Another Semester

It’s almost the start of a new semester. I’m working on finalizing the syllabus for Literature for Children. This is my first time teaching adults and it’s one of my favorite subjects, so I’m very excited.

I’m starting the semester in Seattle. I’m attending my first ALISE conference and then attending the ALA Midwinter conference. I’ll be observing and recording a focus group on romance novels. I also hope to gather audio for LISRadio shows for this semester. I plan to try to live-blog the conferences as much as possible, with pictures.

The first semester went by in a kind of haze. I was overwhelmed by the transition… it was much more difficult than going from being an undergrad to a graduate student. I wonder if it was made harder because I was in the same institution, so I was used to things being a certain way. Being a doctoral student is definitely an education.

I was pleased with how my classes went in the fall. I came out of them with two ideas that I’m going to work into presentation proposals.

The Degree

Degree or Not Degree, That Is the Question. Of all of the new crop of posts I’ve seen today about library education, Josh Neff’s has the best comment thread. This is an extremely touchy subject. It’s a sensitive subject for me.

It’s fascinating to me how so many librarians feel their educations were useless and they didn’t learn anything in library school. I’ve only been to one library school, but I am a completely different person than I was two years ago. Maybe my school is extraordinary (well, I’m partial to it), but it has changed me. The program balances theory and practice very well. Students coordinate internships at libraries that interest them. Even though we don’t have a health sciences program, we have a health sciences library where students can get experience. We don’t have an archives program, but we have archives where students can work. In the school library program, students have to have 10-11 semester hours of practical experience, focusing on certain aspects, with reflection and guidance.

I find the comments made by Mr. Neff’s coworkers to be a bit passive-aggressive… “Bet they didn’t teach you this in library school.” They don’t and can’t teach you everything in library school. My view of library school is that it builds a theoretical base of knowledge about libraries and librarianship, gives structured and guided practice at specific aspects of librarianship, and grounds students in the intellectual history of the profession. It doesn’t teach how to clear a printer jam, how to clean up patron vomit, how to handle an 11-year-old asking to learn how to French kiss. It doesn’t teach you how to deal with a library board (or how to craftily stack that board when you get the opportunity.) Perhaps there is an assumption that there are things that are appropriate to learn on the job.

Bloggers often seem frustrated at the lack of classes on things like blogs and wikis. Perhaps my school is unique, but in many of my classes, we had choices of assignments, including electronic formats. In at least one class, starting a blog was a required practice. (This was the genesis of my Tween Lit site.) I would prefer to see technology worked into classes in that way, rather than requiring a specific class on just learning html/blogs/wikis/exciting new social software of the future. A specific class on current software would always be in danger of being behind. There is a danger, though, of being too far on the cutting edge. One of my classmates is working in a library that has no OPAC– just a card catalog. A conference I hope to present at is asking presenters to bring their own presentation gear or go without because of the cost of the equipment. Schools can have such aggressive filters and firewalls that starting a wiki can be an impossible dream. Students need to know how to do things the lo-tech way as well.

I am continuing my education because I believe in the MLS (or, in my school, the MAISLT). I like that people come into the field with a variety of undergraduate degrees (and other graduate degrees) and a variety of backgrounds. That adds a richness to our profession.

I think library school professors/ researchers bring great value to the profession. They have much to teach to those willing to learn.

Last week, we had a visit from Thomas Mann, a Library of Congress reference librarian. It was an excellent visit, about which I will post another incredibly long post (actually, two parts), but a key thought is that library “evolution” is a myth. When librarianship changes, it’s not “evolution,” it’s a result of decisions– conscious or unconscious. At least some of the people making those decisions need to be people with an awareness and understanding of library history, library sociology, library psychology, library culture. You don’t need a degree to be one of those people, but library school is (should be) a safe place to get that kind of knowledge.

One more interesting point from Mann’s lecture: people are defending “library as place” in a way that makes them not libraries any more. We have to think about the implications of what we are doing and the history of what has been done. That’s true in librarianship and it’s true in library education. How is this movement for reform different from the other movements for reform in the last century?

Disclaimer: My words here represent only my own beliefs. No agreement or endorsement by my school or my professors is implied or stated. My interpretation of the words of Thomas Mann are only my interpretation.

