simply saying “hello” and then starting a conversation sprung organically as we talked about ourselves and our interests.

I would recommend registering for the event, as it is exclusive. If you cannot register in time, you will be put on the waiting list. Regardless, go to the event early and see if you can participate, as some people make last minute cancellations. Do not overlook talking to students/new professionals too, as they are your peers. Ask if the professionals are a part of any associations and if they are looking for anyone to participate.

As you will rotate with professionals very quickly, I recommend against bringing a writing instrument or paper, but I do recommend water, as you’ll be talking a lot. They have refreshments provided.

Don’t be afraid to follow up with the professionals; if they have a LinkedIn profile, connect with them. If they have any volunteer opportunities in their organization, ask them.

After the official event, there is a mingling, where you will have the opportunity to speak to the other professionals and to the students.

Panels

1) So NOT Boring: Social Media Policy for Libraries by Anne Marie Watson and Mary Medinsky

This panel discussed the importance of defining your organization’s social media platform.

Some of their recommendations involved knowing your audience so you can post meaningful content and asking others to review potential posts before publishing them.

They also recommend to have a proactive approach. For example, following followers or potential ones can garner exposure to your accounts. Use a contest to promote yourself.

They also highlighted resources for analytics:

Hootsuite
TweetDeck
Social Biblio
Twitter Audit

2) Supporting Multi-Campus Instruction through E-Learning by Afra Bolefski and Joanne Oud

Whilst being an instructional librarian at a university with multiple campuses, there are issues with traveling and instructing between them. Therefore, the presenters recommended various video tools that can be used for teaching.

Programs such as Skype do not suffice for instruction. They recommended tools such as Adobe Connect and Cisco Jabber. The presenters laid out the programs’
various pros and cons.

For etiquette, they suggested to test the software beforehand, dress appropriately, clean your office (as students can see it), create learning outcomes, be interactive and receive feedback.

3) #WeNeedDiverseBooks: Discussing Diversity in Children’s and Young Adult Literature by Susan Chau, Dayna Debenedet, Feather Maracle Luke and Margie Wolfe

Inspired by, but not affiliated with the official #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, various authors, publishers and librarians gathered to discuss the lack of diversity in books and the publishing industry.

One of the interesting points made was that if we want more diverse books published, we (librarians) must begin to promote such books with displays, activities, etc.

We have the purchasing power to send a message to publishers. We need to provide more opportunities for diverse writers and advocate for their books. Seek out local publishers who aren’t one of the Big Four.

Expo

The Expo is where publishers, schools and vendors have tables set up to talk to visitors. This is an opportunity to see the latest technology available for libraries and publications available.

Though as a student, I was not making business with the vendors, it was a great way to connect with them and see the products they offer, as you may be ordering from them in the future.

During book signings, they will actually be handing out free copies of books and advanced copies. Take advantage of it!

FIMS Alumni Reception

After I completed my volunteer shift, I attended the reception, right across the Metro Centre. I was able to meet classmates, both those working in Toronto and studying in London. It was a great way to reconnect with friends and network with Alumni.

Overall, the Super Conference was a great way to meet new people and learn about the developments in the field. Volunteering was simple and straightforward. I can’t wait to use what I’ve learned now and apply it for next year’s edition.

The Map & Data Centre, Weldon Library

In July, I attended a tour of the Map & Data Centre (M&DC) with the SLA student group. It was a delight to learn about the many resources available in a map library.

The M&DC had different kinds of globes, including ones about the solar system. The raised-relief ones appealed to me, which represented the elevation of the world by having its surface shaped to reflect the heights (i.e. it wasn’t flat or smooth). With my images, you can see how high the Himalayas are compared to India. It’s incredible to see how far the mountains go. Next, you can see the deserts and mountains in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

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There is a diverse range of atlases. If you search your library catalog with “Atlas of,” you will find that many topics are covered. Just as an example, in the photo below, the titles are about the historical atlases of Britain, a satellite atlas of Croatia and the surface temperatures of various European countries.

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This picture is just one row of shelves in the M&DC; the possibilities and wealth of information is endless. Atlases are not just about geography, but about visualizing information.
Fire insurance plans are essentially the historic maps of various cities from as far back as the late 1800s. The M&DC has digitized some of these maps and are free to view.
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A daylight map, showing where in the world it is daylight or nighttime in real time.

