Category Archives: library school

A new librarian’s on-the-job guide

Today is my last day of graduate school. As of May 11, I will be an official, bona fide librarian! The perfect time to read an excellent bit of advice from the blog Info Career Trends: Ask Permission Later. Rachel gives some excellent advice for new librarians, encouraging us not to be fearful in our newness to the field, but to get out there and start implementing our ideas. Well worth reading, both for all my fellow newly minted librarians, and for those of you who’ve been in the field for awhile.

Home stretch

Oof. This semester ended up being far more challenging than I expected. It isn’t that the course work was particularly difficult, or that I had too much to do. It’s that, for the first time in my life as a student, I started to feel really tired of being a student. Every night when I came home and sat down to start studying, this great wave of fuzziness seemed to slide right over me, and all motivation to do anything but read silly books, mess about with my sewing machine, and knit slipped away completely. I actually went to class once or twice WITHOUT DOING THE READING (and anyone who knows me knows that that is just unheard of).

Of course, this is pretty common for people nearing graduation, or so I’ve heard (though I am probably the only person I know who didn’t experience this at the end of my senior year in college—I was actually bummed to graduate!). I’m already deep in the throes of the job search (I have my first big-time job interview in two weeks!), and I only have one semester left. Which also means I am nearing the end of my Boston tenure, which adds another layer of distraction and anticipation over everything else. So, you know, I’m pretty sure my lack of motivation is something being experienced by many other grad students right about now.

I was worried, briefly, that I was just becoming uninterested in all this library and information science stuff. I felt like I was reading the same things, over and over, in all my classes, and none of it was groundbreaking or interesting. I was given the same assignments to complete in different classes, and I felt like I was learning nothing new. THAT was a scary moment, let me tell you, because I’m going into a lot of debt to have this new and awesome career and if I was already feeling bored with it…bad news bears.

But then I realized that I still really enjoy reading literature in the field outside of my classes. There are tons of great blogs being written by librarians, interesting studies being published in the library literature, and fascinating books coming out about information, users, and where libraries fit in. This is still a really exciting time to be a librarian, and I still love it. I just wish we were reading some of that great stuff in my classes.

And there you have it: I like my program, I genuinely like the administration and the faculty, and being as involved as I am, I know how hard they work to make it a great program. But it’s falling short. It feels increasingly out-of-touch with the most exciting aspects of the field. I don’t blame the faculty or the administration, not really. I think it’s hard to take a slow moving institution and keep it up-to-date in a fast moving field. And, frankly, this is neither the first nor last time I’m saying that their admissions policy could be a little more stringent. Overall, I know they’re working hard, but sometimes, it’s still not enough. A lot of the classes I’ve taken are simply boring.

I have one more semester to go, and I have my fingers crossed that my motivation will return. The job search is exciting, and when I write cover letter after cover letter, I have to recognize that this LIS program has prepared me exceptionally well for the kinds of things I want to do when I’m free, uh, I mean, once I’ve graduated. But I also have to recognize that my excellent preparation was also in large part because I had the time and energy to seek out things beyond my classroom experiences and readings, and because I was lucky enough to find a great part time job in a library (and to be able to take a part time job). And I have my fingers crossed that even in this wretched economy I will find a job I love, that is motivating and exciting and fun. Is that too much to ask?

(I feel like I really want to write an addendum for the teachers I’ve had who are wonderful and offered excellent classroom experiences, but to point out their names would obviously make it clear who the bad teachers are, and I’m not a big fan of burning bridges or shaming people in public. I just hope that those great people know who they are, if they ever came across this here little yammering post of mine.)

Whew–one year down, one to go

Last Friday I finished my first year of library school, and I’m now faced with four months of no-schooling vacation. I barely know what to do with myself! But I’m sure I’ll figure something out without too much trouble. My second semester was by far more interesting, and more challenging, than my first, and thank buddha for that. I feel like I’m starting to carve out a path in the field, in some ways, and it is really starting to look like the one propounded by these guys. Blended Librarianship combines two things I’m finding myself thinking about often: emerging technologies and instruction. Our school will be offering some blended learning classes next year, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they work out. I’m hoping to be able to work with some of the reference librarians this summer to develop some of the course tools (fingers crossed, fingers crossed).

I spent the last two weeks of the semester freakishly OBSESSED with PHP/SQL/MySQL, as I finished up development of my nifty library database. I couldn’t really think about anything else. I dreamed about it at night. But all of the time, effort, and yes, frustration, were totally worth it in the end: I’m really happy with the (near) final project, and I fully intend to continue developing it over the summer. Because I’m clearly a total dork.

