Career Changer Darren Ilett Builds a Model for Success

Community Profile

“The thing that draws me to libraries,” says San José State University School of Information student Darren Ilett, “is the focus on service and making a positive impact for whatever communities we serve. And the emphasis on education.”

Entering the MLIS degree program from a previous life as an assistant professor of German studies at Michigan State University, Ilett moved to New Mexico for a fresh start after a layoff and started thinking about libraries as a second career path. “I made a more informed and mature decision this time, and at the iSchool—and in LIS generally—I feel much more at home,” Ilett admits. “What I love about public libraries is the openness, the service to everyone in the community. It’s one of our best democratic institutions, and I am proud to be  a part of it. But I’ve also been involved with academic libraries, and what I like there is the emphasis on instruction and research support.”

So Ilett is taking advantage of all that the iSchool has to offer: literacy instruction courses so he can be prepared for work in academic libraries, internships to gain experience in a variety of LIS settings, student assistant roles to learn from iSchool instructors. And it’s all paid off in the form of scholarships, awards and accolades, ensuring that this 2015 graduate will have a bright career path ahead.

And the Winner Is…
In 2014, Ilett won a Robert Ellett Scholarship and H.W. Wilson Scholarship, and he recently earned the 2015 Ken Haycock Award for Exceptional Professional Promise, recognition that comes with the honor of being this year’s virtual convocation speaker. It brings the 2015 graduate full circle: When he first started the degree program, just 15 or so months ago, Ilett remembers one lesson on successful group work in required course INFO 203, Online Learning Tools & Strategies for Success, that has stayed with him, and it was given by Haycock. And Ilett’s final iSchool project, the e-portfolio, pulls citations from Haycock’s The Portable MLIS, the helpful textbook where LIS experts provide introductions to their areas of expertise.

“It’s such a great honor to receive an award in Ken Haycock’s name: he framed my experience at SJSU,” Ilett says. “It’s incredible—I didn’t expect this at all! It’s really humbling and hard to believe.”

A Foot in the Door
“The difficult thing is getting your foot in the door in a new career,” Ilett says of starting over with the MLIS. I’ve done everything I can to get experience as a student.” He’s not kidding. Here are just a few of the iSchool experiences that have been keeping Ilett busy:

  • Working as Dr. Pat Franks’ 2014–15 research assistant for the Master of Archives and Records Administration (MARA) program. “I help with research projects, and did a job survey for MARA where we looked at about 10 different sites and ads, writing an analysis of them to get a snapshot of the field,” says Illet. “And we’re doing the program review for MARA.”
  • Developing social media content for the MARA program. Ilett is responsible for posts on MARA’s Facebook page and the iSchool MARA blog. “What’s valuable in this,” he says, “besides learning about the field, is that I get practice in doing research related to an academic program, the sort of research a faculty member has to do for the field. I also get practice in using social media in our field, broadly.”
  • Participating in an summer 2014 internship at the University of New Mexico (UNM), his local university, creating online instructional tools. “I did things like [create] LibGuides, an introduction video to the fine arts and design library library, and a newer tutorial called a Guide on the Side,” says Ilett. “I also got to help out at the reference desk, circulation and face-to-face instruction. It was fantastic. I wish I could have stayed there!”
  • Training iSchool students and faculty as part of the Student Trainer Internship with database company ProQuest. “I’m the first intern doing all the training online,” Ilett says, which is possible because of the iSchool’s 100 percent virtual environment. “I’ve learned to always adjust to the needs of the trainee, use examples from their research, do things to make it more interactive and personal. I’m really interested in information literacy instruction. That’s the direction I’d like to go in, and I enjoy using new technology to do that, so you can reach anyone.”

Invaluable Skills, Invaluable Support
Ilett notes that he was able to do all the internships because he had family support, “and the online nature of our program makes it possible: I can work on homework anywhere, anytime. There’s no commuting. There are very few things we do that are synchronous,” says Ilett. “I was able to get the degree done in five semesters because of those two factors.”

Ilett acknowledges that internships were crucial to his success. “If you’re a young person just coming out of a BA and you don’t have a lot of library experience, or if you’re changing professions, it’s very difficult to get experience because positions require a lot of experience,” says Ilett. “An internship is really a good way to do that.” For Ilett, the librarian he worked with at UNM as well as SJSU faculty members he collaborated with, such as Pat Franks and Virginia Tucker, have become excellent sources of advice. “The internship can give you the experience, but also provide an invaluable mentor,” he says.

Once he graduates, Ilett would like to become an instructional librarian and subject specialist, do collection development, and also provide reference and instruction in the humanities or education fields. At the convocation ceremony he plans to talk about his own LIS trajectory, in the hope that other graduating students will relate to his experience. “There are a lot of people who come to LIS as a second career,” says Ilett. “It’s a transformative experience. So I hope I’m able to share something that…reflects on the meaning of our field—why we’re doing it in the bigger picture.”