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#HLSDITL Day 2: When the best laid plans fall through…

October 29, 2013

To pick up where I left off on Day 1

By Spring 2011, I decided to apply to a graduate LIS program. I had everything planned: with 21 credits left to complete two bachelor degrees and a minor, I would graduate in Spring 2012 and start library school in the fall. I felt fairly sure that I wanted to pursue a concentration in archives, having had a positive experience as a student worker in the university archives.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Featured: My plans.

By the end of the Spring 2011 semester, the full-time archives assistant left our department to pursue other opportunities. She encouraged me to apply. My initial thought was “no way”. What about my perfect plans? I already felt like I had been in school forever, and I couldn’t bear the thought of delaying graduation again (like when I changed majors from humanities to history, or added a second major, or added a minor, or …)

In the end, it turned out that taking the position would only delay my graduation one full semester (from Spring 2012 to Fall 2012). This seemed like an easy sacrifice to make in exchange for full-time experience as a paraprofessional. I was also persuaded by the generous benefits, including tuition assistance to finish my undergraduate degrees.

Even though I felt ready to start graduate school RIGHT AWAY, taking the full-time job was the right decision. Not only did it lift my family above the poverty line, decrease our debt burden, and give us access to long-needed medical and dental care, but it exposed me to a whole new level of archives. I had a lot to learn about working in academia.

My experiences a part-time undergraduate assistant had not fully prepared me for the challenges of working as a full-time paraprofessional. Physically and mentally, it is simply more demanding to do something for eight hours at a time than it is for four hours. I “knew” that, but I didn’t really know it. I found it incredibly hard to come home from a full day of work and eat, do homework, go to the gym, do more homework, and sleep (if I had finished all of my homework). I felt tired all the time even though my job was not particularly active or strenuous.  I’m not alone in this experience; studies have shown that extended mental effort translates to real physical fatigue.

This was me most afternoons.

I also had to learn new skills for working in a professional capacity. Sure, I understood the basics of best practices and I knew a few of the collections, but there were decisions I never had to make as a student worker. In some cases, I didn’t even know they had to be made, much less who should make them! As a paraprofessional, my actions suddenly affected other people and other departments in a very real way.  As a student worker, I had enjoyed considerable freedom to choose my projects (much more than I realized at the time). Now, the priorities of the department had to become my priorities.

In short, it was a real awakening. The good news is that I still enjoyed the work and felt even more confident in my decision to pursue a career in archives. Fortunately, I have a very patient supervisor who is willing to help me navigate these strange waters. I have been in this position full-time for 25 months;  January will mark four years since I started in this department.

I just might be getting the hang of this…

As for my perfect plans, I managed to make it work. Attending classes part-time, online, in the evening, and over the summer, I finally graduated in Fall 2012. I started graduate classes at Drexel University (College of Computing and Informatics) in April 2013.  I expect to graduate in Fall 2014 with dual concentrations in archives and digital libraries. After graduation, I hope to find a full-time job in an archives that deals with humanitarian collections or the performing arts. That’s the current plan, anyway. Who knows what could happen between now and then?

My Top 3 Take-Aways (YMMV

1. Don’t let plans get in the way of a good opportunity. I have learned things in this job that I never anticipated when I applied.

2. Figure out what your supervisor needs from you and if you are willing to make it happen. Don’t underestimate what they can offer you in return, whether it’s knowledge, experience, or professional support.

3. When the going gets tough, you can probably endure more than you think. I learned that I can endure almost any hellacious schedule for one semester.

Day 2 Tweets

  1. Sam, this is soooooo true: “I had a lot to learn about working in academia.” By that I mean learning how the (generic) professional workplace works is indeed hugely important. It’s one of those so-called “soft” skills that simply can’t be taught in grad school: it happens with on-the-job experience. Lucky you for that supportive supervisor. And your takeaways are perfect!

    And I’m a huge fan of the notion of taking a paraprofessional job before or during pursuit of a professional degree. Some think it ruins your chances of getting a professional job. I see that happening only if you stay too long. Starts to look as though you’re not able to land a professional job worthy of your qualifications.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. #HLSDITL Day 3: Scholarships, rankings, and teachers, oh my! (On choosing a library school) | Archivasaurus
  2. #HLSDITL Day 4: Juggling work and school | Archivasaurus

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