Service Learning: Friend or Foe?

06/12/2013 § 1 Comment

One of my courses this semester (Community Informatics) required a sizable amount of “service learning” (for those who don’t know, service learning is basically community service/volunteering activities that are incorporated into a course). When I mentioned the extensive, unpaid time commitment that the service learning represented to a friend of mine, he balked: “So they’re basically making you volunteer? That’s crazy. Plus it can’t really be considered volunteering if they make you do it…” This got me thinking about the various pro’s and con’s of service learning, a course component that seems to be more and more prevalent these days. For those who have a service learning component in an upcoming course or who are interested in designing their own service learning experience, here are some pros and cons (as I see it) of service learning:

  • Con: Service learning is time-consuming. This semester I had to commit to 4 hours a week of volunteering at a library or computer lab. While this doesn’t seem like much, I also work 20 hours a week, take classes full time, am an officer for a student group, and contribute to this blog (love you guys!). Not to mention I live in the same town as my family, and am thus often committed outside of school/work. Therefore, I do not often initially relish seeing a service learning requirement on a syllabus. A service learning component can also require an initial time commitment to scout out a site, go through an orientation, and set up training (depending on what you’re doing). There’s also the transportation time, field notes time (as you often can’t jot down info until after your shift), and reflection time (as service learning usually involves reflection writing assignments).
  • Con/Pro: Service learning is hard work. Whether it’s explaining to a senior citizen how to log in to a computer, open a browser, and log in to their email for the 100th time (ok, so it hasn’t happened 100 times, but sometimes it feels like it) or building custom-made wooden computer stations in your professor’s workshop (see below), service learning will challenge you in a variety of ways.

    Ah the Saturdays spent in safety goggles. So fun!

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Too Much Structure or Not Enough?

14/10/2013 § 20 Comments

No librarian, me.

No librarian, me.

I confused some people when I said that I was going to library school, but that I wanted to be an archivist. I developed my passion for archives when I was an undergrad, and that was the specialization I was going to the pursue in library school. I’ll just come right out and say it- I had no interest in becoming a librarian. Man, that feels good to get off my chest.

This doesn’t mean that I’m entirely devoid of librarian skills. Maryland requires 12 credits of core classes (out of 36 total) for all MLS students, so there are plenty of opportunities to intermingle. It’s been fascinating to learn about the different approaches librarians and archivists take to similar issues such as long-term preservation, or the differences in user interactions.

After those 12 credits, though, it’s harder to get that useful cross-specialization interaction. Many of the specializations at Maryland are adding more required courses, and becoming more strictly prescribed. Online cohorts in the general and e-government tracks, as well as the school library track and the archives/digital curation double specialization, are completely or almost completely set programs, with no chance for electives. And there are signs that the other specializations will follow suit. There are fewer and fewer opportunities to take classes with students from other cohorts as you go through the program.

“That’s excellent,” I hear you say. “Having a plan ahead of time takes the stress out of course selection, and you know from day one the sort of topics you’ll be covering. I love it.”

Whoa, Skippy. Let’s stop and think about this for a second. An entirely structured graduate program might be great in a STEM field- a you must learn X, Y, Z in that order kind of thing. But an MLS degree is much more fluid.  What happens when you get into the workplace and have to work with say, an archivist, but you can’t understand why they’re more concerned about temperature controls than the serials budget?  The ability to work across fields is vital, but gets lost when the student doesn’t get the chance to choose to break down those barriers. Or on a more practical level, what happens when you decide to change specializations- say when you decide you don’t want to be a school librarian anymore and want to pursue the e-government track? Are you willing to start from scratch because you haven’t taken the courses in the prescribed order?

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Library School Mergers

11/10/2013 § 15 Comments

I recently received an email via my library school’s student listserv explaining that our university Provost has asked the library school and the College of Media to explore “integrating their two units.” It is very early in the exploratory process, and certainly not a sure thing yet, but it got me thinking about the possibilities. I don’t know much about the merger idea, but it seemed OK to me: easier access to more classes and professors, additional networking contacts, and perhaps a stronger focus on writing/communication for library students? What’s not to like?

