Getting Along With Computer Science Folk

14/11/2012 § 11 Comments

It’s a simple fact: each year library and information science becomes a more technical field; there is an increasing expectation that by the time you leave library school you will have some amount of technical skill (coding, web design, database creation, etc.). As many schools adopt more and more technical information science courses, the once harsh line that separated librarians from computer scientists has become a lot fuzzier.

Much has been done to increase dialogue, positive relationships, and collaboration between the two groups. Many LIS careers now include technical components and interaction with computer scientists, IT personal, and other technically-minded people is often the norm. While many LIS students approach technical classes with trepidation and anxiety, many others come away with a passion for the work and enough technical fluency to hold their own in a future workplace that includes highly-skilled computer science professionals.

Teamwork is the best! (Source:

However, I have noticed, both in personal and professional instances, a definite negative reaction when librarians tell computer scientist students and professionals that they are learning technical skills. I’ve experienced this myself and have heard similar stories from other LIS students. So, for my inaugural HLS post, I decided to reach out to my friends with degrees in computer science (of which I, coincidentally, have many) to figure out why library students and librarians are often met with such an icy reception from our CS counterparts, and what we can do to change it. From their responses, I gleaned the following reasons/problems, and have tried to posit solutions. Please keep in mind that the quotes and ideas below represent the opinions of individuals about a multi-faceted problem; my intention is not to stereotype or offend, but to explore ways to build partnerships and mend discord.

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Gaining Experience in School

14/10/2011 § 1 Comment

For graduate students, ‘practical experience’ can mean a lot of
different things. For some of us this means traveling to foreign
countries for digs and research, volunteering in labs, internships at
potential employers, or simply participation in conferences and
papers. Regardless, practical participation in our fields is extremely
important to our future success.

Jensie Simkins:

These days it seems like even “entry-level” jobs are asking for
candidates with experience. It’s a little tricky, but not impossible,
to round out your resume and skill set while you’re in school. This
semester, I have been working as an intern for a marketing/design
firm. I’m not paid, but was able to get some credits toward my
Master’s for my work while I’m there. The work I do for my internship
is invaluable and is giving me experience in lots of areas I’m
interested in pursuing for my career. Many places take interns, and
many more would probably be willing to make an internship if you ask.
It’s also definitely worth doing the legwork to find out how to get
school credit for the position! Although a little clichéd, volunteer
work is another way to get experience while in school — especially if
you can be involved with the organization for a longer term than just
a semester. Work your way into a position that can be applicable to
your career, and always look for opportunities to take leadership
positions. Finally, it is relatively quick, easy, and non-committal to
job shadow someone in your field. You can see what the day to day of
the job is like and hopefully learn a few tips or skills that will
help you in the future!

Chris Stawski:

As a graduate student (or as my partner likes to call me, a “lifelong
learner”) I soon realized early in my career that in order to be
successful, I had to leave my classroom comfort zone. I had that part
down pat. But in order to gain professional experience, I needed to
learn how to write, present, and research outside the classroom.
Ultimately, this means presenting at conferences, submitting articles
to journals, and doing multi-disciplinary research.

A vital aspect that underlies all these out-of-classroom experiences
is collaboration. The professional experience that you will need to
accumulate derives from the ability to work and do research with your
peers, faculty, and advisors. Collaboration is essential to the
process of becoming a professional in your field, and it is vital to
the learning experience. By collaborating with someone on, lets say a
journal manuscript, it
not only gives you experience in research, writing, editing, and
ultimately getting your name in print, but also shows that you work
well with others. And this isn’t limited to multi-authored papers.
Read any acknowledgement section in a book, article, or dissertation
and you will see successful collaboration at work. For me, the road to
experience starts with collaboration.

Katy Meyers
Practical experience for my discipline is a little different than other peoples. As an archaeologist we are expected to do field work. This means an extended excavation, potentially in a foreign country. We need to show that we can plan an excavation, know the steps for gathering primary data, and use our theories in a practical sense. Doing field work is extremely rewarding in that we gain a wide range of experience, deeply connect with a range of individuals in the profession, and work from the ground up on data and interpretation. However, the requirement to be away in the field for months at a time can be very draining and stressful. It is difficult to balance having a life here and be away for a large amount of time. Once in the field we are faced with uncommon languages, foreign cultures, and in general faced with an unknown world (See Charlotte’s post on fieldwork for more information on what we face). Right now I’m faced with the problem of deciding whether to have a library based dissertation, or one that will take me out of the country for a couple months but will give me both primary data and practical experience. Getting this experience is not necessarily part of our program, so its up to us to be proactive and gain that experience. I’ve been involved in fieldwork where I’ve paid to attend, been a volunteer teaching assistant for, and also been paid to conduct. It is often this range of experience that gets noticed on my CV. In the end, our discipline is known for getting in the dirt and doing field work, so its essential for us to get this practical experience however we can and to get a wide variety of it.

Terry Brock
Gaining experience in your discipline is one of the most critical parts of being in graduate school. For PhD students, the obvious training comes in research: the majority of our time is spent on learning how to conduct, structure, and write about research. However, this is really only part of the battle: getting an advanced degree is also about learning how to be a professional. Included in this is how to teach, how to present your research, how to engage with the public (who likely supports your research), begin active in your professional societies, and how to work effectively with your colleagues. No matter how good you are at your research, these other components of becoming a professional will be critical to your success. Most graduate programs don’t work these elements into their programs, although the training can be found elsewhere. In some cases it comes through your advisor or another faculty mentor, through programming offered by your graduate school, or through your involvement with professional organizations. If your discipline is like mine (I’m in anthropology and archaeology), there may also be opportunities to work professionally in your field, or to gain additional experience through teaching at a community college, assisting in a lab, or getting an internship of some sort. Regardless, it is important to remember that getting an advanced degree is more than just learning about how to be an effective researcher, it’s about learning to be a professional, and that includes a wide array of experiences and skills.

