Why do I get myself into these things?! This is a question I have asked myself a lot this year. In fact, I am asking myself that very question right now, as I stare at a blank computer screen, reflecting on my first year in library school, trying to find some sort of form and poetic resonance in my experience.
It’s a question that I asked myself last summer when I attended “bootcamp” at the University of Illinois, the mandatory 1-week introductory course in Champaign for students intending on pursuing their MLIS degree online … 4 quizzes, 2 papers, 1 group presentation and required active participation in live classes as well as internet message boards that never sleep! It’s a question that I asked myself last fall when the class I was taking wasn’t resonating with me. Because the class was online, I had no way of knowing if this disconnect was a sign that I had maybe made the wrong career choice or if, in fact, other students were feeling it too. And, yes, it’s also a question that I asked myself Spring Semester, when I took two inspiring and challenging classes but struggled to find the time to balance work, school and life.
The classes in government documents and legal research were finally starting to make law librarianship feel real and exciting to me. I wanted to spend every minute studying but where was I going to find the time to do everything and to become the librarian I wanted to be? The answer however, is in the question itself. Librarians are seekers. They may not always have the answers but they know where to find them and they relish the search. This search is what drew me to the profession and, I suspect, it is what will keep me there. I get myself into these things because I can’t help but ask questions and look for answers all of the time.
One of the biggest questions I confronted during my first year in library school was how to best navigate the online classroom and, most especially, how to embrace the message board. My classmates all seem so brilliant! I’ve read that students in live classrooms often struggle with the pressure of having to appear perfect online. In a virtual classroom, you can imagine just how perfect everybody appears. Comments are always well thought out. There are never yawns or eye rolls or sighs during a discussion topic. There is nothing negative at all. What monster would want to bring a negative thought into this utopia?
The online message board encourages one to engage with and think critically over the readings, as well as to forge connections with classmates whom one may never see in person. However, these message boards can be a little intimidating and I struggled with them. I wanted to project myself as being as smart and insightful as my classmates but — what if I’m just not? My solution, again, was a question. In fact, lots of them. If a classmate had an incredible insight, I’d ask about it, at the risk of sounding dumb myself. As I practiced engaging with my classmates on the online forums, I found that I became less intimidated and eventually had more to say. While I am still struggling with the pressure to be brilliant, I am getting more out of my classes by just setting aside an hour or so a week for the struggle. Entering into the online conversation has been rewarding and I am a more satisfied student because of it.
This fall, I will be working as a Reference Associate at the Pritzker Legal Research Center as well as working on a Practicum there. The question that I am anticipating next is: How will the skills I’ve learned so far translate into the actual practice of law librarianship? I can’t wait to find the answer!