The M&DC offers so much more than what I’ve described above. Statistical data and consultation are offered. Various GIS software is available to use and visualize data. Every university should have a map library in some capacity, so definitely check out the resources available to you.

The Co-op Process of Western’s MLIS Program

Western’s MLIS program is notable for its co-op program. I recently applied for a co-op placement with success. The experience involved a lot of work and anxiety, but it paid off. I will write about my experience in this post and provide advice for anyone curious. The information here is relevant as of 2015.

Sections:

Attend the Information Session
The Types of Postings
Late Postings
How Many Positions Should I Apply to?
Writing Cover Letters/Resumes
Do I Need Previous LlS Experience?
Interview Preparation
The Interviews
Ranking
The Waiting Game
What if I Don’t get a Placement?
After Getting a Placement

Attend the Information Session

Though there’s a site on the FIMS intranet with all relevant information, attend the session at the beginning of term as the hosts will explain the process and discuss details you may miss on your own. They also invited former co-op students to speak about their experience and provided invaluable insight.

Take note of the forms that you must fill out and their submission deadline. They will all be on the intranet. Also, remember the format and order that the applications must be sent in (PDF format with cover letter, resume and references) and the way to title emails as it will make life easier for the co-op office.

The Types of Postings

All posting are on the SharePoint site. You can expect 35-45 postings each term. Some hire a maximum of two. Placements will list how long the position is and if there is a possibility of a four month extension. Pay is decent, but I have seen one as low as $14/hour to as high as $26/hour, while some only listed a salary. Some postings don’t list pay, but you can ask them during the interview. You can also arrange your own co-op placement.

The majority of placements are in corporate, academic or government libraries; public libraries and archives are rarely posted, numbering at one or two maximum. The majority are in southern Ontario, though there are a few postings for Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland.

Take note of whether or not you have to provide documents such as proof of citizenship, addresses, etc. in the government postings. The PSC form can be found on the site. Some businesses may request a clearance check.

The postings will demand various skills across the spectrum of the information field. Some are interested only in technical skills, reference, teaching, digitization, project management, etc.

Late Postings

A few are posted after the application deadline. Generally, not many apply to them, so it may be an opportunity for some. They provide a week’s time to submit an application.

Rarely, a placement will be unfilled and then will be reposted. As most people by then will have gotten a placement, it’s an opportunity to have one last try at getting a spot.

How Many Positions Should I Apply to?

Though administration recommends that applicants apply for 8-10 positions, personal circumstances will influence you. Factors to consider is whether or not you are geographically bound, willing to relocate, the post actually interests you, the pay, if you think you’re qualified, availability to apply/be interviewed that much, etc. There is nothing wrong with just applying to one, but remember that you will have competition and you may know who they are and their qualifications.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose and you will be doubting the numbers no matter what. Keep in mind though, quantity does not necessarily yield results. I have known those who applied between 8-10 positions, but got no placements. I personally applied to 5 because I was geographically and financially limited and got a placement. What you should really do is make sure your applications are well written.

Writing Cover Letters/Resumes

Attend the resume/cover letter workshop offered each term, as it is geared towards those planning to apply for co-op or graduating soon. The cover letter is one page long. The resume is two pages long. Take notes on how to write a summary of qualifications and how to organize and format your resume.

Your resume should be tailored to meet the interests of the specific employer you are applying to; create a unique resume for each application. Things you can list include technical skills, relevant courses, transferable skills, extracurricular involvement, awards received and association memberships. Make sure to spell the degree as “Master of Library and Information Science,” without an ‘s.’ These details and others are covered in the workshop.

For cover letters, there is a formula of introduction, body paragraphs and then conclusion. Mention some of the key terms in the job posting in your cover letter. Write original cover letters to each position; don’t even think about sending a vague, generic cover letter. It may take a lot of time and effort (it took me at least two hours for each application) but your chances of getting an interview and placement will improve. The cover letter is the first contact you will have with potential employers. Do you think they’ll be impressed with a generic cover letter when there are others competing for the job? There are a lot of posts, but you’ll be competing against your fellow students, which may be a daunting task. Put in every effort to get a placement.

