MLIS Student and Public Librarian Amassing Skills for Her Continued LIS Future

“While I feel like I had learned a lot of skills on the job, I ultimately wanted to learn the theories of practice behind those skills. I also wanted the opportunity to learn from and interact with experienced leaders in the field of library and information science. I feel like this program has really provided that so well, particularly for being an online program.”

Tiffany Harkleroad
iSchool Student Graduating 2017
Butler, Pennsylvania

If there’s one thing that librarian and iSchool student Tiffany Harkleroad enjoys about the LIS field, it’s everything. “Is it cliché to say that?” Harkleroad asks. “I am such an advocate for lifelong learning and believe that libraries have a place at the center of that movement. I absolutely love how libraries continue to adapt and innovate to meet the information needs of their communities.” This love of libraries began in Harkleroad’s childhood when her wise parents took her regularly and continued into her adulthood, eventually landing her here in San José State University’s MLIS program. “In hindsight,” Harkleroad waxes nostalgically, “I should have known libraries were my destiny. When other children were playing house or doctor, I played library. My parents actually got a little aggravated at me because I damaged some of my childhood books by pasting makeshift library card pockets to the endpapers.”

Today, Harkleroad works as a librarian at the Butler Area Public Library in Butler, Pennsylvania. “My official title,” Harkleroad says, “is library assistant, but in reality I wear quite a few very cool and not at all dull hats.” She spends half her week in the service-oriented role of reference librarian and the other half as teen librarian, where she develops the library’s collection, plans and executes teen programming and oversees the teen advisory board and teen space. Wearing all these “hats” is often challenging but always rewarding. The School of Information is helping supplement and solidify Harkleroad’s on-the-job experience for her vibrant LIS future.

Theory and Practice
Beyond her sheer love for the information profession, the convenience of a 100 percent online learning platform and reasonable tuition for a high-quality education, Harkleroad was attracted to the iSchool for its base location. “Up till now,” she says, “all my education has occurred in Ohio, from kindergarten through my first master’s program.” She continues, “I purposely chose a school in a different region of the country to be exposed to different educational theories and to interact with students and faculty from the west coast. This gives me a much broader picture of the library and information sciences field and national trends.” So far, it’s all worked out well for Harkleroad. The decision to attend school while working netted her a position as director at her previous library before moving to Butler.

While Harkleroad feels like she’s learned a lot of skills on the job, she ultimately wanted to learn the theories of practice behind those skills. She also wanted to the opportunity to learn from an interact with experienced leaders in the field of library and information science like the ones that make up the faculty at SJSU. Says Harkleroad, “I feel like this program has provided that so well, particularly for being an online program.” Some of Harkleroad’s favorite and most challenging classes have been led by working information professionals like Beth Wrenn-Estes. “First off,” Harkleroad says, “she treats her students like professional peers and often comments on what she has gained from our class discussions. To me, that is so empowering to know we are contributing to the larger picture even as students.” The expectations of Harkleroad and her fellow students are high in these courses, but the benefits of their hard work and attention are always worth it. “[Wrenn-Estes] always has great guest speakers for her classes,” Harkleroad enthuses. “This semester, one of the speakers was Jamie Larue, [veteran information professional and head of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom]. As a student who doesn’t have the means of attending a lot of conferences just yet, it was exciting to have an opportunity to interact with such a champion of intellectual freedom like Jamie.”

Hats Off
If all goes as planned, Harkleroad will graduate in December 2017, which will be the same month as her one year anniversary at Butler Public Library. “I love working [there], and I see myself staying there for some time. My dream is that eventually this library will make the teen librarian position full-time. Teen library services are definitely where my heart is!”

For fellow students or anyone else looking to get into the LIS field like Harkleroad has done, she has some advice. “I feel so very fortunate,” she says, “that I will have obtained four years of experience working in libraries by the time I graduate in addition to about a year of volunteer experience.” Harkleroad’s suggests getting as much LIS experience as possible, be it through working or volunteering. “Be flexible,” she says. “Think outside the box and be willing to relocate if that’s an option. Consider non-traditional library work and seek other experience to supplement your skills.” She urges those who want to move toward a management track to seek outlets to gain such skills like planning a project at a local community organization. Professional organizations, too, like the ALA, provide a number of helpful resources.

“Most of all,” Harkleroad says, “have confidence!” It has certainly worked for her.