Prepared? Reflecting on grad school after 3.5 months on the job

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how well my MS/LIS degree and its related experiences prepared me for my job now as a Research and Instructional Services Librarian. It’s important to note that I worked in my undergraduate library for three years while receiving my bachelors. I also worked in my hometown public library for a year before heading off to graduate school. I’d worked at a physical reference desk before, had worked with LibChat, and had a base knowledge of databases. I had more library experience than some, and therefore had a better idea of what classes I needed to be taking to become an academic librarian.   

I feel like a broken record saying this, but my graduate experience was quite different and chaotic at best; my first year, I was entirely online (unplanned), assistantship and all. Online classes weren’t necessarily a surprise, given my alma mater’s strong online MS/LIS program, but setting foot in the library I worked for exactly once during the 2020-2021 school year wasn’t something I was expecting. I did chat and email reference, team meetings, and taught workshops all from my tiny bedroom in Urbana, IL. I’d moved to Illinois specifically to have an in-person program, but alas – Covid ruined those plans. My supervisor and the other librarians I worked with did their best to train my cohort remotely, but as you can imagine, the physical reference desk is a whole other beast compared to a virtual one. Even when we went back in person in summer 2021, things felt constantly up in the air. Policies were changing left and right as folks tried to reconcile COVID-19 restrictions with being back in person. If anything, my “chaos cohort” of other graduate assistants were prepared to be adaptable! 

collection development

With that being said, one aspect of my degree that might seem controversial to some is that I actively chose not to take collection development, despite never having done that in any of the previously mentioned library jobs. This was based on some of my friends’ experiences in the class; it was useful, for sure, but there were other classes they’d wanted to take that they couldn’t as a result. I had the thought too that wherever I ended up, they would “do” collections differently. I’d have to learn new processes no matter what classes I took. Now that I’m here at Salisbury, I am responsible for collections in areas like Environmental Studies, Public Health, and Exercise Science, to name a few. I lean on my faculty for book recommendations, as well as Choice Reviews from ACRL and book reviews in journals. I am also part of our Leisure Reading committee, where our main responsibility is to develop our leisure collections for students, faculty and staff. Here, the collection development is a group effort. Personally, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much; I’ve learned how to use GOBI on the job, and my university has a great faculty request system in place.  


A theme I have noticed in literature regarding the master’s degree is that many academic librarians feel they weren’t adequately prepared to take on instruction. It’s also been written about on ACRLog before. This is something I felt fairly confident about, as I took the class “Instructional Strategies and Techniques for Information Professionals” with Merinda Hensley. We created a lesson plan, struggled through writing learning outcomes (emphasis on the struggle), and wrote teaching philosophies. I also took “E-Learning” with Melissa Wong, which gave me language and strategies for teaching virtually. On top of all of this, I was teaching for the UIUC library via my graduate assistantship. So when setting up instruction sessions with my faculty at Salisbury, I felt confident. I’m always going to be nervous before teaching, but it’s never been because I have no idea what I’m doing.  

faculty communication

Where I feel shaky in regards to my job duties is in communication with faculty. Some of this is to be expected with a new librarian, but where I find myself unsure is how many emails to send, how to reach faculty that don’t already request library instruction… essentially, I am struggling in this aspect of “proving” myself and my job to other faculty at the university. I attended the CLAPS (Critical Librarianship & Pedagogy Symposium) two weeks ago, and Baharak Yousefi’s closing keynote has really stuck with me. Some of these tweets capture the essence of this powerful keynote, which had some focus on one-shot instruction:  

“No physicist, historian, or geographer on our campus teaches this way – going around begging for the right to teach in a one-off manner.” (tweeted by @lydia_zv)  

“We are deprofessionalized by being given work we can’t do well, and the very fact that we can’t do it well makes us reluctant to resist the condition of our de-professionalization” (tweeted by @RoxanneShirazi) 

