Hannah Hiles, 2013 i3 Scholar

The nouns “graduate student,” “tech nerd,” and “graphic designer” would certainly come up when you ask i3 2013 alumnae Hannah Hiles to describe herself, but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover other fascinating details like “former beekeeper,” “mother,” and “urban homesteader.”

Before her encounter with the iSchool Inclusion Institute, Hannah was well on her way to earning a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Central University in English Literature with a minor in writing. She knew she was interested in librarianship, particularly public librarianship. “I thought being a young adult librarian would be the coolest job ever,” Hiles said. In college, she started working in the undergraduate reference department, which peaked her interest in academic libraries.

Then came i3.

“That blew everything up,” Hiles said. “I’ve always been a tech person, and love where we’re going with technology. I would get a rush with it that I hadn’t felt with librarianship. But at i3 I saw the ways the two connect, making that human connection while still creating and interacting with technology.”  i3 helped Hiles hone her decision to pursue graduate school and gave her guidance on how to do it.

“At Pitt, I was connected with a lecturer who worked with digital libraries. We talked about the options for digital librarians. I knew I wanted to work in a place that works with people, but also acknowledges that technology exists, and that its here to make our lives better and not more complicated.”

Of course she still needed the credentials: a master’s degree from an American Library Association (ALA) accredited program.

There are three ALA accredited programs in North Carolina. Hiles, who is married and settled, knew she wanted to stay in the area. “I had this heightened stress of knowing this was it. If not one of these three, I would have to worry about out-of-state tuition.” She describes the graduate school application process as nerve wracking: “It required more preparation, and felt like a job interview.” In many ways it was. Hiles thoroughly researched the programs she wanted to attend. She prepped for, and completed the GRE, talked-up administrators and students, and promoted herself as a potential asset to each program.

Her hard work paid off: Hannah is now rounding the corner of her second year in the Library and Information Studies master’s program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she focuses on academic and digital libraries.

Here daily schedule varies depending on the day. “I have days where I don’t do anything school related” Hiles said. Instead, she focuses on taking care of her toddler and freelance work in photography and graphic design. On other days, she is reading articles, telecommuting to class, participating in online discussion boards, and answering e-mails. One of her classes is a social media independent study where she monitors multiple profiles, generates daily posts, and checks survey responses for data related to the study. She has become an expert at juggling classwork, projects, and a busy personal life. “Graduate school is much less time demanding than undergrad, but is much more mentally and psychologically demanding.”

“Libraries have always been the church of the autodidact.”

While balancing an active work and home life, Hannah finds time to dabble in some hobbies that are more nontraditional than most. “I’m really into urban homesteading, just got done pickling green tomatoes and would like to have chickens and a goat.” She was even a bee-keeper for two years and was only stung twice. She and her husband renovated their last home and are currently building custom shelving and tiling in their second home.

Her skill building could be said to inform how she sees libraries as places to build holistic spaces for learners. “Wake Forest University is doing some really interesting work with their Thrive program.” The comprehensive initiative assists students in eight dimensions: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual wellbeing. “When people talk about academic libraries,” Hannah said, “they talk about databases, journal access, and budgets. But with programs like Thrive, the library can become a space that addresses a wider set of needs. We all have multiple dimensions that impact our work and lives. We need to take care of those areas. Libraries and partnering sudent centers can lead the charge on college campuses.”

She is also excited about the emerging trends in makerspaces and the value they bring to libraries. “I love that libraries are a growing part of this movement of experimentation and self-teaching. Libraries have always been the church of the autodidact. It’s more than just a place to check out resources. Now you have access to really great tools and skilled people.”

Already job hunting, Hannah has a realistic outlook on the process and her last graduate school semester. “In the spring I’m doing a practicum with Duke University on accessibility and user experience. I’m really excited to learn about user testing and why websites or services aren’t working as needed.” As for the job search, during the time of this interview, Hiles already had a job interview lined up. Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to the experience and to see what’s out there…as long as I’m still learning, I’m happy.”

Want more Hannah? Check out her i3 research project and other professional work.

Advice to graduate school applicants:
Get over your shyness. The more you can talk to people about the application process, the better. I talked to faculty and students. I even called the program chair. Getting your name in their heads is important. Be ready to talk about how you’ll benefit the department or program. They will remember you. They are shopping for students who are going to make their department look great.

Remember, don’t overdo it by putting too much pressure on yourself. Application season is not the end of the world. There are other departments out there. I would have gone to another program, telecommuted, or waited if I hadn’t been accepted.

Advice to fellow graduate students:
Keep flexing those networking muscles. Go to conferences, attend workshops, sign up for projects or competitions, sit-in for random events or colloquiums. They all won’t be winners, but you’ll occasionally come across something or someone that was absolutely worth the time. Start doing things that are out of your comfort zone and you’ll get more out of your grad school experiences. People sometimes scoff at networking, but I think it can really help make graduate school work for you. You don’t enter a program knowing exactly how it will go. Once you’re accepted, take a deep breath and look around for what’s next. Go see what’s out there.