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Practicum leads to new job, career path for MLIS graduate

Angela Gustafson MLIS ’12 at Zumbrota Public Library.
Angela Gustafson MLIS ’12 at Zumbrota Public Library.
Photo courtesy of Angela Gustafson.

When Angela Gustafson MLIS ’12 visited the Zumbrota Public Library in 2011, she was there to kill an hour. Her yarn-spinning husband had a business meeting with the local knitting shop. Today, Gustafson is the assistant director and head of the children's section in that southeast Minnesota library.

“We had driven up from Rochester, and I thought it would be fun to take my daughter there while we waited for my husband,” says Gustafson, who graduated from St. Catherine University’s Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program in December. The library’s warm atmosphere and friendly staff left such a good impression on her that she chose the library for her practicum — an elective course that includes 120 hours of supervised experience in an approved location.

Gustafson spent 12 weeks this past summer learning as much as she could about the daily grind of Zumbrota library. Not once did she think she would become the second-in-command when 2013 rolled around.

“I’ve worked as a reference assistant at the Rochester Public Library and as the reading room librarian for a retreat center in Washington state,” says Gustafson, who commuted twice a week from Rochester to St. Kate’s for classes. “The appeal of a small-town library is you have to do everything, plus you get more face time with the patrons.”

In addition to cataloging and circulation, Gustafson was also trained on marketing, promotional and financial aspects of the library. “I learned a lot, and I was comfortable working in all areas of the library except the children’s section,” she admits. “Because it’s not what I felt was my calling, and I hadn’t geared any of my studies to books for children or young adults.”

Up until that summer, she harbored dreams of being a reference and adult services librarian. Gustafson had a change of heart, however, after learning — near the end of her practicum — that the children’s librarian and assistant director at Zumbrota was retiring at the end of 2012.

“I started asking myself, ‘Do I want this job? Could I do this work?’” says Gustafson, who has an undergraduate degree in education. “I had the sense the staff liked me, and this was a rare opportunity — librarians typically stay in their positions for a long time. Also, I had come to realize that it was good fit for me because of the outreach and management opportunities.”

So, on her last day, she went for it.

Gustafson told James Hill, the library director: “I think you should hire me at the end of the year and, meanwhile, train me for that position.” His response: I have to bring it up with the board.

“It was a humbling conversation," she recalls. "He didn’t give me any indication of wanting to hire me. I left thinking I would call in a few months when the job was posted." A week later, Hill gave her the good news.

"I’m extremely glad I went to St. Kate’s," Gustafson says. "I can’t imagine how I would have gotten any footing in this profession if I hadn’t enrolled in the MLIS program. I don't miss the long commute to the St. Paul campus, but I miss the emotional support and interaction with my classmates and professors. There were many inspiring conversations that stirred in me the ideas of who I am and what my values are, and that foundation is what I base a lot of my decisions on today.”

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Jan. 29, 2013 by Pauline Oo

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