How Censorship Shapes Library Institutions

23/09/2012 § 9 Comments

Even though I am a library student, or maybe because I am a library student, I rarely give the existence of public libraries much thought. I’ve worked in two libraries since I started library school, so I spend a lot of time in them. Most of the time I just take it for granted that if I need information, I can just head on over to the library and look it up.

But in Montreal, where I am doing my MLIS at McGill, you can’t be a library student for long without having to marvel that the public library exists as an institution at all. So allow me to indulge my inner history geek and take you on a historical tour of public libraries in my new city.

The Grande Bibliothèque (Big Library) of Montreal
Photo Credit: Tourisme Montréal

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On Being An Older Library School Student [Starter Kit]

27/08/2012 § 21 Comments


Photo Credit:

During my first few weeks of library school I noticed that my cohort was a mix of people in their early twenties fresh out of their undergraduate degrees, and older people who were coming to librarianship as a second career. I count myself among the second group; I am thirty years old and worked for several years as a teacher before enrolling in library school. (I guess some people might take issue with me describing myself as “old,” since thirty is not exactly ancient. But librarianship is my second career and that changes things considerably.) After years of being always the one in charge, always the one responsible for lesson plans and grading and classroom management, I was looking forward to being a student again.

Yet during my first year I discovered that attending library school as an older student comes with its own unique benefits and challenges. Your knowledge and skills will shape your view of the librarianship profession, but you may relate to the world quite differently than do your younger classmates. When I compare myself as a library school student to the sort of student I was during my first graduate degree, I see how my perspective and priorities have changed. I thought I would share some of my reflections with you!

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Get A Job, Or: The Ethics of Library Internships

18/05/2012 § 33 Comments

Make your own card catalogues at

Well, it’s that time of year again…classes have wound down, we have (mostly) caught up on sleep after the bleary, stress-filled days of final exams and projects. And now, as we step blinking into the sunlight for the first time in months, our minds turn to the chirping of birds, the roar of road construction…and summer work.

But just as exams and projects are stressful, finding a way to occupy your summer brings its own concerns.

Many library school students will spend their summers doing internships, or as they are more commonly known in Canada, practicums. The School of Information Studies at McGill University, where I attend library school, offers such a summer practicum program. Participants spend ten hours a week during the summer doing unpaid work at a variety of institutions, including public libraries, university libraries, school libraries, hospitals, museums, corporations, and archives. When it was first announced, I was extremely interested in participating, but I soon began to have reservations. In fact, I find the whole idea of practicums/internships extremely problematic.

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The Suit

27/03/2012 § 26 Comments


Photo credit: Lifehackery

A few weeks ago, I signed up to attend McGill’s School of Information Studies’ annual career fair, which was held last week. Over thirty employers were going to be present from all over Quebec and Ontario. As the fair approached, the organizers began to send e-mails about how the attendees could prepare. One e-mail included the following:

“Last year we did get complaints from employers about some students who were not dressed appropriately. We hope that this will not be the case this year. Please, no ripped jeans, graphic t-shirts, hoodies, etc.”

Perhaps my shocked reaction to reading this demonstrates my conservative side. I am still getting accustomed to being back in Canada again after four years of living in South Korea, a far more formal culture where ripped jeans are still only barely considered acceptable street wear, never mind career fair attire. Nonetheless, at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old grandmother, I feel strongly that those who wore street clothing to the fair missed a crucial opportunity to make a strong first impression on potential employers.

As my previous boss used to say, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

After many years of a student life and a student budget, the idea of dressing up for potential employers is a bit daunting. Business suits are expensive, and if you don’t wear them regularly they can make you feel awkward and fake, like you’re trying to be someone you’re not. But you’ve just spent one or two years in library school building up your professional experience and credentials. Don’t undermine all your hard work by wearing inappropriate clothing to an interview!

Unfortunately, I did exactly that. A few years ago, when I was about to graduate from my undergraduate degree, I applied for an administrative assistant position and was granted an interview. Figuring that because I was still a student I would not be expected to dress up, I went dressed in a casual summer skirt and sandals. When I got there, I was horrified to discover that every single other candidate there was dressed in a business suit. As you might expect, I did not get the job. I learned my lesson. The next time I had an interview, I wore a tailored suit and new shoes. It was an uncomfortable drain on my budget, but it got me my first professional job. Proper attire is an important investment in your employment future. Even though I have zero interest in working in a corporate environment (I hope to become a school librarian), I found that wearing suits helped me to develop my professional identity and gave me a sense of confidence when I was a first year teacher.

