At the beginning of this month, I finally finished. After a two-year hiatus from real life (or, that’s what it felt like, anyway), I finally graduated with my Masters in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University, in Detroit.
This was a long time coming. After struggling for several years in a career that I didn’t love, I had to figure out where I was going next. I knew I needed to get out my job, but I wasn’t sure if I just wanted to jump into a similar job in the same field (journalism). Even though I still love to write and tell stories, I knew I wasn’t passionate about being a reporter or editor. I didn’t have that same drive to be in the news business. In fact, after several years in, I was pretty disillusioned and not exactly impressed. It was a tough decision, coming to the conclusion that I wanted to shift careers: I had a degree in journalism, I worked for years as an editor at my college newspaper (and I liked doing that!), and even though I felt like I was struggling in a lot of ways, I was doing a good job at my job. I was a success in a lot of ways, but I didn’t care. I wanted out, and after I eventually got over the fear that this would make me look like a failure, I started looking at my options.
I had a certificate in book and magazine publishing from New York University, so there was always that to fall back on. And a degree in English, mind you. But I always saw the publishing industry in Metro Detroit as lacking in opportunities, so I didn’t think I could easily shift into that track. I knew I wanted to pursue additional education – namely, a Master’s degree – but I had never been sure in what.
The day I realized that a Master’s in Library and Information Science was exactly what I needed was a great day. I started exploring the programs in my area, and I was happy to discover that I had two of the best programs in the country in my backyard. I also discovered that you can do so much more with a MLIS than I ever expected – we’re not all children’s librarians and book-stampers, you know. There were classes in technology and information management, digital preservation and metadata. I found careers and jobs that felt like they were written for me, and I realized that all of this had been waiting for me, patiently. As a reader and bibliophile, of course I loved libraries. I worked at one during college. I patronized my local library all the time and as a local journalist, I made my best friends with the librarians and directors there. What had I been waiting for?
Of course, I will say that I wouldn’t have figured all this out if it wasn’t for where I had been before. This has been particularly true as I start a new career in … wait for it … educational publishing, an opportunity I was only able to learn about because of my MLIS, internship experience I picked up while earning said MLIS, my publishing experience, and yes, my copyediting and management experience that I gained as a journalist. It all comes full circle in the end, and no matter how frustrated we may get trying to “find ourselves” and land on our feet in the adult world, nothing you do is a waste. Everything matters, and even the most inconsequential experience you may have had in the past may be the one thing that gets you to where you want to be.
Now, two years after I made that decision, quit my job, and went back to grad school, I’ve graduated, I’m done, and I’m ready to move on to a new stage of my life. One in which I finally feel comfortable with myself, confident in my abilities, and proud of my accomplishments. It’s been a humbling experience – being an unpaid intern at a job where you know you could easily do your boss’s job is frustrating on the best of days, and discouraging on the worst. It’s also been tough financially and time-wise. I’ve missed a lot of roller derby practices, scrimped and saved and swore off a lot of little luxuries, and I’ve spent nearly every single weeknight during the past two years either writing a paper, watching lectures online, working on projects, or reading for school. I took two classes a semester – every semester – for two years. It’s been a grueling and exhausting pace. For a big part of that time, I actually did work the equivalent of a full-time job. I was a bookstore manager, and I balanced a part-time job with part-time internships. By the end of it, i was very, very tired of school.
But I can definitely say it’s all been worth it. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people younger than I am about the value of school in recent years, most notably during my time managing a big bunch of young 20-somethings at the bookstore. So many of them spoke about how much school costs, or how their classes seemed worthless, or how it all didn’t seem worth the effort. What I told them then I still believe: it’s always worth it. Yes, it’s hard. And no, not everyone is going to be “good” at certain subjects. Sometimes, you really have to work for it. But, given the state of the job market, a degree is so valuable and even if it doesn’t magically open all the doors, it will give you the leg-up. Hardwork and dedication and skill are important, but education is proof that you’re able to take those qualities and work toward a set goal in order to better yourself.
That’s what my MLIS has done. Sure, I don’t have a “library job”, and when I tell people about my new job, they seem to look at me askance and ask, “Wait, didn’t you want to be a librarian? Isn’t that why you got that MLIS?” I tell them, yes, I wanted to be a librarian. But I also wanted to work with publishing, and digital content, and information, and education. My job enables me to do this. Plus, while earning my MLIS, I decided to take a class in metadata, which is where I first learned about XML code. That enabled to me get an internship at my library system’s digital publishing department, where I worked intensely with XML in a publishing environment. Now I work at an educational publisher in their e-books division, and guess what I work with? XML. So thank you, Master’s degree. I literally couldn’t have done this without you.