Updates from the World of a PhD Student: Finishing Up the Second Year

05/04/2013 § 2 Comments

Hey everyone! I’ve been absent from posting as regularly as I used to, but I wanted to poke my head in and tell you all about how my PhD program is going. Hopefully it will be helpful for those of you considering a PhD yourselves!

I’ve posted a bit about my thought going into the PhD program on HLS (here and here), and at the end of last year I posted some of the things I learned from my PhD (and from the experience of moving to a new town) here. Another year has passed, and I’m currently in the midst of my last semester of coursework. It feels really strange to think that I’ll never be a student in a classroom setting again (save for the occasional seminar), but that I’ll still be a student doing my own independent work under the guidance of faculty. It’s a great transitionary period prior to going out into the workforce, though, and I’m really excited to have more time to devote to my independent projects (namely, my dissertation!)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the timeline of a PhD program, it has a few more steps than a Master’s program does. Most people finish in 4-5 years, but some people take more or less time depending on their research topic, how much they work outside of school, etc. Students in our program typically come in with an MLS. The first thing we do is take our coursework, which is usually about two years. Then we prepare for and take prelims (comprehensive exam). For my program, the prelims include written statements you prepare, from which your committee pulls your questions. Then, you write your responses over the course of one week. After you pass prelims, you advance to candidacy, and start working on your prospectus (the first 2-3 chapters of the dissertation in most cases). You defend your prospectus, then write the rest of your dissertation, defend the dissertation, and do any revisions your committee asks for. If it all goes according to plan, you should end up with a PhD at the end of it!

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Tips for New Students Looking for Library School Jobs [Starter Kit]

29/08/2012 § 31 Comments

As a second-year SLIS student, I’ve talked to quite a few new students in my program who are anxious about securing library jobs. I can understand how they feel; after all, one year ago I was a freshly minted SLIS student. I had never gotten paid to work in a library. I came to library school with the sage advice of my mentor, a very recent library school grad, ringing in my ears. She had conveyed to me in no uncertain terms that I should work as much as I could while going to school to build my resume. Because of her, I came to library school knowing I needed to jump right in—-but that didn’t make the process any easier.

By now I’ve held several jobs and it has led me to realize that my real education happens when I go to work every day. I view my coursework as something to get through; if my classes are enjoyable it’s a plus. I have taken enthralling classes, practical classes, boring classes, and enragingly irrelevant classes. They’ve fallen all over the spectrum. So while I attempt to do well in them, my main priority is working as much as is feasible.  I firmly believe that library jobs should always trump coursework because if you do not work, you will not get a job in a library upon graduating. We could squabble about the particulars (maybe you could get a paraprofessional position without experience) but I don’t think it’s contestable. The library job market is intensely competitive and the more library experience you have, the better off you will be.

With that said, the following are a few tips I have for new students looking to work while in library school.

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Hack Your Program: Indiana University-Bloomington School of Library & Information Science

30/01/2012 § 21 Comments

Disclaimer: This post is a product of my experiences as an IU-B SLIS student.  Please know that my opinions are not intended to be representative of the opinions of any other student, faculty/staff member, or librarian. All criticism is meant to be constructive.

Photo of IU School of LIbrary and Information Science

So, first things first: My name is Brianna Marshall, but you can call me Bri. I’m a first year dual-degree MLS/MIS student at IU-B SLIS and this is my very first post as a contributing writer for HackLibSchool. I also blog at Not So Stern Librarian and tweet @notsosternlib. Now that we’re acquainted, please join me as I hack SLIS…

Program Overview: SLIS offers several degree options: Master of Library Science, Master of Information Science, dual MLS/MIS, a post-graduate specialist degree, and a Ph.D. in Information Science. In fall 2011 there were 333 total students enrolled in SLIS, of which 291 were Master’s candidates.  I don’t have any hard statistics to back it up but I’m pretty sure the majority of those students were either MLS or dual MLS/MIS candidates. I am a dual MLS/MIS student, but in this post I am going to focus on my MLS experience in SLIS.

Program Requirements: The MLS requires 36 credit hours plus S401 (a required introductory technology course) for a total of 39 credits. The five required foundational courses are reference, collection development, cataloging (or a theory-based alternative), a library management course, and a research course.

Specializations & Dual-Degree Programs: SLIS is incredible in its array of options for any student who wants to complete a second Master’s or specialize in a particular area of librarianship. A few examples of dual-degrees that are offered with an MLS include: African American and African Diaspora Studies, Art History, English, Folklore and Ethnomusicology, History, Law, Musicology, and Public Affairs. There are more options, though I don’t have the space to list them here. The most popular dual-degree seems to be the MLS/MIS combination but plenty of SLIS students take advantage of other options as well. Completing a dual-degree option requires admission to both programs, so if you’re admitted to the MLS track and decide you want to pursue a second Master’s in Art History, you need to also be admitted by that program’s standards. Dual-degree options are valuable because they lessen the total number of credits you need to take to earn the degrees. For instance, completing the MIS and MLS together requires 20 fewer credits than completing them separately. Obviously these are really valuable options for anyone wanting to be competitive for academic library positions, since some require more than one Master’s degree.

