Friday, September 21, 2012

Being an Older Student in a Library School Program

When I completed my undergraduate studies, I just absolutely knew that I was completely finished with school. No more tests. No more textbooks. No more teachers. Clutching my diploma, I exited the auditorium, lifted my beaming face toward the bright heavens, and hungrily inhaled my first whiff of sweet, sweet freedom. At last I was an adult and I was free of the rigors of academics. I happily marched off into the wide, unknown world.

Being an older student in library school has both its challenges and rewards.
Photo via http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/work-blog
Then, a decade or so later... I'm back in the classroom, now as a graduate student pursuing a degree in library and information science. This time around, things are definitely different. For one thing, I'm among the older students in the program, many of us pursuing librarianship as a second career. Being an older student, I can relate to much of what Laura Sanders says in her essay "On Being an Older Library School Student," published on the Hack Library School website.

"Paying tuition fees is never easy no matter how old you are, but I do find that it's harder to be a student when you're older," Sanders says. "It gets disheartening to pound the pavement for an apartment that's in your budget, to turn down dinner invitations with friends because you can't afford to go, or to watch the money you manage to scrape together going toward tuition instead of your retirement fund."

As an older student, I'm paying my own way through school, which wasn't the case before (due to hard-working, sacrificing parents and Sallie Mae). And paying for school undeniably changes things. It affects not only my attitude (I'm much more serious about my studies this time around), but it also, of course, affects my finances. Like Sanders, I have to decline invites because I don't have the money, and it sucks seeing the money I squirreled away for savings go toward tuition.

Another thing that takes some getting used to as an older student pursing a second career is that you are starting all over gain career-wise. Getting a foothold in the library field is tough because your extensive prior work experience makes you overqualified for most entry-level library jobs, so the people who hire for those jobs aren't likely to hire you. But you need to get your foot in the door somewhere to get recent experience and build up your resume. I'm reminded of the feeling I had back when I was trying to get my first publishing job: "How are you supposed to get experience if no one is hiring you so that you can get that experience?" Plus, starting over at the bottom often means taking a drastic cut in pay, which most older students - who typically pay rent, mortgage, utility bills, childcare expenses, transportation costs, etc. - really can't afford. "Starting over is tough," says Sanders in her essay. I wholeheartedly agree.

Yes, there are drawbacks. But being an older library school student does have its benefits. At this age, you know who you are as a person, you know this is what you want, and so you pursue it with a passion that you may not have had as a younger student pursuing an undergraduate degree. Also at this point, you're used to being assertive to get what you need for yourself, so in the classroom you're not afraid to seek out the help you need. Plus, paying for library school yourself makes you determined to get the most out of your experience.

Laura Sanders reflects more on the plusses and minuses of being an older student in library school in her essay, which you can read HERE.

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