NLPN

A network for new and aspiring library professionals

Interview: Carla Harwood – Studying for a LIS qualification abroad

Carla, has kindly agreed to answer some questions for us about her experience studying for a LIS qualification in America.

How did you first become involved in the library and information profession?

I got my first LIS job in 2012, when I was hired by the University of Leeds as one of their two library Graduate Trainees. University of Leeds was where I’d studied for my undergraduate degree (in History) up until July of that year, so it was great to be invited to work there. As the Edward Boyle Trainee, I spent my mornings in the Customer Services team, and in the afternoons, I would work in support of the science and engineering librarians by building reading lists, managing enquiries, and assisting with teaching sessions. Because the purpose of the role was to offer Trainees the chance to experience a variety of types of library work, I was able to participate in a lot of activities which were outside of the scope of my regular duties. Sadly, neither of the Trainee positions exist anymore, which is a shame because the scheme didn’t only benefit individuals looking to start a career in LIS, but also the library itself benefited greatly from having two enthusiastic employees getting involved in as many areas as possible. The blog I was encouraged to keep during my Traineeship can still be visited.

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You recently completed your studies for a library qualification abroad. Can you tell us a bit about your experience?

It was August 2014 when I left the UK and moved to New Jersey to start my degree at Rutgers University. Originally, I signed up for a Master of Library and Information Science, but I actually graduated with a Master of Information. Because the programme’s structure changed during my time as a student, I had the option to choose which degree I wanted, and I went for the MI because I knew I’d be looking for job roles outside of ‘traditional’ librarianship.

I followed the Knowledge Management specialisation, while also taking some electives in health topics, due to the interest in health I’d developed through working in the Health Faculty Team after my Traineeship. Each class was very different, as the instructors had complete control over the format of the class, the assignments, the readings, and the grading. Some were highly theoretical (e.g. Knowledge Management), others were very technical (e.g. IT for Libraries), and some were practical (e.g. Records Management). I had the opportunity to complete an internship for credit, which I did at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and rather than write a thesis, I chose to complete a research project with practical application (a thesis was optional anyway).

As for my experience generally, I find it difficult to sum up. I don’t think there is a way to describe it that would truly represent how I feel, after wanting to study in the United States for so long and then actually being able to do it. It was everything that I could hope for and more.

What influenced you to study abroad?

I’d visited the United States three times when I was growing up: as a baby, as a child and as a teenager, and each time was to the same place – Florida. My visit as a teenager had a big impact on me; everything about the country was fascinating, and I knew that I wanted to experience it first-hand by living there. I had looked into studying abroad as an undergraduate, but it actually worked out much better the way it did, since I needed to study for a second degree in order to become qualified in LIS. It was fortunate that the two things I wanted to do neatly overlapped.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of going to study for a library qualification abroad?

First, if you intend to return home after graduation, check the qualification you want to study for is accepted in your home country. If you are from the UK and wanting to study in either the United States, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia, you should be OK because CILIP has a reciprocal agreement with the LIS governing bodies of those countries. That said, if you’re applying for jobs outside of ‘traditional’ librarianship, this matters less. More information can be found here. Then, do a lot of thorough research and be 100% sure it’s what you want to invest your time, money and energy into. Studying abroad is an expensive commitment. Last, I’ll pass on the advice that my sponsor gave to me before I left – ‘embrace everything’. I lived by those words for two years.

What would you say are the benefits?

There are a lot of benefits to studying abroad, regardless of country or degree programme. For instance, it provides the opportunity to meet a diverse group of new friends, and a chance to be immersed in a culture different to one’s own. The benefits of studying LIS in the US compared to the UK will vary from programme to programme, but generally speaking, the US’ approach to LIS education is more interdisciplinary than ours, as librarianship, archiving, museum studies, data science, information management and other LIS-related areas are not segregated into separate degrees, as they often are in the UK. Job opportunities for LIS professionals come in many shapes and forms nowadays, so I think an interdisciplinary education is advantageous.

What disadvantages are there (if any)?

For someone looking for a job back home after graduation, there’s a disadvantage when learning about a topic in a way which is specific to only one country. For instance, my Health Informatics course was extremely interesting, but the US and UK healthcare systems work completely differently so there are a lot of details that won’t be applicable to the situation in the UK. Similarly, I had to go out of my way to pick UK-based assignments for my Records Management class, since laws and regulations relating to information management differ from country to country. Looking at education as more than a means to get a job though, these are not disadvantages; I learned about the US perspective, which is what I intended to do.

Thank you to NLPN for inviting me to contribute!

For more information on what Carla is up to you can follow her on Twitter or her blog.

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This entry was posted on September 28, 2016 by in Interview and tagged , , , , , , , .

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