If you don’t quite want another Master’s, there’s always the option of choosing a specialization. Examples of specializations offered through SLIS include Archives and Records Management, Art Librarianship, Children’s and Young Adult Services, Digital Libraries, Music Librarianship, and Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship. Most students choose a specialization; it’s rare for an MLS student not to have one.

Program Weaknesses:

    • The most glaring weakness in my mind is that the MLS program does not have high expectations for its students’ technology skills. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of challenging classes offered by SLIS—you can take EAD or XML or Python workshops, and to an extent you’re expected to on the MIS side of things. There is no such expectation on the MLS side, though. The technology requirement, S401 (otherwise known as Computer-Based Information Tools), is a joke among students. It is required yet doesn’t count toward your total amount of credits, a modern variation on highway robbery. You learn UNIX (which is so decontextualized from its possible uses in libraries that most students immediately discard it), a passable amount of HTML/CSS, and, in one memorable class, how to create a PowerPoint. While the professor was well-meaning and likable, it was obvious from the get-go that we were being herded into a computer classroom so that SLIS would appear to be giving its students tech skills… while really just wasting our time and stealing our money. I don’t think that it is intentionally a useless class; however, I do think in retrospect that I am owed much more by my graduate program, and by extension that all future S401-sufferers are owed more as well. I have full confidence in the technological abilities of my MLS-seeking peers but I know some who hide from new challenges, enabled in part because of the low expectations that my graduate program has set. I think that the heads of this program should be bound by their consciousnesses to stress the importance of being technologically literate—in particular to incoming library students who are nervous about the techie stuff because they have humanities backgrounds. The bar could be set higher for MLS students without requiring any sort of radical technology bootcamp being forced upon them.
    • There are a lot of students in SLIS, so you have to rely on yourself to make things happen. If you come to library school hoping to have your hand held, don’t hold your breath. Here’s what will happen, if your experience is anything like mine was: You will have an orientation in name only. You’ll be stuffed into a room and various people affiliated with SLIS will talk at you, providing a complete repeat of everything the website says, which of course you’ve read over and over already. And then you will be thrown into figuring it all out yourself—it’s an excellent opportunity for self-growth, but only if you’re prepared for it. Sure, you’re assigned an adviser, but it’s up to you to make the connection. A lot of students never do, for better or worse. It’s not hard to become connected with professors, librarians and the SLIS staff, but nobody will take those steps for you.
    • It’s a challenge to find funding. Really, really a challenge, just like a lot of other library programs. Don’t count on getting aid from SLIS, because there are a lot of worthy students and there just isn’t enough departmental money to go around. Likewise, there are only about 30 available graduate assistantships (which often provide tuition remission) within the program. Don’t be too discouraged, though. People occasionally find funding from other campus sources. I definitely recommend applying for all possible sources of funding and making a case for yourself within SLIS; the administrative office is full of great people who will help you out if they can. Don’t ever stop working to gain skills that make you stand out and connecting with faculty and librarians; these are your best strategies to secure funding. (And, you know, a job eventually. Let’s not forget that.)

Program Strengths:

    • The many available dual-degrees and specializations help ensure that you’ll be able to tailor your experience to be exactly what you want. There’s a lot of room to create a niche for yourself in this program, so don’t underestimate yourself.
    • IU offers a rich diversity of libraries to gain experience in while you’re a student: the main library, plus 17 specialized branch libraries. Want to gain experience doing business reference? You can by working at the Business/SPEA library. Interested in rare books and manuscripts? Work at the Lilly Library. Hoping to learn more about digital libraries? IU’s Digital Library Program is nationally known. There are also multiple archives to gain experience at on campus, if that is your focus. Beyond IU, the excellent Monroe County Public Library welcomes SLIS interns each semester. While all library jobs are highly competitive, internships and volunteering are always options for students.
    • Bloomington is a wonderful place to spend a few years. B-town provides easy access to nearby large cities in that Indianapolis is an hour north, Chicago is four hours to the northwest, and Louisville is an hour south, which makes it especially nice when conferences are held in those places. Music lovers and foodies alike, rejoice! Bloomington has plenty of live music, from jazz to opera to indie, and spectacular food and beer selections. It’s a cozy college town with plenty of culture, so if that’s your thing you’ll love it here!
    • Socializing/student organizations: Although SLIS is a large program that throws together students with many different interests, I’ve found that anyone interested in making new friends within the program has plenty of opportunities to do so. There’s a healthy ebb and flow of students in and out of the SLIS commons every day, and the American Library Association-SC plans and advertises social events for SLIS students often. Other active student organizations include Society of American Archivists-SC, the American Society for Information Science and Technology-SC, the Music Library Association-SC, the Society of Art Librarianship Students, and SlisKids (a children’s/YA book club). If you’re so inclined, there’s even a SLIS-student run crafty club!
    • The University Information Technology Services STEPS Workshops are amazing! Multi-level classes are offered on Adobe Creative Suite 5, MS Excel and Access, HTML/CSS, and many other subjects (think ArcGIS Desktop, Perl, Zotero, etc.). I’ve had wonderful experiences with the instructors and the smaller class sizes are much-appreciated. These classes are a low-pressure way to introduce yourself to new programs and concepts that can help you build your resume. STEPS workshops are (blissfully) free for IU students yet I’m not sure how many SLIS students take advantage of them. Needless to say, I highly recommend doing so.