I didn’t have the words for what I was feeling, but Yousefi has captured it perfectly. I was hired at Salisbury to perform a job, I have faculty status, and yet, it sometimes feels like I need to prove the merit of library instruction. I’ve got some great faculty who know the value of a librarian for their students, but even then, I’m in front of them maybe once a semester. If the timing of our session isn’t quite right, students won’t see the value of what I teach yet or won’t want to re-do their research based on what I’ve shown them. I imagine that confidence in faculty communication will come with time and effort; is this even something an MS/LIS could prepare a new librarian for? I’m inclined to say no. We can perhaps be warned about the phenomenon by professors and mentors, but it strikes me as something a librarian has to experience and address themselves at their institutions.  

These are just a few things I’ve been pondering since graduating. How did your MS/LIS prepare you for your library position? How did it not? Feel free to sound off below. This post by Sarah Crissinger on tips for graduate school might be of interest too. 

Landing the first librarian job

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Emily Zerrenner, Research and Instructional Services Librarian at Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2022-2023 year here at ACRLog.

The process of landing my first academic job was a whirlwind with a steady downpour. From about February on, nearly every day I was scouring job boards, writing cover letters, tweaking my resume and creating a CV. First interviews were always exciting before nerve-wracking; I could count on some of the questions asked (Why do you want this job?) and I would daydream about the location. In every place I applied, I checked PetFinder. I wanted a job, and I wanted a dog. Sometimes my questions would have less of a straight answer. Could I fit there? Could I make a life there?

I distinctly remember the first interview I got. I was so excited, because it was on the East Coast and the campus was beautiful, and, and, and. I came up with many reasons. I thought I nailed the interview. It was a bright spot in the seemingly endless gloom of a Midwestern February.

Then I wasn’t invited for a second interview.

I wasn’t surprised, necessarily; but I had hoped so hard that it would work out. I had long been warned about the academic job seeking process, and I saw the graduate assistants a year before me go through it in Spring 2021. At that point, I steeled myself for the marathon ahead.

I had a spreadsheet to input information about every job I applied to. Light green highlight meant I got a first interview, dark green meant a second round, and I just moved the rows of rejections to a separate sheet so I didn’t have to look at them. No highlight meant my application was received, but I didn’t hear anything. (This happened to more jobs than you might expect.) Google Drive learned my habits of opening that sheet pretty much anywhere I went: “you usually open around this time.” I had a general resume and CV, a general cover letter with everything I could possibly talk about, and folders where I dropped the customized materials for each position.

I was still in three graduate school classes during this time, working 15 or so hours a week as a graduate assistant, and teaching workshops and one-shot library instruction in the meantime. Even though I began graduate school in Fall 2020, this felt like the hardest pandemic semester yet; I was so close to the end of my degree and so burnt out from juggling not only my responsibilities as a full-time student, but also managing the risk of COVID-19 at every turn.

April was the worst month. I had a second-round interview every week; all of them were over Zoom (which, eight hours over Zoom is perhaps its own form of torture) but I was flown out to visit one campus. The day after I got back from that campus visit, I had the second-round interview for the place I work now. I was so incredibly exhausted that I was convinced I wouldn’t get that one, but I kept pushing through. It was like having a final project every week, except these final projects determined the course of my life. In total, I applied to 17 jobs and completed 30 hours of interviews across institutions (not including the travel and preparation time).

I received and accepted a job offer at Salisbury University a week before I graduated, which I recognize is so lucky on my part. Moving to an entirely new state alone, away from everything I knew was its own challenge – one that I am still adjusting to. In this field, it’s almost expected that you will move away from friends and family; you have to follow the work. The long job application process is well known and documented, and yet we’re still using that same system. Additionally, I have a lot of thoughts about reimbursement culture in academia; grateful as I am for moving cost reimbursement, that initial financial burden almost made it impossible to actually make the move for this job.

But I’m happy to report that my Petfinder browsing paid off, and I’m slowly making a life here – both as a new academic librarian, and as Emily.

A dog's face with black and white markings