Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Benefits of Completing a Practicum

While there are many concepts that can be taught in a classroom, there is nothing quite like getting actual hands-on experience. Over the course of my first year in the MLIS program at Dalhousie University, I have been able to learn about many aspects of Library Studies; however, the 100-hour practicum I completed, along with my summer student position, has provided me with a well-rounded educational experience that complements my schooling. 

I was lucky enough to secure myself both a practicum placement and an internship position in my home city of Calgary, Alberta. My practicum was completed at the University of Calgary’s Metadata and Cataloguing Department over the course of three weeks. As for my internship, I am working for four months as a Records and Information Management Summer Student at ARC Resources, which is an oil and gas company.

I was a bit worried when my U of C practicum began, because I had not actually had the chance to take a course specializing in cataloguing and/or metadata – I had only taken one class that gave a broad overview. I thought this would inhibit my experience, but at my practicum I was able to learn about these concepts while also learning a variety of things about working in a library setting. I conducted a number of projects, including doing catalogue searches for a particular collection of books, and creating metadata standards for an assortment of videogames. These tasks not only taught me about cataloguing and metadata, but showed me an example of what my tasks would be like in a real workplace. Instead of just applying research to assignments that would be submitted to professors, my work would be applied to the functions of the library itself. 

Similar to this, I was worried about how I would handle my job as a Records and Information Management summer student at ARC, when I hadn’t yet had the chance to take a Records Management course. However, this has not been an issue. My main responsibility is working at the reference desk, so I help employees by providing them with the documents they need. Since I cover all reference, I have worked with a variety of file types: from Well Files to Accounting, from Contracts to Joint Venture Agreements. As I’ve helped fill different requests, I’ve gained numerous skills, and learned a lot about the most effective ways to manage files in a corporate setting. While I haven’t taken on as many specific “projects” in my current position, I’ve been learning a lot through the material I work with every day.

Besides learning through working on specific projects at my U of C practicum, I gained knowledge by going on tours of the other university libraries, such as the Health Sciences Library and the Business Library. It was fascinating to see how the spaces were used in ways to meet the students’ needs (the Health Sciences Library has recently been renovated whereas the Business Library has not). Also, the discussions I had with different librarians provided me with unique new perspectives.

Similarly, since working at ARC I have gone on several interesting tours. I was able to see the “server room” where all of the hardware for the company is housed. I’ve also seen the storage site where files are kept until they are disposed of according to the retention schedule. I have learned so much from speaking with each of my coworkers, and have made a point of reaching out to other employees of the company to learn more about the ways in which ARC conducts itself. 

Another important part of my learning process at my practicum was attending meetings. At the U of C, I was able to sit in on everything from the Collections Budget meeting to a presentation by a new faculty candidate. Each meeting was a wealth of information, and helped me to put so much of what I have been learning about in school into perspective. Similarly, at ARC I have learned numerous things from my team meetings – there is a team of ten people involved in Records and Information Management. Each of them is focused on different projects that help drive the company forward, and it is interesting to hear about each idea as it progresses and goes through different phases of execution at the company. 

Before I began this summer, I had no idea how many amazing connections I would make through both the practicum and the internship. As I graduate and move into my career, it is great to have established friendships with other people in this field. Beyond learning specific, technical skills from others, I have gained new perspectives and received important advice. Always listen to what others have to say, because you never know what new ideas and helpful information they can offer. 
The most important part of my practicum and internship is not that I learned how to conduct a catalogue search, or deliver a Well File to an employee. The most important part has been that I’ve learned how to apply ideas and knowledge within the workplace to drive the goals of that workplace forward. I’ve learned to never forget who the clientele is, and always keep their needs and priorities in mind when making decisions. Seeing these skills in action through my coworkers has provided the best learning experience I could ever hope for within my degree.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy your Library/Library School journey as much as I have! 
If you want to know more about me and my library journey, please visit my blog at

Robyn Gray is an MLIS Candidate (2016) at Dalhousie University

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