Final thoughts on SLIS: I have grown exponentially since coming to SLIS. So many of the professors, librarians and staff I’ve met at IU and SLIS have been an impressive combination of competent and kind; I could gush about them all day because they are my absolute favorite part of library school (besides my always-amazing peers, of course). While I strongly believe that the MLS side of SLIS should be more aggressive in encouraging its Master’s students to gain tech skills, it doesn’t diminish the fact that creative, motivated students will find many tools at SLIS to help them become competitive for the library job they want.

So now that you know my thoughts, what are yours? If you’re an IU SLIS student (past, present, or future), do you agree or disagree with what I’ve written in this post? If you’re attending another library school, how do the programs compare? I would love to hear some feedback, either here in the comments or on Twitter @notsosternlib!

Some Thoughts On Course Evaluations

30/11/2011 § 6 Comments

Photo by Todd Binger

It’s nearing the end of the term—and that means course evaluations are looming. To be honest, I start thinking about course evaluations on the first day of class. I like to keep mental notes on my classes throughout the semester so that I have coherent comments to offer up at the end of each term. I’ve been mentally grading my teachers and classes since junior high. Lately, I’ve been spending a good deal of time thinking on the evaluations themselves to try to understand their purpose and what I can do to make the most of them.

What do professors want?
In thinking about this post, my biggest question was—what do professors want from our evaluations? I reached out to a few professors that I know (across many different fields) and posted this question to them. The breakout theme? Specific comments. Professors want specific feedback on the negative AND positive elements of their class. If you didn’t like the syllabus—tell them exactly why. If a paper led to an epiphany about your career goals—say so. In many cases, the comments section of an evaluation form is preceded by a tedious list of ranking and fill in the blank questions. Don’t fizzle out and turn in the evaluation until you write something personal and specific to the professor. « Read the rest of this entry »

iPads, and Kindles, and nooks! Oh, My!

19/10/2011 § 9 Comments

There has always been a hesitation to fully embrace the new. This existed when the codex,or books, with pages that you turn, took the place of scrolls that you roll, as illustrated by this hilarious video. Next, came the invention of movable type, in particular Gutenberg’s printing press. That was met by disdain from the elite due to the fact that the mechanization of the written word further widened the circle of readers, knowledge, and power structure.  Now over 500 years later, electronic communication is making its impression by way of the electronic book (e-book). Whether they are reading using an e-reader such as Kindle, Nook, iPad, or a phone or computer, the dissemination of e-books is not stopping and it’s in our interests as library students to learn as much as we can about e-books, their distribution, and a new term for me, Digital Rights Management (DRM).

DRM, as said in Wikipedia, refers to “technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals to limit the use of digital content and devices.” When applied to e-books, this can lead to publishers making drastic decisions on how their authors’ works are read. An example, and current polemic amongst public libraries, is with publisher Harper Collins and their 26 check out limit. An e-book can be borrowed a maximum of 26 times, after which a new e-book must be purchased and again limited to only 26 checkouts. Such a limit has its problems, as this video by Pioneer Library System of Oklahoma explains. Each publisher’s DRM is unique and Harper Collins decision has certainly caused quite a commotion among the public libraries.

Yet, there are other publishers, the small independent ones, whose alternatives demand further contemplation. If e-books are to be embraced, why not comingle written and electronic content together. At least that’s what one publisher, Melville House Publishing, is doing.  They sell what is called a Hybrid Book, where the print version of a book comes with additional material, called Melville House Illuminations, that “consist of highly curated text, maps, photographs, and illustrations related to the original book”. What I equate it to, is what music distributors have done to sell their recording artist’s records. They load them with additional features, such as the music video for their single, bonus tracks, or special cover art. This is just a one example of what publishers are doing to incorporate print material with electronic content but what are we as library school students learning about e-books? Being rather green to these terms, I’d like to take a class next semester that introduces me to electronic collections and services, but I’d like to hear from our readers:

What you have experienced when learning about e-content?  If the future of books is looking increasingly digital do you feel your library school education is preparing you to handle electronic content?

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