Thursday, July 5, 2012
30th Year Reflections/5: Ski-U-Mah
“Minnesota, hats off to thee! To thy colors true we shall ever be, Firm and strong, united are we. Rah, rah, rah, for Ski-U-Mah, Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah for the U of M. — the “Minnesota Rouser”
Which schools should I consider? It is a question I face each time a student asks me about the library profession. I always try to frame my answer by asking the student more questions: what are your interests, how flexible are you in terms of location, where do you want to work, what type of library and associated work appeals to you, etc. In my case the decision was fairly simple. I considered only two library programs for graduate school: Michigan and Minnesota. The narrowing of my choices was really a question of geography and my affinity for “Big Ten” schools. At the time of applying I lived in Michigan and was thus entitled to resident tuition. According to various informants Michigan had one of the best programs in the country. I had no doubts about receiving an excellent education there. But two things gave me pause and stifled my application: the idea of living in Ann Arbor (an unreasonable bias, I’ll admit) and a residency requirement in the application that committed me to living in the state for a least two years following graduation. Neither proposal appealed to me.
Minnesota, on the other hand, would bring me back to the land of my birth and close to family. And the family had strong ties with “the U.” My father and various other relations were all “Golden Gophers.” One uncle worked in the library during his undergraduate days. The Minnesota program was not as strong as Michigan’s but it offered the Twin Cities as a backdrop with no residency requirements following graduation. Maroon and gold ran in my blood; I was a child of ten thousand lakes; my family immigrated here, settled and worked the land. The pull was too great to overcome. In the end family and tradition won out over strength of program. I still remember leaping and hollering for joy on the shore of an Upper Peninsula lake when the letter arrived informing me of my acceptance into the school. Tuition, however, remained a problem for one classified as a non-resident. I solved this in fairly neat (and surprising) fashion by successfully arguing to the Registrar (or whoever made those decisions) that although a resident of Michigan my permanent address was in Minnesota, with my parents. Finding the money for tuition was another matter. A friendly banker and a parental co-signed loaned took care of the problem. It was, even in 1980s dollars—and long before universities engaged in annual tuition gouging, I mean increases—a fairly cheap education.
And so I came to Minnesota. I would consider my options differently today. I would place more weight on the strength of program, the opportunities for internships or practica, and the program’s success in assisting graduates with employment placement; look more closely at the faculty, their research interests and publications; examine alumni, their success and career tracks, and places of employment; put less weight on location, although still consider the area, cost of living, housing, transportation, and cultural offerings. But then all of these considerations, and others, come through hindsight, gained through experience. I wasn’t thinking in those terms when I applied, although I should have. But I was content. Studies and work engulfed me. Wrapped up in classes and working in one of the main libraries as an assistant to various subject bibliographers, I was learning to be a librarian. What I didn’t expect, and what occupied a good part of my second year in school, was a political education. Even though the school had recently been reaccredited by the American Library Association, it was under threat from University officials. In the end I graduated from a school that no longer exists, one of a few that fell during the same time. But that is a tale for another time (and a bit more research on my part).