Noella Merchant attended Bethany Lutheran College in her hometown of Mankato, Minnesota. On the way to earning her bachelor’s with a double major in Theatre and Communication, she was a very involved student, competing with the speech and debate club (she won fifth place nationally for after-dinner speaking), volunteering backstage for college productions, serving in the student senate, helping other students in the writing center and working part-time in the library.
“Being involved gave me a good opportunity to learn about the things I like,” she said. After working with a professor on a research project, she began to see new interests take shape. “I love research, teaching, education and sharing information with others.”
“I started to get really stressed as I got closer to graduation, because I just hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do!” Noella was on the phone with her fiancé Brian one day, “and he said, ‘You really like libraries. Why don’t you go into that?’ And I had never thought about it before, but it made perfect sense.”
Librarianship fused her passions for education, research, information and helping others learn, but she soon found out she would need an advanced degree. “It’s tough to find a library job that doesn’t require the master’s, but I wanted a short break between my bachelor’s and the MLIS [Master of Library and Information Studies],” she said. After graduating, she moved to the Twin Cities region and was living with Brian’s family when on a whim, she applied for a job as a library specialist in the medical library at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
“At this point I was feeling pretty depressed on the job hunt, and I didn’t think I’d get it. And we were just two months from our wedding in the Twin Cities. But then they emailed me that they wanted to interview me.” Her interviewers told Noella they were looking for someone who didn’t have their master’s yet but was planning to get it, and that the Mayo Clinic helps pay for grad school. It seemed almost too good to be true! They offered her the job, and in August 2019, six weeks before their wedding, Brian and Noella moved to Rochester.
By early 2020, Noella decided it was time to apply for grad school. She considered several MLIS programs, but with recommendations from multiple colleagues at the Mayo Clinic medical library and from her college library supervisor, she chose the highly respected 100% online MLIS from The University of Alabama.
“Not only is it reputable, but it is very affordable, even as an out-of-state student. I’m paying $420 per credit hour, which is kind of crazy! So I was thinking Mayo would cover most of the cost, if not all, because the price was so low,” she said. Unfortunately, due to budget impacts from COVID-19, the Mayo Clinic discontinued their educational benefit after Noella had been accepted to UA’s MLIS, but this news didn’t change her path. “I had a peace of mind about it because UA’s MLIS was affordable enough that I could do it without Mayo’s support. If I’d chosen another program, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to do that.”
Noella began coursework with the fall cohort in 2020. The program’s orientation, cohort model and live, synchronous online coursework have given her an on-campus feel even though she’s hundreds of miles away from her classmates and professors. Relatively new to Rochester and dealing with the isolation of 2020, this cohort provided her with a sense of community. “One of my classmates dubbed us the Cov-hort. We have a Discord channel where we talk about courses, professors and non-class things, too, like politics and pictures of our pets. And the in-person lectures where I can hear my classmates have been really cool. That little thing of hearing people’s voices has helped me feel connected,” she said.
In one of her first courses, Professional Paths, she was able to hear from people employed in various subsets of libraries who discussed their work. In another class, Information Resources: Science, she’s been able to sharpen the skills she uses in her work at Mayo Clinic. “We’ve talked a lot about scientific publishing, and of course, that’s exactly what we do at Mayo. Being able to apply concepts from school and better understand what is going on in my own organization has been so helpful.”
Noella also appreciates the well-rounded nature of the program’s coursework. “There’s been debate about whether or not MLIS programs should focus more on the practical or on the theory side, and UA’s program offers a good balance. I also love that there’s a balance between the information-science side and the background and the how to be a good librarian. It’s already given me a better big picture perspective.”
Noella expects to graduate in 2022, and she looks forward to learning more and growing into a librarian role where she can continue to help others access information they need.
“It’s been so edifying for me to learn things and feel like I’m gaining the knowledge and the resources to help me not only in my work now, but in my work in the future.”
Published: February 22nd, 2021