However, it seems my opinion is not shared by everyone. Another library student/employee responded (to everyone): “It will be a horrible disaster for all new graduates who want jobs and will definitely destroy GSLIS itself.” After some brief online searching I found an article in the local newspaper from a few years ago when the exact same merge was proposed. In it, our former dean explained that his main reason for opposing the merge was the possibility of our rankings “plummeting”: “The decision on our side was really about, ‘How would a different structure likely affect our competitiveness?’ It wasn’t a rejection of Media.”

(Image source)

What’s involved in a merger? Is it just a name change or something more? (CC licensed image from Flickr user Daquella manera)

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When Do We Need a Translator?

18/09/2013 § 2 Comments

When evaluating which courses to take, students often start with the list of undeniably library-specific courses: reference, cataloging, archives, etc. But as the profession continues to evolve it has become more and more interdisciplinary. Library students today take end up taking everything from web programming to marketing, from database design to educational/instructional theory. 

The question I’ve been trying to tease out lately is: is it more effective to take library-ified versions of these courses within our library schools or to take them in their true departments? For instance: will you learn more from a marketing class that is taught by a library school faculty member and focuses specifically on library issues? Or would it be more broadening and beneficial to take a marketing class in the business college?

When is the original appropriate and when do we need a translation? (CC licensed image from Flickr user gcbb)

When is the original appropriate and when do we need a translation? (CC licensed image from Flickr user gcbb)

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Goodbye Library School, Hello High School

29/08/2013 § Leave a comment

Well, this is it, kids: my time in library school is over, and so too ends my time writing for Hack Library School. This is so long, this is farewell, this is auf wiedersehen and adieu. This is also when I’m supposed to write a nice post summing up my time here, or my time as a library student, or something like that. But I’m finding that a bit difficult, because at least for me the end of library school has segued straight into professional librarianship. So while on the one hand it feels as though everything has changed, it also feels like the road I’m on is the same one I’ve been on since my grad school orientation.

This has nothing to do with anything, I just liked it. Image by samdecle, licensed through Flickr.

This has nothing to do with anything, I just liked it. Image by samdecle, licensed through Flickr.

Back in the summer ending my first year in library school, I made a plan to transition to Boston. I had no leads there; I knew precisely one person, who was not a librarian. I was giving up a decent amount of library cred back in Portland in exchange for what I hoped would be a wider array of opportunities, but there was no question it was a gamble. I figured I would find a nice practicum somewhere in Boston, head back east, and somehow that would lead to a job. To my own immense surprise, that’s exactly what happened… I found and landed the practicum, moved back east, and at the very end my practicum– just as things were starting to look a bit dire, as though perhaps I’d made a mistake — I got a job. The day I flew back to Portland for my final capstone presentation, not an hour after my plane had landed, I received the email offering me the position. I can’t begin to express the relief and gratitude I felt that day.

Here’s the thing, though: the job I’m doing is not a job I’d ever have guessed I would do. I’ve always hedged my bets by following the digital librarianship track, but in my heart of hearts I was most interested in how people use technology in the library, and in teaching them how to master all these amazing new tools that technology has given us. Actually getting to do that seemed like a distant dream, though, to be won only through years of part-time and contract gigs, fighting for my chance to teach, or being turned aside and into some other track entirely. Then one day I found a job posting for a Digital Literacy Librarian at a boarding school of all outlandish places, and figured I might as well give it a shot. A week later, I went to interview. A week after that, I got the job offer. This week — only a month after first spotting that ad — I’m on campus for faculty orientation. It has all been startling and thrilling and exhausting, but I have no doubt that this is the next right step on my road.

So here’s my advice to you, as a old hand at library school and a total rookie as a professional librarian:

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