iSchool Graduate Alison Jantz: We don’t have all the answers, but we can find them

Canadian Alison Jantz found her niche, supplemented it with the MLIS degree, and landed her dream job: director of a theological library.

Working as a library assistant at the University of Saskatchewan prior to obtaining the MLIS degree, Alison Jantz looked at her life one day and decided she wanted more. Word of mouth from colleagues pointed her toward SJSU’s iSchool degree program so she could move into a librarian role, and the rest is history.

International Perspectives on the iSchool
As an international student applying to school in the U.S., first and foremost Jantz appreciated the ease of the iSchool application process. And once she was in the program, studying virtually across time zones, she marveled at the clean, open lines of communications and instruction.

Jantz credits iSchool instructor Robert Boyd, whom she describes as “a good ambassador for the school,” and core course Libr 200 Information Communities as particularly helpful for international students and those completely new to the world of library and information studies. “Boyd is fantastic,” Jantz says. “Along with an introduction to the subject matter, the whole area of library science, he also introduced us to the culture of the iSchool, which was important. For many students, the first class is the first entry into online learning, and he took that into account.”

Right Place, Right Time, Right Person for the Job
Still in iSchool, Jantz was encouraged by colleagues to apply for library director of the Saskatoon Theological Union (STU) Library, overseeing four distinct library collections. It was a difficult decision, Jantz remembers. On the one hand the job was her absolute ideal, combining her love of theological subject matter and Master’s of Divinity (MDiv) with the library skills she was developing at SJSU. But giving up a stable job working at the university in interlibrary loans for a precarious two-year contract position was daunting.

During a month-long application process that involved a two-hour interview, Jantz was questioned by representatives from each of the four institutions, each with its own flavor. When she was finally offered the job, it was on the condition that she finish the MLIS degree concurrently. “I felt like I was diving into an environment I wasn’t quite qualified for yet,” Jantz admits. And not only was she going to be library director, but because of her two master’s degrees, Jantz was given an adjunct faculty title, which allows her to teach courses on research and writing for the graduate theology students. “I took a big risk to try something different and challenging,” Jantz says. “And it is so worth it, to have this experience.”

Jantz quickly began to learn the culture of each library group she was responsible for. She attended faculty meetings to link faculty to the library, helped students with their reference questions, and then realized something important: she knew what she was doing.

“Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re qualified," she says, "but the gift of the iSchool education is that you’ve been trained to look for information. If you don’t have the answer, you have very strong skills to find it.”

Sometimes Smaller is Just Right
Smaller libraries can be special, Jantz discovered. “In my unique setting, I have the ability to create projects that create efficiencies in the library [and] provide better services for students and faculty," she says. "My budget is very small, but being small there is flexibility to try things and make them our own.“

Jantz’s most important challenge is reaching everyone who needs assistance, and trying to make the library work for everybody. The question she’s asked most often is, How do I access ejournals and ebooks? “Theology is a very print world,” she says, “and it’s an ongoing challenge to make these changes to digital resources. But it’s important to keep up, particularly as we have so many distance students. They have no idea what’s available to them.”

Final Words of Advice
Take a class in archives! Jantz didn’t take an archives or records preservation class, a decision she regrets. “I’m going to have to go back and take it later, as it’s crucial for my job now. I didn’t think much about it in school, but now here it is!”

A second, specialized degree is a bonus, not a necessity. “Reference-wise, the most important thing is learning how to find information. You can go into a special library without subject knowledge, but you have to have the research capability to learn for yourself.”

Just be yourself. “As a Canadian, I was very comfortable in the American school environment, and encouraged to bring my own experience to the class. Don’t be afraid to introduce your classmates and professors to your context, as they are usually receptive and thankful to have a different perspective. As I was to have an American point of view.”