On the Negative Nellies

13/08/2012 § 16 Comments

Librarians are, as a profession, exceedingly generous toward their newest members. I expect most of us have had at least a few great interactions with professional librarians who have given us their time and attention for interviews, given us professional advice, written us references and recommendations, and generally been on the lookout for the students and early-career librarians around them. So far, every librarian I’ve asked for help has made time for me, and I always come away from those experiences feeling grateful and astonished at how willing librarians are to help even a lowly library school student.

But just as we all come across these instances of personal generosity, I expect we’ve all probably had to contend with the other side of that coin as well: librarians can be awfully negative. And often that negativity ends up aimed right at us, the library students. From generalized rants about how the schools are producing too many of us, to complaints about all the ways in which our educations fall short, to comments about our own foolishness for wanting to join the profession, I don’t personally know any library student who hasn’t gotten a dose of negativity from a librarian at least once.

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Librarian By Name, Geek By Nature

11/07/2012 § 50 Comments

My cohort, we talk. After our weekend intensive classes, we often go out roaming in search of a likely bar, and when we find one, we sit, we drink, and we talk. And since we’ve generally just spent 12 hours in class together, we usually end up talking about library school.

This month marks the halfway point through our MLS program,  and by now we’ve begun to form some strong opinions on the subject: what’s working, what’s not, what we’d change if we could.  And a few of us began to play with this question: if you could design your own MLS program from scratch, what features would you definitely include? Especially those that are lacking from library education as it exists today — if you were establishing the program that would define library school for the next generation, what do you think would absolutely need to be a part of it?

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On the educational potential of the Rickroll

05/04/2012 § 9 Comments

In this, my second term of library school, one of my required foundational courses is “The Organization of Information.” This class is our theoretical precursor to more specific practical courses down the line – cataloging, metadata, and so on. We talk about Dewey and Brown and Bliss and Ranganathan, and we talk a bit about LCC vs. LCSH, and MARC and AACR2, facets and tagging and so on. Every MLS/MLIS program has a version of it.  And one thing I’ve learned as a result of taking it is that, as interesting as this stuff is, I’m probably not cut out to be a cataloging librarian.

But one big idea behind everything I do in library school is that every class and every assignment is an opportunity to do work that matters to me.  For my part, I’m really interested in the Internet and the Web, and how we as librarians are going to manage that feral beast in the future.  Another big idea that I lean on as a guide through the learning process is that if you don’t know how to do something, the best way to learn is to try doing it. School is a perfect opportunity for that. I think a lot of ambitious students, overly-concerned with their grades, stick to things they’re already good at. But school is a time when it’s okay to make a total mess of an ambitious project as long as it was screwed up in earnest; and sticking to the familiar is a waste of that opportunity. « Read the rest of this entry »

No, it’s pronounced “Fronkensteen.”

22/02/2012 § 11 Comments

I’m in my second term of library school. My experience so far is still mostly about foundations and required courses, learning the common language of the library, and coming to grips with core concepts and basic skills. I’ve had some theory, I’ve had some history, and I’m getting my first sense of current practices and conventions. These are all necessary and valuable things. These are crucial elements of my understanding of librarianship and my future role as a professional. This is what library school is for.

But sometimes, I just want more.

I mean, we’re library scientists, right? So where are our research facilities? Where are the experiments? Shouldn’t at least a few of us be library mad scientists? (I know some librarians who totally have the crazy eyebrows for it.) So who do I have to see to get my lab coat and my tesla coil?

This is the sort of eyebrow I mean.

The reality is that library school, as valuable as it is, is always going to be mostly about the past and the present, with at most wary/hopeful glances in the general direction of the future. That’s not criticism, it’s just the nature of the thing.  If we library students want to know more about what’s going on closer to the cutting edge, we’re just going to have to go look for it ourselves. And isn’t that what Hack Library School is all about?

Here are a few places to start:

Harvard Library Innovation Laboratory: 
This is the stuff, right here. This group of developers and librarians work under the auspices of the Harvard Law School as a sort of think tank for the avant garde of librarianship. And they’re doing incredibly cool stuff, from the very promising open-source ShelfLife collection navigator to their consistently great podcasts. This is where I go when I need a solid dose of experimental librarianship.

Harvard Library Lab:
Not to be confused with the above, this Library Lab is run by the Department of Scholarly Communication and is more concerned with supporting research projects in the library and information sciences. A few minutes spent poking around the current projects page always leaves me with new things to think about.

Library Test Kitchen:
Yep, these folks are at Harvard, too, this time a seminar being run out of the Graduate School of Design. The Test Kitchen looks at the future of the library from a perspective of space, use, and the experience of being in a library. Ethereal-sounding stuff, but it also has a lot to do with why many of us came to love the library in the first place.

I’m using InfoCamp as a representative for a whole array of similarly-structured (un)conferences around the country, because I just recently got to attend my first (which was, by the way, co-organized by Hack Library School’s own Turner Masland; Zack is pretty familiar with the concept as well.) InfoCamps are springing up all over the place, and that’s awesome, because they generate the sort of cross-pollination between information nerds that can ultimately lead to great things for all of us. At the one we just had here in Portland, I heard some talks that were exciting, some that were outside the normal library territory but really useful, and one I didn’t even begin to understand. But even getting a look into other ways of thinking about information was more enlightening and inspiring than I’d imagined it could be.

Library Boing Boing:
Hopefully most of us have heard about this one: the ALA is partnering with tech/culture uberblog BoingBoing to support, celebrate, and collaborate on all sorts of cool new library-type things. This one is still in the development phase, but isn’t that the best time to get involved?

The natural extension of hacking library school is to hack the library itself. Where do you go when you want something a little more futuristic than what your MLS program provides?


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