Meghan Herman graduated in 2019 from Penn College of Technology with a B.S. degree in Industrial Design. However, being the daughter of a Brodart executive (Gretchen Herman is Brodart’s Vice President of Product Development), she grew up having a close familiarity with the library industry. It was no great surprise, then, that Meghan recently decided to pursue her Master of Science in Information and Library Science (MSLS) degree from Clarion University.
Not only is she currently studying diligently to become a librarian, she also works full time in Brodart’s Collection Development department. Talk about getting a crash course in libraries from two different angles at once!
What follows is a look at one person’s MSLS journey, which will be an ongoing feature in Librarian to Librarian. Please share your own perspective as you read about Meghan’s experiences.
L2L: What made you want to become a librarian?
MH: I’ve always been interested in books, so that was a strong driver for me. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Design, but by my senior year, I had decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. Also, after I graduated, there weren’t many available positions in the field. I knew I wanted to pursue a master’s degree, but the Industrial Design programs are mostly in New York City or California, where I didn’t want to be. Then I discovered an MSLS program at Clarion that doesn’t require an undergraduate degree in Library Science. I did a lot of research, talked to people, and thought about it for almost four months. Then I made the decision to pursue my MSLS and become a librarian.
L2L: What courses have you taken so far?
I completed an introduction to librarianship and a class on databases. I’m currently taking courses on developing library collections and Information sources and services.
L2L: Have you chosen an area of concentration in your studies?
MH: We do have areas on concentration, but I have not picked one yet. I might stick with collection development or get more into the information science aspect.
L2L: What appeals to you about collection development?
MH: Well, I enjoy building lists. It’s my current position (at Brodart). The data portion of collection development is fascinating to me. When creating lists one of the important factors we consider is demand. But aside from bestsellers and popular authors and subjects, we need also to account for important books that may not show up in a demand search. For example, technical-oriented books that have lower Dewey Decimal numbers aren’t usually in high demand, but they can be very important for a library’s collection.
L2L: Do they teach you how to “shush” unruly patrons in the library?
MH: (Laughing) I’m not there yet. That’s a more advanced course.
L2L: Do you have any perspective on how MSLS curricula have changed over the past few decades?
MH: Well one thing I’ve discovered is that some librarians who got their degrees years ago are surprised to find that an entire course of study can be online these days. That can be a challenging aspect, because all of the interaction is spread throughout the day, as people post their comments to lectures and discussions according to their different schedules. This can make the discussions less spontaneous and I have to monitor those posts and experience the class through my phone, which is different.
As for the curriculum itself, I feel like electronic sources have become more important.
L2L: How about issues like gender and inclusiveness?
MH: One thing I can say is that our professors ask us what we prefer to be called—not only name or nickname, but also our preferred pronouns. I’m finding the industry to be very open. As long as you can do the work, people will accept you, no matter who you are.
L2L: What is it like working in a libraries services company while studying to become a librarian?
MH: It’s very interesting to see the same challenges from two different angles. One of our homework assignments was to pick a Dewey range, choose titles in that range, and fill categories for a collection. Essentially, we picked a specific range and were assigned a budget and a specific library to select for. I do that at work as well, but there I have access to a number of automated processes. The tricky part for me is to complete the homework assignment while knowing that I have more powerful tools to use at work that make the task much easier!
About 50% of the students already work in the library industry—like me—but some do not. So the teachers have to tailor instruction based on how much each student already knows. At the beginning of my study, I was brand new, but since then, not only have I been studying library science, but I’ve also been working every day in the industry. Some students worked in libraries, found out they really enjoyed it, and then decided to get formal degrees. Other people worked in different industries but volunteered at libraries and, as a result, decided to switch careers.
L2L: What do you enjoy most about MSLS studies?
MH: Probably the IS aspect — especially building technical information into databases.
L2L: Is it what you expected?
MH: Yes and no. It’s a lot more writing, but I should have expected that! There are a lot of research papers on various library systems. One assignment was to choose a well-known librarian and explore that person’s professional life. I picked Judith F. Krug, who fought hard for intellectual freedom in libraries. She surprised me somewhat, because while Krug looks the part of a typical librarian — quiet, reserved older woman—her appearance belied her significance in the library world. She was an outspoken champion for incorporating books in library collections that had formerly been regarded as taboo. She focused mostly on subjects like information about STDs—nothing erotic—but which had formerly been flagged as sexual and bad. She helped to change people’s thinking so that libraries now regard those topics as important medical texts, to be included on library shelves.
I’ve also written research papers on professional specialization within the library. The professor wanted us to explore more in an area that interested us, and I used this paper to examine different options before landing on academic librarianship. This career path, while interesting, is hard to get into starting out—so it will be interesting if I ever pursue it later on in life. The last paper I’ll mention focused on the impact of eBooks and eReaders on the library, both positively and negatively.