Saturday, August 20, 2011

Life in Library School—with a Baby!

We're kicking off a new guest blogger series featuring stories and advice about the library school experience. Today, recent Drexel grad Olivia Castello shares her perspective on becoming a parent while in school.

I started my MLIS at Drexel’s iSchool in March of 2009 and graduated in June 2011. During this time I took 1-2 classes a quarter, worked at 3 different internships, volunteered as a digital librarian... and had a baby!
Simon was born in August 2010, about mid-way through my time at Drexel. I learned a lot from the experience of being pregnant and caring for an infant while pursuing a graduate degree at the iSchool.

Contrary to what you might assume, grad school can be the perfect time to have a baby... especially if it is your first child. It was for me, at least. The feasibility of it all depends entirely on your particular situation. I am lucky to have a wonderful husband who, from the outset, committed to covering our expenses for the roughly 2 years while I pursued my degree. I was also enrolled at the iSchool as an online student even though I live in Philadelphia. I found this arrangement to be ideal since I was able to schedule the classes I needed online but was also able to make it down to campus for the occasional on-campus class, group work session and iSchool event. Because of all these factors, I had the freedom to stay at home with the baby while still actively pursuing my degree.

While I was pregnant I also started making contact with other librarians and library school students who had had babies during school or while working as an early career librarians. I realized that I would need to get as many classes out of the way as possible before the delivery and that I would also need to take a quarter off afterwards to recover. Finally, I sought out an ACRL mentor who was able to advise me specifically about being a mom of small children and launching a career in academic libraries at the same time.

In the end, I decided to take Summer 2010 off from school. Simon came later than expected so I ended up starting classes in Fall 2010 with a one month old baby at home. I started slowly with only 1 class. It was a little bit rough, due to lack of sleep, but I managed. As for professional activity, I did have to resign my post as Treasurer of Drexel's SLA chapter since I wasn't able to make it down to campus any more. I also stopped working right before I gave birth. When I took up classes again, I informed my professors at the beginning of each quarter that I had recently had a baby and found everyone to be very understanding.

By Winter 2010 I was back to my regular 2 class program and in Spring 2010 I added a part-time internship at Drexel Libraries and began job hunting. In short, life returned to normal much faster than I had imagined it would. This was possible because of the online format of iSchool classes and because of some very supportive professors (Profs. Rebekah Kilzer, Alison Lewis, Alison Miller and Deborah Turner, in particular). I was happy to find that I didn’t have to ask for as much special consideration in classes as I had expected and that it was possible to remain active professionally via the iSchool’s live-streamed events, webinars, etc. I even made it to the ACRL conference in March 2011 with the help of my husband and a babysitter. I job hunted all Spring and was lucky enough to secure a full-time academic librarian position starting this Fall.

What will work depends on your particular situation, but for some people, grad school may be an optimal time to take the plunge and start a family. I recommend not letting fears about juggling a new baby and your grad school program thwart your plans to have or adopt a baby. I, for one, found that doing both was much easier than I had imagined. And you don't have to have an “easy baby” (Simon definitely is not!) for it to work, though I would say a fully-engaged partner is essential. It also helps to have supportive colleagues and friends. Local mom’s groups are great resources as well. Through mine I ended up meeting several other local LIS professionals with new babies.

Everyone's experience of new parenthood is different. I found it helpful to hear as many people's stories as possible, not as forecasts of what would happen to me but just as a way to gauge the range of variation. Please feel free to contact me with questions or if you would like to hear more details of my experience. I also tweet about my particular combination of mom-hood and academic librarianship at @adaycalledzero. Good luck!

Olivia Castello earned her MS in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Digital Libraries from Drexel University in 2011. She was awarded a Dean's Fellowship from Drexel, served as the Treasurer of the Drexel Chapter of SLA and completed internships at UPenn Libraries and Drexel Libraries. Currently, she is the Outreach and Information Technology Librarian at Bryn Mawr College Library. You can follow her on Twitter @adaycalledzero
* Photo care of D Sharon Pruitt

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