MLIS Student Finds Success Taking a Non-Traditional Path

Community Profile

“Prospective students may think that an online program means students will be isolated and alone in their work. I’ve made great friends! They’ve been so supportive both in and outside of my classes.”​

Rachel Hatcher
MLIS Student (degree expected 2021)
Library Technician, Santa Barbara Unified School District
Santa Barbara, California

According to Rachel Hatcher, the path she has taken to teacher librarianship is a “bit of a non-traditional route” since most school librarians teach before they transition into a librarian role. In Rachel’s case, however, she has already spent time working in a school library and is now beginning to work toward her teaching credential. Traditional or not, whatever she is doing is clearly working. In June of this year, Rachel was awarded the Beta Phi Mu International Library and Information Studies Honor Society’s Woolls Scholarship which is given to beginning LIS students intending to pursue a career in school library media services. With this honor, her career is already taking off. 

No Stranger to the San José Library System

Rachel’s story is truly “local girl makes good.” She was born and raised in south San José and grew up spending hours (and, apparently, money) at the Almaden Branch of the San José Public Library. Her family jokes that they were major donors for the branch’s building renovations because of the fines they racked up in the years that Rachel spent reading there! These fines certainly did not stop Rachel from working her way through the library’s shelves, though, and she eventually turned the knowledge she gained through her reading pursuits into an undergraduate degree in history at Westmont College in Santa Barbara.  

Library Work Experience Begins During Undergraduate Studies

In addition to obtaining her degree, Rachel took advantage of the school’s strong study abroad program by spending four months of her senior year in Turkey. She returned to California in time to gain her first library work experience with an internship at the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library in her final undergraduate semester. This opportunity proved to be her entry into the field of library and information science. She quickly moved into a full-time position, transitioning from a digitization project with the library to an assistant archivist position. This role eventually led to further duties in exhibit design, reference and research services and library event planning. During this time, Rachel also took on a job as a curriculum researcher for the Santa Barbara Zoo, and as if she was not busy enough, she also found time to volunteer at two school libraries in the area.

This cumulative work experience led Rachel to her current position as a library technician for the Santa Barbara Unified School District. She is assigned to a junior high school and spends her time working with students and focusing on access services. As she says, “I love being a positive adult on campus. I am there to help the students and staff in any way I can…it’s the best!”

Recognition Comes Early in Graduate Career

Despite her busy work schedule, Rachel always kept graduate school in her sights. After being introduced to San José State University’s Teacher Librarian pathway through two colleagues (also iSchool alumni), she knew it was time to take the academic plunge so that she could fulfill her goal of becoming a teacher librarian. In addition to the influence of her colleagues, Rachel selected SJSU based on the excellence of its iSchool faculty. 

It will take about two more semesters before Rachel qualifies for her teaching credential, and then another year to obtain the credential and earn her MLIS. However, accolades for Rachel and her work are not waiting until her graduation. The Beta Phi Mu (BPM) Woolls Scholarship comes with a $2,250 financial award and requires three letters of recommendation. Rachel discovered this opportunity by doing research on scholarships (the iSchool’s link to scholarship opportunities can be found here). On her application, Rachel wrote about her work with students and explained her goal of becoming a teacher librarian, but she acclaims it was the recommendations she received from “some wonderful teacher librarians who have been mentoring me, sponsoring me and encouraging me to keep working toward my goals” that ensured that Rachel was this year’s winner. With this scholarship, Rachel will now be a member of BPM and she recommends that her fellow Teacher Librarian program students also consider this honor society membership, as well as memberships in the American Library Association and the California School Library Association for the benefit of the workshops these organizations offer.  

School Work (as Student and Library Staffer) in Future Plans

While pursuing her studies, Rachel is continuing her job in the junior high library and is finding that her academic and career work are conveniently intertwined. After taking Morgan Pershing’s INFO 281 Seminar in Contemporary Issues focusing on graphic novels this past spring, she is excited to bring the reading lists, discussion topics and projects contained in the class curriculum to the students at her own library this fall.

After graduation, Rachel is looking forward to continuing her work on a school campus, and she recommends the iSchool’s Teacher Librarian program to anyone who is considering the same career. Rachel says, “Prospective students may think that an online program means students will be isolated and alone in their work. I’ve made great friends! They’ve been so supportive both in and outside of my classes.”