The Foreboding Finale: Master’s Capstone

05/07/2013 § 1 Comment

In my program (UNC SILS), all master’s students are required to complete a capstone paper or project prior to graduation. Both options require students to approach a “problem” in information or library science in a “substantial and scholarly way.” No small feat, right? I bet a bunch of you out there are facing similar tasks within the next year and I’m hoping that we can begin to face them together. First up: how to get started? I’ve called on my friend and classmate, Robbin Zirkle, to add her insights. Robbin is working on her project this fall and is (hopefully!) graduating in December.

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Capstone Options

Robbin: I went into the planning stages of INLS 992 with the intention of writing a master’s paper, likely involving content analysis of collection development policies. When I was considering how to go about completing my paper, though, I realized that I wanted it to be a true deliverable that could help an institution. Thus, my simple master’s paper has morphed into a master’s project; I will have a concrete, practical deliverable at the end of my experience that will impact an institution.

Julia: As Robbin points out, a project has the potential benefit of yielding an institution-specific deliverable (for example, an evaluation of existing programs or policy). On the other hand, a paper or thesis is an opportunity to delve into research of a more traditionally academic nature. I agree with many of Rebecca Halpern’s points about the benefits of writing a master’s paper; among other things, this kind of writing provides a leg up for those hoping to publish or hoping to enter positions that require publishing. I plan to write a master’s paper, but I’ll have to see where my ideas lead. For those of you in programs with a portfolio capstone option, see also Madeleine’s advice.

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Keeping Track of Inspiration

29/05/2013 § 3 Comments

The end of my first year of library school has been a welcome reminder to reflect: to remember that, not so long ago, MARC and FRBR were meaningless acronyms, I had never answered a reference question, and I didn’t even know what half of my course titles meant. I’ve been sorting through notes from classes, panel discussions, and workshops in an attempt to mentally index the year and to check in with myself. In doing so, I have remembered some of the moments in which I felt especially excited about what I was doing and learning—e.g. hand-coding my first website, planning instruction sessions, and talking to librarians about the work they love. Honestly, I had forgotten about quite a few of my favorite moments; losing track of inspiration is quite easy amidst the anxiety and self-doubt that can strike throughout the busyness and unknowns of graduate school.  In the face of these worries and doubts, reminding ourselves of what continues to draw us forward on our chosen paths can be incredibly powerful.

Today my library school (and life) ‘hack’ is to keep track of the things that inspire and excite you—things that can then serve as motivation, as a guide when picking classes and developing projects, and even as content for resumes, cover letters, and interviews. I think we learn and work best when we’re excited about what we’re doing. Keeping a finger on the pulse of what poet William Butler Yeats describes as the “rag and bone shop of the heart”—the often disorderly yet foundational deep structure of ourselves—encourages that excitement.

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3 Unexpected Library School Lessons

29/04/2013 § 6 Comments

Some of my favorite questions to ask librarians during informational interviews revolve around surprise: What has most surprised you about your current role or about your career path? Is there anything you wish you had known sooner? I’ve found their answers to be particularly useful as I try to figure out how to focus my time and energy during school. As my second semester of library school draws to a close, I’ve been thinking about how I would answer this type of questions myself. What has surprised me about library school and what unexpected lessons have I learned so far?

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How I Learned to Love Printer Jams

25/03/2013 § 5 Comments

Do you ever daydream about your future professional life? Do you imagine yourself as a high-powered librarian, answering thoughtful reference questions or maybe cataloging rare and beautiful documents? Initiating programs that bridge the digital divide or solve access and licensing issues? I know I do.

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Approach with confidence…it senses fear and desperation

But here’s the thing: although I have big plans and aspirations, I recognize that life as an information professional isn’t always going to be the glamorous montage of my dreams. Example: I started working at the reference desk in an undergraduate library a few months ago and quickly discovered that I would spend much of my time assisting patrons with printing and scanning. Clearing jams, replacing toner and paper, explaining policies, walking patrons through the process…not the most exciting part of patron interactions, but a useful and necessary service. I’m sure there are plenty of ‘printing and scanning’ equivalents in other areas of librarianship, library school, and in all professions, for that matter. So, how do we deal? Can we ‘hack’ the mundane aspects of work and school?

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Overcoming Instruction Stage Fright

18/02/2013 § 8 Comments

When I was applying to library school I asked some of my college librarians if anything had surprised them about their library work. More than one said their jobs involved more teaching than they anticipated, and I realized that if I was going into academic librarianship I should prepare for instruction to be a part of my job. While the idea of actually standing up in front of a classroom was pretty frightening to me, I saw the user education side of libraries as incredibly important and exciting. Somehow I imagined that when the time came for me to stand in front of a classroom, I would be totally accomplished and knowledgeable, and therefore confident.

via flickrCC

via flickrCC

When I began a student assistant position in reference and instruction this semester, the time to brave the classroom arrived without my previously anticipated sense of preparation and confidence. I was excited and terrified. A part of me believed that I could be quite good, while the other part waited for the fraud police to stop me before I could present my novice self to a class of undergraduates.

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