With references, it’s been recommended to list one former employer and professor. This is not mandatory. I used two former employers as I felt they were qualified to talk about my abilities, as I have known them for years. It’s up to you to decide who’s best. Make sure to inform the references about using them. Send them your latest resume and co-op postings you’re applying to so they can prepare to talk about you.

Do I Need Previous LIS Experience?

Though one imagines co-op as the beginning of your professional career, getting any kind of library experience (volunteering, employment, student groups) prior to applying will always improve your chances. Western and London have many opportunities for you to get library experience in various aspects of librarianship or other applicable skills like dealing with budgets, customer service, liaising, etc. Check out the library’s website for job postings or contact student groups to learn about volunteer opportunities. One of the most popular is the Pride Library. Experience is important because interviewers will be asking about previous experience, so it’s good if you can draw anything from your past.

That being said, I know some who had none or limited (read: months) work experience in a library or only volunteered and managed to get a placement. The issue is that you are able to sell yourself during an interview. Show them you have transferable or technical skills that others don’t.

Interview Preparation

You will always be emailed about whether or not you got an interview for a placement. If an interview is requested, the email will list the time and place and you will reply to confirm the time. I do not think you can reschedule. Interviews typically last from 30-45 minutes, though some may be shorter but never longer as they usually interview applicants right after the other.

I will describe the preparation needed for these interviews because it will be related to the questions they will ask. Research the employer. Look at their website and learn about their activities. What do they do? If they have a catalogue, search it to see the contents and medium of what they have and take note of it. What electronic resources do you think they have? Remember the vendors/titles/databases. Think about the metadata or software they may be using. Show them that you have a personal interest in their organization, as opposed to just finding a job.

Look at the job description and record the key terms. Find resources that define them and explains the process of these terms (i.e. knowledge management, web taxonomy, metadata). You must look beyond the classroom. There will probably be entire books dedicated to them. Find publications that are recent so you are current about the issues.

Think back to your previous work/volunteer experience and schooling. Think of situations where you had to be a leader, showed initiative, applied technical skills, collaborated, demonstrated oral skills, etc. Think of examples where it didn’t work well and what you could have done differently.

Why are you in this program? How are you qualified for the position?

Lastly, think about questions that you want to ask the interviewer. You can ask about wage (if not listed) and anything else.

The Interviews

There are several types of interviews: phone, in-person and Skype. They are all held at the North Campus Building. The interview rooms have a page on their door identifying a schedule for interview times and for which position.

For phone interviews, I would recommend bringing notes. You can also use paper to record their questions. You will be interviewed by one or two people. Bring a beverage with you. It’s hard to tell what’s going on as you can’t read their body language. Avoid stuttering whenever possible. There is nothing wrong with pausing.

With in-person interviews, there is usually at least two people interviewing you. Dress professionally. The co-op site will have a PDF with a list of generic questions that you should read and answer.

Then there are Skype interviews. You should also dress well. Be aware of your body language.

Questions can range from the situational, defining terms, technical, listing things, anecdotal to interviewers picking up what you said and spawning questions from there. Expect a variety of questions. Some interviewers will be very strict with you answering the questions while others are more conversational.

Remember: you may have many interviews and you could even have several in a single day. Manage your time and seriously think before you send your applications about whether or not you can handle that many interviews. I know some who had ten interviews during the narrow interviewing period.

After interviews, some will begin contacting references.

Ranking

After the interviews, you are expected to rank your placements from first to last preference. You can only rank placements you were interviewed for. There is an algorithm that gives a value based on how high or low you ranked each position, and then that number is added with the number that came from the employers’ ranking. The combined number that is the lowest will match applicants with a placement. You can choose to not rank a placement if you don’t want to work there.

You have to give a lot of consideration to your rankings. I have known those who got their first choice, while others have gotten their second or third ranking. You could be strategic and think about how high to rank something to increase your chances of getting a particular placement. In the end, I and others would recommend that you just rank by what’s your favourite and remember how you performed in your interviews.

The Waiting Game

After submitting your ranking form, you’ll be waiting a few days to hear about the placements. You will experience a lot of anxiety and contemplating how you could have done things differently. It will consume your body and soul up until the minute you find out.

