Do What Makes You Mad

06/11/2013 § 7 Comments

In the library world, enthusiasm is not in short supply. I’d even go so far as to say that being excited about things is quickly becoming part of the new librarian stereotype, along with being 25, tattooed, pink-haired, and on a skateboard. Think about it—an abundance of library websites, blogs, and Twitter feeds focus on being clever, sharing new book finds, and poking fun at our profession. And while all this is great (and hilarious), I often wonder, where’s everybody’s indignation? Doesn’t something (other than rude patrons) make you mad?

I’ll go ahead and admit that I sometimes wonder why I’m in the library business at all. But then I meet people who remind me, like the 75-year-old woman who could hardly walk without breathing heavily who needed help applying for a job at Burger King. Unpack that one—digital illiteracy, elder care, unemployment, disability. That makes me mad. And when I get mad, I do what librarians do best—I start learning.

Of the five tracks my MLIS program offers (youth services, cataloging, management, reference, and technology), I originally chose to focus on technology because, honestly, I thought it would look amazing on my resume. But once I started working at a public library, everything I learned in my technology classes started to come into focus. Digital illiteracy became real to me, and I realized that my classes were preparing me to think about the big picture concerning the impact of new technologies on libraries, their patrons, and the world.

These classes and experiences prepared me to think critically about a topic that I hadn’t even realized mattered to me. They gave my studies a sense of purpose, and they reinforced the lessons I’d learned in core classes. And yes, as I predicted, they’re starting to make my resume look a lot better, too.

It is my advice, then, when designing your course of study, to specialize in something that makes you mad, something that will equip you with the skills to right the wrongs you see. I know that letting what makes you mad drive your decisions is usually a bad idea, but in this case, it makes sense. Enthusiasm wanes (Twilight, anyone?), but man, can people hold a grudge. And sometimes, that’s a good thing.

You don’t have to sink your teeth into an issue and never let go, but it’s not a bad idea to at least keep the issue where you can see it. Don’t ignore what you like—try tearing me away from display making, why don’t you—but don’t ignore what makes you mad, either. You may find something new to love.

What do you think fellow hackers? Is there enough indignation among library people? Is there anything that makes you mad?

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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Working, Volunteering, or Interning Before Library School

23/09/2013 § 6 Comments

If you’re considering library school, if you’ve been accepted, and especially if you’re already there, I would strongly recommend getting hands-on experience as soon as possible. An internship or even just a bit of volunteering will help you to build a foundation of knowledge and skills as you pursue your degree. Other hackers have written on finding opportunities and making the most of them, but I’d like to address some key benefits of getting pre-library school experience in the first place:

Identifying Interests and Goals

Before starting library school I had never been paid to work in a library. However, I had spent considerable time interning and volunteering in them and had been an enthusiastic patron for as long as I could remember. During college, I spent two summers in a small academic library and one semester in my college archives, building an understanding of various kinds of library work. In addition to providing me with a basic ’how things work’ familiarity with many areas of academic libraries, my internships helped me to identify some of my interests and strengths, and to identify areas of librarianship I wanted to explore further. For example, after spending a lot of time by myself with boxes and files of papers in one internship, I decided that it would be important for me to pursue positions with more collaboration and patron interaction in the future. Figuring out what you don’t enjoy can be just as useful as discovering what you do.

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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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