Overwhelmed by the Information Universe

So, wow. Last week was really, really frustrating. I don’t remember the last time I was in a bad mood for that many days in a row. And why? School got very, very challenging. And that made me feel very stupid, because it didn’t seem like it was challenging to anyone else.

My parents know this well: When I am faced with something I’m not immediately good at, it is usually my first inclination to give up and walk away. It’s a terrible habit and I feel that I’ve spent a lot of my adult life fighting the quitter instinct. And as I realized this week, I’ve also spent a lot of the past six years avoiding things I’m not immediately good at. I haven’t yet figured out how I did it, but suffice to say I spent the last six years thinking, “Wow, I’m smart.” And suddenly, I’m faced with things that are kind of hard, things I didn’t expect to be hard at all. I thought I’d sail through this library science thing, because, wow, I’m so smart, right?

So what was this task that threw me into a fit of frustration? My first set of reference questions had to be answered without the use of any online resources. Just the actual, print materials in the library. (Alright, so I know some of the other students in my class interpreted “print materials” much more broadly than I did, and used eJournals and eBooks that had, at some point, existed in print. But I was strict with myself, and truly wanted to use only materials I could hold in my hands. And hell, I know some students Googled shit anyway. Stupid cheaters. I hate that crap.) Trying to find the answers to ten very obscure, odd questions without reference to the internets was way harder than I expected.

I mean, how the hell am I supposed to know what book might exist in the library that could tell me why Mousie, Kentucky is called Mousie, Kentucky? And if there isn’t an encyclopedia in the library that talks about Bauhaus, the band, then it’s just not there, and I can’t find that information. I almost cried, I was so frustrated.

And when I decided to go to the Boston Public Library, in the hopes that their reference collection might offer a little more than Simmons’s collection, I was suddenly faced with even more frustration. The BPL seems to be in the process of doing some massive re-organization. The reference collection, which used to be housed in the very lovely Washington Room, is now in a dingy, dark room on the second floor. None of the shelves were labeled. There weren’t work surfaces anywhere near the reference shelves, so I kept having to take a book clear across the hall to even look at it, often only to discover that the answer I needed was not there at all. I seriously almost cried, I was just felt so useless and thwarted.

I’ve been thinking about this frustrating experience since I turned in the assignment on Thursday. And the thing is, no one has yet taught us how to actually do this kind of thing. I mean, bringing a group of students into the library to show them where the reference collection is isn’t really the same as showing them how to use it. You can tell me what an index is, but apparently, I’m not smart enough to figure out how it works.

The thing is, the amount of information in the world is even more vast than I ever imagined before starting this library science thing. I thought they were supposed to teach me how to navigate and organize it, but so far, I just feel overwhelmed by it.

I keep telling myself that it will get easier, and that I will learn these things. I can’t give up and leave after one semester, like I did when I wanted to get my master’s in English. Hell, I’m already $30,000 in debt for this one year, and as Crystal said about her b-school experience, that’s reason enough to stick it out, right?

This will get easier.

3 thoughts on “Overwhelmed by the Information Universe

  1. westwardbound

    I react exactly the same way when I am faced with difficulties, so I know how you’re feeling!
    Maybe the assignment was supposed to be overly-difficult? I took a Quark class at Emerson that involved ABSURD assignments for beginners–I was told by professionals at work that no one creates documents the way were asked to create them–and I nearly jumped out of a window. I think part of the exercise was to test our limits and creativity. But that doesn’t help in the moment, I know.
    Also, you may have already done this, but you are PAYING a lot of $$ and you should march right up to the instructor and explain your frustration/ask if you missed something in the assignment that would have made the whole thing less of an ordeal.

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  2. crystalbrooke

    Yes yes yes and yes. It’s totally challenging to your self concept to realize that you’re not good at everything on the first try. Believe me, I know all about it. Business school, so far, is an extended departure from ANY kind of comfort zone. And it might not get any easier, but at least you can get accustomed to how hard it is, right?

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  3. Scoop

    Judging by the second word in its title, “library science” implies supposition, trial, failure, learning from failure, trial again (and again), and, eventually – hopefully – success.

    In the destination vs. journey sense, it also implies patience.

    I agree that you could march up to the prof and ask for clarification, or at least a clue. But from what I’m able to gather from your description of the assignment, it sounds like the prof wants the class to practice research the way it was done before the Internet.

    I’m right there with you on being frustrated by musty index cards. Waaaay back in the 1980s when I was in college, BD (before DOS), when computers spit their output onto punch cards (and woe – and whoa – were you if you dropped ’em), the IBM Selectric was a kick-ass way to produce papers, and the Web was what spiders made, I hated libraries. Except, of course, to nap in.

    So absorb the lesson that you should appreciate what research was like before it got way simpler. And evolve, don’t quit. And, yeah, rag on those cheaters.

    BTW – Regarding steering clear of superlatives in describing one’s ability, I found four more uh-ohs in your diatribe. It’s OK to say you’re Ivory pure in your CV, but no one – not even awesome editors – is perfect.

    Keep editing!

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