21st Century Librarian

Meredith Farkas of Information Wants to be Free posts an interesting follow-up to her previous post Skills for the 21st Century Librarian.

Librarian education is in such a state of flux right now that it’s hard to identify which problems in education are endemic and which are caused by the rapid changes that we’ve seen recently. Library schools can certainly do more to integrate technology into classes, though. I’m not really in favor of stand-alone html (or insert your favorite technological hobby-horse here) classes, but I am in favor of having students develop a website throughout their library school education that can act as a portfolio and depository. I’m in favor of reference classes having students work a semester for the Internet Public Library or similar digital reference source. I’m in favor of integrating something like a wiki into a library history class. I do not want to see more stand-alone classes built around specific technologies, because technologies change. Technology should be built in in a fluid manner. And some schools are trying. In the two and a half years I have been attending my school, we’ve experimented with four different class management systems and we’ve used blogs and wikis. We’ve also launched a series of podcasts discussing both integration of technology in education and just plain reading. We’ve used podcasts in distance classes. This is all new, and in some ways, we’re still fumbling along. But there are library educators who are trying to get it right.

I would argue that there are places where a low-tech approach is appropriate. Several people have complained about learning how to catalog using a paper copy of a MARC record. I believe this is a good thing for several reasons. First, all libraries don’t use the same cataloging software. That’s not as important as the second reason, which is that it gives a big picture view of the MARC record and has the tactile hand-brain connection going for it as well. The corrected records can be useful to look over because you will start to see patterns in your mistakes. (Note, I am pro-cataloging and pro-MARC, so this comes from that viewpoint.) When I started cataloging at my work, I had my corrected records by me so I could make sure I didn’t keep making the same mistake. Doing cataloging on a computer from the beginning doesn’t give you that record of corrected mistakes.

I supposed I’ve been fortunate in library school because I’ve been in the school librarian program. There has been a technological component in almost every class I’ve taken. My classmates will not enter a school completely unprepared. In fact, I think the biggest shocks are going to be a step-back in technology and the strict filtering most school districts use.

I’m also lucky because, really, our faculty is interested in such a variety of topics. Some students are not happy about the theory-heavy courses, but really, there is a justification for so much theory. Every library is different. If a new librarian has a good grounding in theory (and goes to work at a library where such theory is considered), the details that are unique to the new library will come quickly.
Like Meredith and Simon Chamberlain point out, though, some of the most important skills a 21st librarian needs cannot be taught. Especially, embracing change and a willingness to engage in lifelong learning are personal qualities that one either possesses or does not. While it may be possible to educate librarians out of ingrained tendencies to resist change, it may perhaps be better for library schools to attempt to recruit students who already have positive attitudes towards change, and towards continued professional growth and learning. (Valis).

At the same time, library schools are actively recruiting future faculty who have the same qualities. I’m very excited to see how my current classmates turn out as professors.

I’m running out of time here, so this part will be even hastier than the rest of the post. One thing I don’t want to see is the books part of LIS shoved aside. People still read books. There are still things that need to be examined when it comes to good old fashioned off-line reading material. Are we providing the best way for people to find what they want? Old-fashioned, face-to-face reader’s advisory, including familiarity with the collection, is still important. Old-fashioned subject headings (even on fiction!) are still important.

IMLS Grant

My school just received a new grant to fund the education of future library school faculty. The responses I’ve seen so far are… not exactly a wakeup call… but further signs of a rift between practitioners and academics. I noticed the same rift at the ALA session on teaching cataloging to school librarians.

Librarianship has more going on than what appears on the surface. There are a lot of fascinating questions that can be answered and are being answered by current LIS researchers. It’s true that some research can be found lacking, but the solution to that is to recruit better potential researchers, not to denigrate our profession. Not to decide that library school is just vo-tech and there’s nothing more to learn about the field. It will be inevitable that some people will graduate library school feeling that they haven’t learned anything. There will be others who feel like they just bought a piece of paper that expands their career horizons. That’s inevitable in any field. But we don’t all have to have that attitude.

I know that I need to shore myself up to face contempt from both practicing librarians and from other academics who look down at librarianship much the same way some of our own practitioners do. It’s important to look at these questions, though. If we don’t see ourselves as a profession, with value, worth studying, how on earth can we expect others to value us?