Dressing well in any situation where you might encounter potential employers not only conveys that you respect them, but also that you take yourself seriously as a professional. Additionally, it is a very easy way to give yourself an edge over others competing for the same job (just like writing thank you notes after a job interview, a professional courtesy that shows you to be polite and considerate).

So, whether you’re looking for your first professional job or a summer gig, dress as professionally as you can. Here are some tips:

1. Invest in a quality suit in a conservative colour that fits you properly. Get it dry-cleaned several days before your interview. If you choose to wear a skirt, look at yourself in the mirror while sitting down to make sure nobody gets an accidental glimpse of something they shouldn’t!
2. Wear clean, polished shoes. Ladies, go with flats or low heels, and make sure that you can walk comfortably in them. Also, pantyhose. I hate them too, but they’re an unfortunate necessity.
3. When you choose a shirt to wear under your suit, select a solid colour (no patterns) and make sure that it is pressed.
4. Go with a conservative hairstyle, jewellery, and makeup. Ensure that your hair is out of your face. (There is some debate about visible tattoos and facial piercings; personally I think that depends on the organizational culture of the workplace that’s interviewing you. If you’re not sure, call ahead and ask the administrative assistant what he or she would suggest.)
5. If you need a briefcase, take one. If you don’t, leave it. Also leave any bulky bags or purses at home. You want to convey an aura of organization and efficiency.
6. If you’d wear your outfit to a nightclub or a pub, it’s not job interview attire.
7. Be comfortable! When I went to the career fair last week, I saw that my classmates had all followed the advice of the e-mail and were professionally dressed. However, it was clear that some of them were extremely ill at ease in their formal attire. Employers will be able to pick up on your discomfort. So if you’re not used to business suits, wear one to class or the library or the coffee shop until you start to feel more comfortable. (I like to wear my suits while I write cover letters!) Sign up for a mock interview at your university’s career centre and wear it to the interview. Soon it won’t be so uncomfortable.

Once you actually start working, of course, take the organizational culture of your new workplace into account. After I wore a full business suit to a job interview for a part time student job at a local public library, my new employers laughingly told me that suits wouldn’t be necessary on the job. These days, I wear business casual clothing to work, but I’m still extremely glad that I wore a suit on the day of the interview!

I’d like to hear from you. What is your favourite professional attire? What professional attire do you hate? Do you have any stories about clothing that got you (or didn’t get you) the job you wanted most? I look forward to hearing your stories and comments!

Teaching Methods Used in Library School

27/01/2012 § 19 Comments

Since I was a high school teacher before I started library school, I’m finding it really hard to switch off my “teacher brain” even well into my second semester. This makes sense, considering that I want to become a teacher-librarian. However, it has also had an unintended side effect: I spend all of my time in class imagining how I would teach the course.

Hopefully this is the universe’s way of telling me that yes, school librarianship is my ultimate purpose here on earth. But it’s also led me to give a lot of thought to the teaching methods used in library school, not to mention experience a lot of frustration when those methods are antiquated. Librarianship is a field that lends itself naturally to self-directed inquiry, collaboration, innovation, and interactive, Web 2.0 styles of thinking. So I was dismayed to discover that while these terms are used a lot in library school, the format of my courses is based on a much older model of education where students acquire knowledge through rote learning and memorization.

To me, learning does not mean remembering stuff that you can regurgitate later. As award-winning educator Sir Ken Robinson points out, this model may have been useful in the Industrial Age where workers on assembly lines specialized in specific, repetitious tasks, but it does not serve 21st century purposes. The day-to-day realities of librarianship require “transferable skills”, such as the ability to collaborate with others, solve complex problems, deal effectively with patrons, and manage resources – the very skills that make an MLIS so flexible and useful.

Now, to a point, it’s our own responsibility to make sure that we acquire these skills. An MLIS is a packaged educational commodity that by virtue of its flexibility cannot be “one size fits all.” If our programs don’t suit our needs exactly then it should be our responsibility to hack them until they do. That’s why Hack Library School exists, after all! But at the same time, the library schools that provide this commodity also have a responsibility to ensure that their curricula strive to reflect the current demands of the profession.

I’d like to open up a dialogue with all of Hack’s loyal readers about teaching methods used in library school. My experience is limited only to my own program, and I am certainly not a professor. But nonetheless, I have strong feelings about this topic, as well as some ideas that might be effective. I’d also like to hear from you about aspects of your programs’ pedagogies that have worked especially well for you – or haven’t. So, without further ado… « Read the rest of this entry »


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