Teen Services Librarian Amy Kirchofer Thrives in iSchool Open Classes
iSchool Open Classes Participant Amy Kirchofer

“I want to ensure that I have lots of options, since librarianship has so many possible applications.”
Amy Kirchofer
Lexington Park, Maryland
iSchool Open Classes Program Participant

Teen services librarian Amy Kirchofer was browsing emails when she came across an intriguing update from Booklist, the American Library Association (ALA) publication that provides book reviews for public and school libraries.

Looking for professional development for you and your staff?” it read. “Through the i.School Open Classes program at the San Jose State University School of Information, you can enroll in exclusively online, master’s-level courses and update your skills and knowledge.” Kirchofer clicked to find out more, and ended up participating in several open classes, a decision that broadened her LIS skills, knowledge and job opportunities.

The FAQ on Open Classes
Open classes are electives offered by the iSchool’s Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) and Master of Archives and Records Administration (MARA) programs. Open to everyone with a bachelor's degree or higher, students in the Open Classes program earn college credit, which can then be transferred to the MLIS or MARA program, should participants choose to pursue a degree.

In Maryland, where Kirchofer works in a public library, a master's degree is not a job requirement for public library associates (clerks and information staff), but full-fledged librarians are required to have a bachelor's degree and Professional Public Librarian Certificate. The certificate can be obtained after completing approved in-service training through the Library Associate Training Institute within the librarian’s first two years of work. The six-month certificate training instructs librarians on topics like providing excellent customer service, statewide print and online library resources, user reference behaviors and library programming.

The MLIS degree is required in order to work in most supervisory library positions, so Kirchofer looked at the iSchool's Open Classes program to get a taste of the graduate school experience and to explore her career opportunities.

“It’s been a while since I completed my undergrad degree,” Kirchofer explains, adding that she holds a BA in History with a minor in Sociology, “and I wanted to kind of stick my toes in first before taking the plunge and applying. I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to be a student while working full-time, being a wife, and mothering my two kids.”

“When I was looking into it, I found out that several other staff members in my library system were already taking classes or were about to apply to SJSU, and they had lots of positive things to say.” Thus encouraged, Kirchofer took the plunge into open classes.

Open Classes in Action
To start out, Kirchofer decided to take two one-credit classes spread out over two semesters. In Spring 2015 she took a Seminar in Library Management: Human Resource Management, and in Fall 2015 she took Information Technology Tools and Applications: Fundamentals of Programming.
 
“The IT Tools class was really interesting, and as I have zero background in IT (other than basic troubleshooting and end-user skills), it forced me to think in ways that were very foreign and challenging!” she says. “I really appreciated the format of that class. It was a great introduction to the basic thought processes behind programming.”

“I’m not ready to start programming,” Kirchofer notes, “but I feel like it helped me to have the vocabulary and foundational knowledge to discuss tech issues with our IT staff more effectively, and to ask better questions.”

As someone who has worked in management positions in the past, Kirchofer says that the HR Management course was a great refresher that “opened my eyes to more current ideas, problems and issues in HR.” It also cemented Kirchofer’s goal of going back to school, and gave her skills and tools she could immediately apply to her workplace. “Knowing what’s happening in other companies and libraries was enlightening,” she says. “The course helped me view my own library's issues in a different way, and to focus on being more solution oriented.”

Overall, Kirchofer would “absolutely” recommend the Open Classes program as a positive learning experience. She says the courses are ideal for people like herself who have been out of school for a while and don’t quite know how they’ll be able to juggle schoolwork on top of current responsibilities. “Or,” she adds, “for someone who wants to advance in their current career by gaining new skills and knowledge but may not be able to go back to school full-time.”

Open and Onward iSchool Open Class participant Amy Kirchofer at the library
“I want to work in libraries for the rest of my career, in some capacity,” Kirchofer states. Her commitment to her work is highlighted through participation in library professional organizations, including ALA, the Maryland Library Association, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), and committee membership in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender (GLBTRT) Round Table. But as she’s not sure if she’ll continue to reside in Maryland forever, Kirchofer wants to make sure she has the library work experience and the education to allow her to work in libraries in other states. “I also want to have a management position in the future, since I’ve been a supervisor in past jobs and enjoyed it,” she adds.

After participating in two open classes, Kirchofer’s appetite for LIS learning was stimulated. She realized that taking classes while working and taking care of her family is doable, and the master’s program is now in her sights. “My current goal is to get all my materials together and apply for admission by the December deadline for Spring 2016,” Kirchofer says. “If I can’t manage that... I will likely take more open classes!”

“I want to ensure that I have lots of options, since librarianship has so many possible applications.”