Blogging

My professor brought up an interesting point in class yesterday.  He was talking about librarians who blog (as librarians, rather than as bloggers who happen to be librarians) and mentioned that they are representing the profession to others.  It’s an interesting thing to think about.  When a non-librarian reads a librarian blog, what are they learning about the profession?  The point came up when we were talking about bloggers who discuss their patrons in ways that could be considered unethical.

Then he mentioned that if we have a blog, future employers will find it.

The biggest thing I do wrong on this blog is that I don’t update it enough.  And I would not work in a place where just having a blog would keep one from being employed.  But it is a point that cannot be repeated enough.  Everything we put online is available to anyone, so we need to make sure it represents us honestly.

It is What You Make it

A recurring theme I have been noticing lately is people complaining that library school is not intellectually rigorous enough. (I’ve also seen assumptions that distance education does not require teachers, but I’m going to dismiss that one without comment.)

In a sense, library school is what you make it. It is entirely possible to sail through library school without really engaging your brain, especially if you’re bright (which I think aspiring librarians tend to be.) At the same time, though, there are meatier things to think about. You can get meta and think about library education itself. You can look at libraries through the lenses of various philosophers and thinkers (Foucault and Gramsci being two that are popular at my school.) You can look at the intellectual foundations and assumptions of librarianship. You can examine how humans seek information and how they react when they find it. There are a lot of very interesting things to look at.

Is it as rigorous as physics? No. Anthropology? No. (But libraries can be examined through an anthropological lens.)

I’ve seen library school blamed for a student’s own lack of motivation. You don’t have to stop learning as soon as you leave a classroom. There is no law that says you are not allowed to learn more about, say, MARC Bibliographic Standards, if your cataloging teacher doesn’t explore them in depth (if you were lucky enough to take cataloging.) I’m hardly a model student (I have a lot of bad habits), but one thing I do is seek out more challenges. I look for the books my professors have written. When we get a chapter in a course pack, I’ll seek out the book itself (if I find it interesting.) I try to write papers and reviews that will be useful to me or other librarians later, rather than just trying to get through the assignment. One of my professors suggests that we strive to make our papers of high enough quality that they could be published. It’s a good standard.

Library school students get what they put in. If you’re currently in library school and you don’t feel like it’s intellectually rigorous enough, why not seek out the harder instructors? I’m sure every library school has at least one. (Mine has several, and it is worth it to take classes from them.) Start a journal discussion group and look at current research in the field. You might find it wanting– so start thinking about what you can do to remedy that. Start reading philosophy, ethnography, historiography and see what you can apply to librarianship. Find an intellectual mentor or intellectual peers and band together in your geekery.

The people who feel unchallenged by library school can be the key for intellectual growth in the profession.

Graduation

Most of my friends graduated this past weekend.  I’m feeling at loose ends, because I’m finishing in August.  I will be several months done with my MLS when I walk in December.
I’m excited about the summer class I’m taking, which is on research ethics and the problems thereof.  It’s with a professor I’ve never taken a class with before.  I’m also taking comps this summer and going to ALA.  I also need to catch up on my YA reading for a class I’m TA-ing in the fall.  My ALA backpack will be full of YA novels.

The summer will go by so fast it will be a blur!

Auction

Our graduate student group is holding an auction fundraiser to raise money to send students to various library conferences. There are some very cool items up for bidding. Some of the items can be mailed to you, while others are specific to central Missouri.

Check it out!

What I’m up to

I returned from the conference into a whirlwind of things I had not been able to pay as much attention to because I was preparing for the conference. It’s amazing how busy library school can keep you, but I really enjoy it. I have some comments about the roles of cataloging and theory in librarian education, but that will have to wait until I finish a paper and a take-home exam. The paper is pretty neat… I get to work with primary sources for the first time, and I’m the first person to work with these sources. Very exciting.

Swamped

This semester has been unbelievably hectic, which is why I haven’t been posting here. Cardinal sin for a blogger, and I should know better, since what I’m researching right now is library blogs. (Only public libraries in the US, for now.) It took forever to get my Access database form the way I wanted it, but collecting the data is going so much more smoothly now. I hope to post some of my informal musings on the data soon.

I’m also researching early censorship attempts in Missouri youth services. We’re trying to fill some gaps in library history with our classwork.

Personal projects are going by the wayside this semester.