Z682.4.I58 → Co-op in a Government Library: A Summary

Since this past September, I've been completing my co-op terms as part of earning my MLIS degree. While it's not required to earn the Master's degree in my program of choice, co-op can provide an invaluable experience to students just starting out in the library field. For the past six or so months, I've been working in a government (special) library as a student librarian. Honestly, it thrills me a little bit each time I come in to work to see that title hanging by my office. It's a little comforting to know that I've made it this far already. So I thought I'd put together some points about my experience in the co-op program and a government library as well.

the job.
My co-op job takes place in a government library that is science-based in its mandate, as it serves scientists from numerous provinces and supports sibling-like libraries in the same department across the country. Working in a small-staff library - it's just my supervisor and I - means that I'm exposed to many aspects of librarianship. In my time in this position, I've been able to work and experience and hone my skills in areas a wide variety of areas in librarianship. As a quick breakdown, I've listed some of the main tasks I've been involved in during my time in this position.

  1. Cataloguing. The library receives enough new or new-to-us material quite regularly, which means putting some copy-cataloguing, original cataloguing, or just plain fixing-up cataloguing to good use.
  2. Collection management. A major project over the past few months has been focused on collection management in terms of acquisition and weeding. The library is currently in major preparation mode as a sibling library is unfortunately closing and divvying up its collection amongst the other remaining libraries. This means poring over lists of thousands of items to ensure that the library is selecting quality materials and letting weed-worthy items be left behind. It's a lot of pressure, and certainly requires some knowledge of the collection and your client needs. All that and tough deadlines, too. It was tough, but I'm pretty proud of the fact that 17,000 items were considered and selected/discarded in just over a week. Phew.
  3. Reference. The bread and butter of library services, reference is something that happens pretty much every day. At times its quick document-delivery, and in other times it means finding in-depth data and building bibliographies. Either way, its my main interaction with clients and it's been a great way to hone search skills.
has coursework been helpful?
I know this sounds a bit wishy-washy but the real answer is: yes and no. But certainly more "yes" than "no." As you can probably see from above, much of my work is concerned with traditional librarianship - cataloguing, reference services, and collection development. In that case, many of the initial required courses in my program were extremely beneficial to my work. Likewise, if you're selecting the appropriate electives you can gain a wealth of information and knowledge through coursework. For example, the knowledge gained through taking a course on special librarianship was especially helpful in working in a small government library. I do wish that I was a little more careful in picking courses during my first 'elective' semester, as I feel like it could have helped me in being better attuned to the various co-op positions that are offered as well as my own wants and needs in a future career.

what kinds of lessons can be taken away from the experience?
Honestly, that co-op is a very valuable aspect of earning the MLIS degree. But beyond that, I've learned so much about government librarianship in particular, and the ins and outs of navigating the bureaucratic waters of a government library. I've watched and interacted with some people that are very clearly "government first, librarianship second" types of people (and that's not necessarily a good thing sometimes) that its allowed me to learn valuable lessons about how professional librarians should portray themselves for clients and coworkers. It's also certainly been an interesting lesson in how to adapt to decision-making from higher up.

how does this experience affect your future in librarianship?
I think co-op in general is something every candidate for library and information science should take advantage of, if offered. I know that due to budget cuts it's becoming an increasingly competitive just to land a co-op placement, but it is so, so worth it if you do. It gives you maximum exposure to a variety of responsibilities, tasks, and settings while still operating on a short-term schedule. The lessons and skills you take away from it - both in terms of technical librarianship and interpersonal skills related to navigating the library job world - will be very beneficial in the "real world." For me personally, doing a co-op placement at a government library is/was amazing experience as I'm very interested in special librarianship and all that it entails.

{photo by author}

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