Kara Conley is graduating this spring from the Masters in Library and Information Science program here at the iSchool.
Tell me about yourself!
I grew up outside of Syracuse in a town called Marcellus, NY. For my undergrad I went to Vassar College majoring in Human Geography. I was very interested in learning how humans find meanings in places. Eventually I became drawn to humans and their relationships to knowledge producing institutions like libraries and museums.
I had the opportunity to work at a non-profit library during that time in Poughkeepsie, NY. I thought to myself, ‘this is the perfect place for me!’. It was a place that brings together all my interests. A place where you can create relationships, establish a community, respond to needs, and promote inclusion and accessibility.
I came back to Upstate New York for a bit and then moved to New York City with my friends after graduation. I got a job at a museum in operations. After about 2 years I decided I was ready to go back to school. I started looking for schools that offered library science programs.
It didn’t even occur to me to think of Syracuse until I discovered their program. I was really impressed with what they have to offer. I decided to come to Syracuse because they were the most opening and welcoming and I knew it was the place for me. It was also great to be close to family while getting my masters.
Where do you envision yourself going with your new degree?
I’m really interested in public librarianship. A lot of my friends in my program all have their own paths of librarianship. You have some academic librarians, some are in conservation and preservation, and some are in law or specialized libraries. But I’ve always been interested in public libraries because I love working with communities and public spaces.
I came into this degree not knowing what type of public librarian I want to be because there are so many different aspects of it. You can be a children’s librarian, you can work with teens or adults, or you can work in digital services and technology.
I realized from my own experiences that I love all different aspects of it! I really love working with adults and seniors, so providing different programs and services. Being able to sit at the reference desk and be the point of information that people can ask questions to is something I really enjoy doing.
I’m also interested in outreach, reaching towards people who may not necessarily go to their local public library, or have access to it, so being able expand programs to the community needs.
I also love library advocacy, being the voice of the library is so important. Down the line I would love to be a library director!
This is the second time you’re going through the graduation process. What’s the difference between being an undergrad and a graduate student?
I am much more focused on what I want to do and who I want to be. During my undergrad I was much more focused on building my beliefs and my opinions in my undergraduate experience. I now know what I want professionally as a graduate student.
I have learned so much as a person and I’m leaving here knowing that I’m 100% confident in my decision to become a librarian. Undergrad was the foundation for that, but I didn’t know what the next step was. But now I have this drive and ambition.
I used to think ambition was selfish but now that I have it, I realized it’s about bettering myself and bettering my field as a whole.
How do you feel the iSchool has helped that transition between being an undergrad to becoming a grad student?
I think so many of the professors have these amazing experiences and backgrounds as professionals. They bring their knowledge of the library world to our classroom, which is a practical aspect that is different for undergrad.
I think it’s great that the department is run by amazing women. It makes my experience that much more wonderful and special, which inspires me to get there and be a leader.
If you could go back to the start of your program, is there anything you would change?
These two years in the program went by so fast! I remember undergrad going really fast too but every year you grow as a person.
If I had to change anything though … I’d probably change around a couple of my classes and focus on some other topics. For example, I would’ve liked to have take collection development or something more in the field of information management with a focus on databases.
I want to gain more knowledge of technology. With public libraries there could be a small number of people on staff and it would be really useful to know how to create a website or be well versed in different types of technology.
Besides that, the program is great!
If you could give advice to people going through the college process, grad or undergrad, what would you say?
I think you should take as many different classes as you can to find your niche. For me, our intro class into librarianship helped me decide what type of librarian I wanted to be.
On top of your classes it’s important to get professional connections through networking. The iSchool career services has so much to offer for students as far as helping you create a professional relationship with someone or a company. Get as much practical experience as possible.
What’s a skill you’ve gotten from the iSchool that you can’t imagine living without now?
A lot of what I’ve learned through my library classes and my reference classes is how to deal with conflict and conflict management overall. Finding the best way to deal with situations because you are dealing with real people and the public. Going forward, those classes have served me well on teaching me how to be a public face and finding the best balance between a tough situation.
What’s one of the most memorable experiences that you’ve had here?
One of my favorite experiences was working with It Girls. I did one of the workshops with my fellow library students and we put on an information literacy escape the room workshop. We had the students do different scenarios such as deciphering fake news, doing some web searching and evaluations. Although it was a competition, we tried to make it as fun and inclusive as possible.
What was so special about that was doing it with my fellow classmates that are also my friends. I’ve been really lucky to find a community of people here that mesh so well together. We all think along the same lines in terms of wanting the best for our field but also pushing each other in the right direction, creating a really positive foundation.
Do you think there’s a misconception about what it means to be a librarian nowadays?
Some people still think librarians and libraries only deal with books and that it’s just this repository for materials that will be outdated. But when people say that I ask them “When was the last time you stepped foot into a public library?” and usually they can’t even remember! That’s when I tell them to go visit their public library and tell me what they saw. There’s so many exciting things happening in public libraries today that people don’t even know about.
It’s a space that’s advancing towards more technology and becoming a hub for people to discover what technology can provide for them. Even if it’s bringing your child in for early childhood story time or a senior who wants communicate with their family through technology but don’t know how, there are so many opportunities and programs that can benefit the community. It’s such an exciting landscape to go into!