The Advisor/Advisee Relationship – GradHacker Edition

11/10/2011 § Leave a comment

This post is written by GradHacker writers and is part of our crossover week, check out Hack Library School’s advice about advisor/advisee relations on their blog here: GradHacker.

In graduate school, creating the perfect advisor/advisee relationship can be a daunting if not impossible task. Trent, Cory and Katy give their advice on navigating this relationship: find someone who you can work with, be proactive, and be explicit about what you want out of grad school.

Trent: The most important advice I could ever give anyone about advisors regards compatibility: If your relationship with your advisor is rocky, or you don’t feel you’re compatible, then you need to change advisors. You shouldn’t worry about ramifications if you change. If they are professional, then they’ll understand and encourage you to do so. A good advisor will have something academically in common with you, urge you to seek out classes you’re interested in, that pertain to you thesis or dissertation, and that will get you closer to graduating.

Cory: The advisor/advisee relationship can stressful, nurturing, or non-existent.  I think it is easy as grad students to forget that our own attitudes can often shape this relationship.  For example, when I started my Master’s program, my advisor was a Shakespearean scholar (I was researching post-colonialism!) who retired halfway through my program and who I met with only once.  My bad attitude about the seemingly poor match up really meant that I lost out on a year of advising with someone who could’ve pointed me in the right direction, helped me find resources, or just be a mentor (albeit with different research interests).

The relationship with your advisor is definitely a two-way street, and while we are incredibly busy, we need to keep in mind that our professors are as well.  Now, I try to be more proactive about talking with my advisor.  For me, it was also important to build a friendly rapport on a personal level–I need to know that my advisor is human.  This help me foster understanding so that when I’m stressed out about something in my personal life, I can also cut them slack when they’re behind on something because of a stressor in their personal life.

Again, it is important to gauge what kind of advisor you have while figuring out how you work best.  Sometimes you really don’t have a choice about your advisor if your field of specialization dictates whom you work with–make sure you find an outlet for a professor who you do connect with on various levels.  There are plenty of people in your department who will be able to mentor you unofficially if that personality type is what you need to keep on track.

Katy: Having a good relationship with your advisor is key to success not only in your department, but also in your future. As Cory noted, this is a two way street. Your advisor is there to guide you through the process of getting your graduate degree, so you need to be proactive in using them as a resource. However, they are not the sole source of knowledge and advice on pursuing your degree. You need to be clear with your advisor about what you want to study and the type of career you want in the end. To get the advice that will be most helpful you need to be explicit about your goals so that your advisor can help you out.

It’s also important to realize that your advisor may not have all the answers. It is beneficial in some cases to have a number of different mentors in addition to your advisor. Not all professors have the same knowledge about what the job market is like today, or how research is proceeding in certain areas. By expanding beyond the advice of a single advisor you are able to make more informed decisions. Advisors are not infallible, so it’s better to get advice from a diversity of sources. In the end it is your decision to make whether it pleases your advisor or not. You need to be explicit about what you want, strategic in choosing which advice to take and follow the path that is going to fit with your ambitions.

HackLibSchool, meet GradHacker.

10/10/2011 § 5 Comments


I am pleased and honored to introduce something special that we are doing this week. We will be working with our colleagues over at GradHacker in a collaborative blog post-a-thon. Here at HackLibSchool you’ll be reading posts from some GradHacker writers, while we will be posting over there this week. Aside from a fun project, there is some depth here and a very important reason that this makes sense.

1. Library School students often get caught in library land and forget to think outside LIS. Actually, I think this is endemic of our field, and it needs to change. Collaboration across fields, ideas, disciplines, job titles, places of employment is what will define the future of information and its value to the world and librarians need to be on that boat. GradHacker has a great variety of interests and fields represented, and here at HLS we’ve tried to do the same, but only within LIS (finally an archivists point of view, but what about historians, engineers, archeologists, physicists?)

Collaboration is(will be) the currency of the information economy.

2. We are all grad students. Again, I hate to think I’ve perpetuated this even with the name of this blog, we, students in LIS programs, seem to get an identity crisis and think of ourselves as “library school students” and forget that we are also and more so grad students. There is a lot to unpack there that is related to questions of professionalization of our field, but as graduate students in Universities we have important ideas that are enlightened and useful for conversations and discussions around the academy. We are graduate students. Think, act, write, read, interact and explore like a grad student. It will raise our opinion of ourselves, and others’ opinions of us.

3. Technology allows and promotes us to have conversations in public with peers, colleagues and intellectuals. That is the driving force behind HackLibSchool, and GradHacker, and it is our duty and joy to take advantage of these conversations.

That said, I am very happy to welcome the GradHackers to our blog. Once you finish reading their posts here, go subscribe to their blog. Better yet, go write for them. Linked below are some recent posts I really enjoyed:

Be Nice to Yourself

How to Read a Book

Review Guide: Software for Digital Image Archiving

They’re also on Facebook and Twitter.

Personal note – I had the pleasure of meeting Katy and Alex, the lead editors of GradHacker, at THATCamp back in June. Aside from us all being intimidated by hanging around with every single Digital Humanities rockstar ever, we had some great conversations about grad school, blogging, scholarship in the digital age and life in general. They’re great, fascinating people (they study mortuary archaeology and Argentinean soccer! COMON!) and I am happy to support this project that they have taken on.

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