They announce placements by the order of earliest co-op post. Co-op placements will be announced throughout the day, so don’t worry if it’s 5 pm and you still haven’t heard back. The co-op office will inform you if you didn’t get a placement.

You cannot reject the placement you’re given.

What if I Don’t get a Placement?

Due to the number of people applying, some will not get a placement. Don’t panic.

Based on anecdotal evidence, getting a co-op as a first termer is rare unless you have specific skills/work experience. There is always next term. Some who failed to obtain a position the first time got one the second time around. After going through it the first time, you will know a lot about the co-op process and can prepare for the next semester. You have also gained experience in writing professional cover letters and resumes and being interviewed.

Statistically speaking, the most competitive time to get a co-op is in the summer. However, Winter term placements has the lowest number of applicants, so your chances are better then. In the meantime, gain experience through volunteering/working on campus and get involved with student groups. It’s possible to get a co-op with a limited amount of library experience.

After Getting a Placement

Your employer will contact you via email and will have things for you to fill out and finalize for HR purposes.

Attend the final co-op meeting to learn about the reports you have to write, fees to pay and enrolling into the placement (you have to enroll into co-op like a class) and ask about anything else.

You can take courses while on co-op, but you have to have at least one course to complete after you’re finished your placement. Make sure to change your student status to part-time if necessary (you will be emailed instructions).

You can apply for financial aid while on co-op. You can also have interest-free status by filling out the appropriate form.

If you need to relocate, checkout this blog about living in different cities. Also keep your rent receipts because they can be claimed on tax forms.

Before you go to your placement, ask around and see if you can find anyone within the program that went to the co-op and ask them everything you can. Generally speaking, go online and learn more about the activities of your placement. Go in to your placement showing a personal interest in the work and participate in as many things as you can. If there’s something you want to initiate, don’t be afraid to propose it to your supervisor. Some places offer employment after the placement.

That’s all I have to say. If I’ve forgotten anything or if you want to share your experience, feel free to comment. Good luck to all future applicants!

The CLA’s Speed Networking Event

Note: Zeineb Yousif had encouraged me to write this post. This entry has been cross-posted on the CLA student group’s blog

On July 24th, I attended the CLA student group’s Speed Networking event at the Central Library. It was a small affair with big benefits. I was acquainted with various professionals who had great advice for the participants. It was also an opportunity to enhance my social skills and get used to developing connections as a growing professional.

The first person I met was Mary Kosta, an archivist at the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. She is a recent graduate from Western’s MLIS program and it was interesting to hear her journey through the field, as she was a mature student. Kosta explained to us the principles of archiving while also giving advice about joining associations, signing up for listservs and partaking in the Young Canada Works program.

Second was Tom Adam, the Project Manager and Special Advisor to the Provost at Western Libraries. Adam is highly involved with copyright and educating faculty and students about respecting and acknowledging authors’ rights. He was passionate about the library as the centre to interpret copyright. For networking, he recommended attending conferences, as word about you spreads amongst professionals.

Sandra McKeown was third. She is a Clinical Librarian at the London Health Sciences Centre. McKeown went the extra mile and provided us with a comprehensive handout (see below) about a librarian’s duties at the hospital. She recommended connecting with Canadian Health Libraries Association and the Medical Library Association‘s listservs while also taking advantage of continuing education courses.

The fourth and final person I spoke to was Linda Ludke, a Selection Librarian at London Public Library. Ludke embodied enthusiasm as she talked about her involvement with collection development. She also published and read book reviews to help make her decisions. She explained in great depth the relationship librarians have with publishers and budgeting for books. Ludke reminded us to not overlook the potential of volunteering, as you can meet future employers and coworkers that way.

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The speed networking event was a great opportunity to try new things. I handed out my first business cards and spoke to professionals I had never met before; this is what it’s like to connect with professionals in the library field at the micro level. I learned that it is easy to start a conversation. All of the professionals were eager to share their knowledge and experiences with students. If the CLA does it again, I would recommend you attend as it is an inexpensive yet golden opportunity to try new things.

For future participants, I recommend that you dress professionally, bring your business cards and prepare some general questions. Also bring a pen and paper to take notes.