A Post-Master’s Certificate from the iSchool Refreshes Dedicated Librarian’s MLIS and Creative Spirit

“What bothered me about other schools, to speak frankly, was that I bet if you looked at their course catalog from 1987, 2007, to today, one wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The classes were dated. Even SJSU’s foundation classes are on par with issues and topics libraries are experiencing right now.”

Jennifer Stencel
May 2017 Post-Master’s Certificate Graduate
Akron, OH

Since the age of 16, Jennifer Stencel (’17 PMC) has worked in libraries in some capacity or another. “Over the years,” Stencel says, “I watched the librarians work and was always amazed at their ‘magical’ power to just know where things were. And this was before the internet, so looking back I’m even more impressed at how they functioned doing reference.” Stencel’s amazement stuck with her through the years and she got hooked by the thrill of the research hunt. “And the thrill gets better with each dig and find,” Stencel says. “Getting those really tough reference questions, the ones where the patron says, ‘I already Googled it and turned up nothing,’ are the best.”  All of this—the wonder, the thrill—led Stencel to obtain her MLIS in 1997 and then, years later, refresh that MLIS with a post-master’s certificate in digital services and emerging technologies from SJSU’s iSchool. Stencel knows that keeping up with the speed and evolution of information is the mark of the very best information professionals and SJSU was there to help her do just that. 

Clicking Refresh
Today, Stencel works as branch manager and teen librarian at the Richfield Branch Library, which is part of the Akron-Summit County Public Library System in Ohio. Her responsibilities are varied, ranging from managing over nine employees and working the reference desk to coordinating a “VolunTEEN” group and working with the Friends of the Library group. Says Stencel, “My biggest responsibility is keeping the entire staff trained.” Knowing the importance of information studies, Stencel encourages her staff to take various training courses in the field. She continues, “I’ve encouraged [them] to take classes via IDEO and Acumen on design thinking, prototyping and system design. Currently, we are learning from museums about how they curate collections for the digital visitor and program. We can learn much from our museum friends!”

This ongoing pursuit of knowledge beyond what she learned in her MLIS program at Kent State University has only been spurred on by Stencel’s post-master’s studies at SJSU’s School of Information.  As aJennifer Stencel librarian, Stencel (pictured right) did a ton of research into post-master’s programs before landing on SJSU. She was impressed with SJSU professors like Michael Stephens and praise from alumni and fellow information professionals also factored into her decision. “When I served on the World IA Day at Kent State,” Stencel recalls, “the keynote praised SJSU.” In the end, the decision came easy when comparing SJSU to other schools. Says Stencel, “What bothered me about other schools,” says Stencel, speaking frankly, “was that if you looked at their course catalog from 1987, 2007, to today, you wouldn’t be able to see much difference. The classes were dated.” SJSU’s iSchool, in comparison, offered cutting-edge, 21st century subjects across their curriculum.

As part of the post-master’s certificate program at SJSU, students are required to present a program assessment outcome that encapsulates and utilizes everything they learn from their course. You can view Stencel’s thorough assessment here.  In preparation, Stencel had to review all her course work and identify how she applied her knowledge in her work at the Richfield Library. “Curation of New Media,” Stencel says, thinking back, “was the toughest course for me because it was all new information. I had absolutely no experience with the content.” When she volunteered at the Museum and the Web Conference, though, she could follow along with museum professionals on many issues thanks to the exposure in INFO 284.

“The one surprise,” Stencel says, “was my last class: Gamification of Information (INFO 287). I am not a gamer, but I saw the relevance and need, so I took it. It was a lot of work building a variety of game types and peer reviewing fellow students’ games.” Ultimately, though, the work paid off. “Ironically,” Stencel says, this is the one class from which I am constantly applying what I learned and executing programs and services out of.” Stencel has created two original analog games one of which—a Lemoncello Scavenger Hunt—she played a few days ago as a summer reading event with kids and parents from the community. It was a big success for all involved. Says Stencel, “This is the class that allowed me to be creative again. It got me out of a creative rut and I feel re-energized. Everything at work is playful, and that is the type of library experience I strive to give. Participatory, interactive, surprising and emotionally delightful.”

Seeking Information Thrill-Seekers
When it comes to seeking that perfect job, Stencel has learned those hard lessons that all candidates face: the process isn’t always smooth and there isn’t always a face to talk to when applying to positions. “Still,” she says, “highlighting the courses and tools you were exposed to in your cover letter and resume, along with what you can showcase in your portfolio will go a long way towards impressing employers.” Stencel also suggest getting involved in the ALA, serving on a committee, blogging and attending conferences. Per Stencel, it will always come down to perseverance and diligence—those age-old keys to success.

As for her own future, Stencel has several paths in mind. “My heart belongs to the information field,” she says. “Whatever I do, research and delivery information will be ‘part of’ the job. I would love to move up to be an assistant director where I am, so that I could continue to guide the library into the future. Other times I want to be a customer experience librarian so that I may inject playful discovery as part of the whole experience.” And still, other times Jennifer Stencel sees a future in museums. She loves UX research, A/B testing, ethnography and prototyping. “Sometimes,” she says, “I think my dream job title hasn’t been created yet in my system. If I were to write it, it would be the ‘Placemaking/Innovation District/Gamification Librarian.’” Wherever she ends up, the benefits and impact that SJSU’s program had on Jennifer Stencel are clear and provide guidance and direction for the opportunities ahead.