Advice And Experience, Or Perhaps Advice Vs Experience

Mr. Library Dude posted this insightful piece containing advice to future librarians/library school students and it’s got me thinking about a lot of different things as I stand here on the cusp of a new education and career.

Why I Chose UT: Does Prestige Matter?

The first thing that struck me was the focus of the piece on encouraging future librarians to not rely on the strength of the name of their university.  This is a contentious and contradictory bit of advice in my opinion, and although I agree with it in principle, I must also admit that it directly contradicts the advice I have received and taken in my education so far.

I got my undergraduate degree in English from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).  Certainly when I graduated in 2007, UTSA was not well known for its English department and not very well known in general.  When I told people where I went to university, I got a lot of “what’s that?” questions from people who didn’t understand that UTSA is a separate institution from the better known UT-Austin.  When I went to apply for graduate schools, I felt very discouraged because I knew that I would be up against kids from better known and more respected institutions.  It didn’t help that I only got into 2 of the 12 programs I applied for — and although I know the entire graduate school process is dependent on a certain amount of random luck, I have always wondered if my application got tossed because I was up against people from “better” schools.  I have always been proud to be a Roadrunner, but the question is still there: if you had two applications from 4.0 honors students with equally exceptional academics and extracurricular activities, would you choose the one from UT-Austin or UTSA?  I don’t know what I’d do in that situation, and I don’t know if that happened to me.

In the end, although I agonized about that question during the long and hellish two months in 2007 when I received rejection after rejection, it didn’t matter much because I got into my top two choices: Western Michigan University and Oxford.  This was a no brainer: I’d wanted to go to Oxford since I was a kid.  I will admit that I went to Oxford as much for the “et in Arcadia ego” Brideshead Revisited-esque experiences as for the fact that it is home to professors that I admire and wanted very much to work with, but I didn’t necessarily go because I thought having Oxford on my resume would get me any job I could dream of.  It is, perhaps, very ironic that I spent my entire time there being told that an Oxford degree is not the free pass to professional success that it was once, only to find out after I left Oxford that this is, in fact, the case.  I’ve had three corporate jobs post-Oxford and all three of my employers have told me they interviewed and hired me because they were impressed by my Oxford education, including my manager at the UT Health Science Center library.  Quite literally my last marketing boss told me when he saw my application he said, “We’ve got to at least interview her — who turns down an applicant from Oxford?”

So in my career so far, having a degree from a #1 school really has made a difference in my life.

When I started applying for library schools, I chose the ones that had programs that fit what I wanted to do: archives and preservation.  I ended up getting into (again) my top two choices: Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and UT-Austin.  A lot of factors influenced my decision to turn down Illinois and go to UT: my family has a tradition of being Longhorns (I will be the third generation to go to Austin after my dad and grandfather) and my dad has been waiting for one of his kids to go there since I graduated high school; I already owned a lot of Longhorns shirts; UT-Austin is the #1 program for Archives & Preservation in the US; it’s my “in-state/cheapest” option; and my mentor advised me that having UT on my resume next to Oxford would make my applications really stand out, especially to people in the UK (where I hope to work).

Yep, I was told something that directly contradicts Mr. Library Dude by someone who was on the committee to hire his college’s archivist.  (The archivist my mentor hired, and with whom I keep in touch, also told me the same thing.)  I don’t know who’s right, Mr. Library Dude or my mentor.  I’ll be sure to ask my future managers whether my education at top programs influenced them at all, but in my experience so far I’d have to say Mr. Library Dude may have different views from other hiring managers and that while I am sure that having a degree from a top library school probably won’t guarantee me a job by itself, I do not think it will hurt me and I am glad that I had luck on my side and am able to go to a school that fits my ambitions, interests, and budget.

In the end, as my friend Matt pointed out when I posted this to my facebook, “Prospective students need to be aware of what type of library they want to go into and find a school that offers a specialization in that type of librarianship” and I think THIS is the most important thing to be aware of.

Experience: Why I Was Afraid Of My Corporate Background

After Oxford I took some time off — I’ll be starting at UT after a three-year educational hiatus.  At the time, it was the right decision for me to leave academia, but when I was applying to library schools I worried a lot about what that time off has “cost” me.  I worried about being in classes with people four years younger than me.  I worried about having lost my ability to think critically.  I worried that having taken a winding path to this point will hurt me in the long run.  I worried about not having enough library experience (at the time of my applications, I hadn’t started my current job in a library and had a year’s experience from eight years before).  Everyone told me that having no “real” library experience would be okay, and that I shouldn’t feel guilty or afraid of my corporate work experience — and that was true.

What makes a “professional” librarian?  Or a “professional” anything?  In the corporate world I learned how to dress, how to behave in a workplace, how to interview well, and the basics of business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing.  It turns out that those skills are just as important as knowing how to catalogue books.  I’m not saying I don’t think my current library work experience is worth anything, I am just saying that there are a lot of transferable skills that can be learned outside of library work experience, and not everyone is lucky enough to get the opportunities I have.  I know that while I will do everything I can to get more library experience over the next two years, I will also find opportunities to grow professionally in other ways if I can’t and I hope my future employers won’t disregard me just because I wasn’t lucky enough to get a plum internship.  Especially with library budgets being cut left and right, there may not be as many opportunities as there used to be.

Marketing And Self-Promotion: What Works?

The other bit of advice that Mr. Library Dude has that relates to my experience is his exhortation to market oneself.  I recognize the growing power of the online presence.  I mean, I’m setting up this blog, aren’t I?  But in my past experience my “online presence” hasn’t really helped or hindered me that much.  I had a LinkedIn and a twitter going into my first round of post-university job applications .  I also had it going into my second.  And my third.  Aside from my last marketing boss and coworker trying to look me up on Facebook (and being shocked when I wasn’t a scantily-clad, blonde party girl after viewing the wrong profile and assuming it was mine), I don’t know of any way my “online presence” has influenced my employers.  Maybe that’s different now, and I know many medievalists who have high-profile blogs, so I ask:

  • How do you promote yourself?
  • What social media/online resume services do you use?
  • How do you balance public (online) and private personas?

The last interests me because while I will happy connect with people on LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter, my Facebook is strictly for family and close friends.  Sorry, I won’t connect with you there unless I have actually met you in real life and really care about keeping in touch with you.

I also have a “gamer” persona that I have used for the entire decade plus of my online experiences, after my parents said I couldn’t use my real name for my AOL screen name at the age of 14.  I still do a lot under that other name, including playing World of Warcraft and hanging out on forums with my online friends.  Should I try to keep that a secret or own up to it?  Should I keep my identifies disparate, or unite them?  I guess it’s similar to the blog I once read that asked if the skills learned by raid leading in Warcraft could be claimed on a resume, to which I say: why not?  Is learning how to effectively manage a team of people with unique skills and personalities by working through Blackwing Descent really that different from being a shift leader at McDonald’s?

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3 thoughts on “Advice And Experience, Or Perhaps Advice Vs Experience

  1. Pingback: Gone To Texas | The Book Archaeologist

  2. Pingback: The Skills You Don’t Learn In School | The Book Archaeologist

  3. Pingback: Gone To Texas | Lydia A. M. Fletcher

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