My final cataloging assignment, in LC and Dewey Classification, took me by surprise. I thought that I had a pretty good grasp on how it’s done and, gasp! instead got my worst grade of the semester. Perhaps I should practice a bit more before I starting to catalog my entire personal collection in LCC. But…how do you know when you’re wrong? There is no loud buzzer or chastising teacher when you’re doing this on your own, or professionally. And apparently I was just making up rules all over the place where I thought the LC guides were telling me clearly to do what I was doing. Sigh. Perhaps I will just have to take a more advanced cataloging class next year to get a better grasp on all this stuff.

I can hardly believe that I’ve finished my first year already. I know May 2009 is going to be here before I know it, and I’m trying not to panic about my job prospects at this early juncture. I’m really looking forward to a summer mostly off: I’m still working part time in the library, and hopefully picking up some reference shifts here and there as well (I figure it can’t hurt to have some reference experience, right?). I just bought a new camera and I’m looking forward to getting out and brushing off my skillz (not that I really had any in the first place). I’ll be spending my summer cooking, running, reading, and yeah, working on my database. I have, as Mr. X puts it, swallowed the hook.

Where are all the techies?

I’ve been contemplating this question since I started library school last semester, when I was enrolled in my program’s basic technology course, the only technology course students are required to take. Where are all the next system designers and OPAC developers and library tech programmers? They certainly weren’t in my class.

Lately it seems a lot of other people have been contemplating this question as well. Dorothea wrote an outraged post about the lack of systems awareness and the hands-off approach librarians take to their technologies, and her words have resonated with librarians throughout the bloggity blogging world. She makes some important points: Library schools aren’t requiring their graduates to have a thorough grasp of library technologies. Librarians don’t consider managing their technologies something they should have to do. Many libraries don’t even have a dedicated systems librarian on staff. These things have to change. But the problem lies, too, in the students currently attending library school.

I am constantly surprised to find how few students in my program know, or want to know, how library systems work. There was a girl in my tech class last semester who had never even had an email account before enrolling in the program, and she frankly wasn’t much interested in learning about using it, or using any of the other technologies she will be presented with in her career. To my mind, librarianship is increasingly about the technologies we’re using, and if you aren’t interested in those technologies, you have no business going into the field. Harsh, perhaps, but for libraries to be players in the networked, information saturated world, we have to step up our game, and we’re not going to be able to do that with a bunch of librarians who can’t even be bothered with email.

Some part of the problem does lie with the library schools. While my program requires one technology class, it was kind of a joke of a technology class. We didn’t deal with HTML (although I hear tell another professor teaching the course does), we didn’t really learn about managing an ILS, or a server, or databases, or even basic computer troubleshooting. If that is the sole course students take on library technologies in their time in library school, they are poorly served to go into the increasingly technology-reliant library profession, and the profession will suffer for it.

Perhaps some of the problem lies, too, with organizations like ALA who are not promoting the notion that librarians are technology professionals. If the major professional organization doesn’t seem to think that technology is a major component of the job, why would people outside of the field, who might be contemplating becoming librarians, think they need to learn about it?

Again, maybe it sounds harsh, but I often find myself thinking that those librarians who don’t want to learn to manage a server or build a better OPAC or manage an open source ILS should quit and make way for those of us who can and want to build better systems for ourselves and our patrons. No, I don’t think every librarian should be a programmer (well, I don’t always think that, anyway), but I think if you can’t figure out how to connect to a printer or install software or build a basic website, you are in the wrong field. And if you’re not willing to learn these things, you shouldn’t be in library school.

I’d like to see more people talking about why these basic skills should be minimum requirements for every library job, and what the schools and the organizations should be doing to promote the field as a technology-related one. And I’d really like to see more of my fellow students excited about creating awesome library tools. To my mind, that’s the best stuff in the field right now, and with well-taught, excited, engaged technology professionals, there is no end to the cool stuff we could do.

The ACRL Task Force on the Future of the Academic Library

Of course it has taken me almost a month to write anything significant about my ALA experience. So many thoughts were percolating through my head the whole long weekend, and it probably goes without saying that much of it isn’t quite as vivid now, after the new semester has started and my normal life has been passing at a rapid clip for the last few weeks.

The extra weeks did give some of those thoughts time to…er, ferment (?), however. And one of those things has to do with the role and position of library students within the greater world of librarianship. As a copyeditor for and a frequent reader of Library Student Journal, I obviously think students have plenty to contribute to the field: innovative ideas, worthwhile research, insight from our previous careers. In fact, it never occurred to me that library students’ contributions might not be taken seriously. In my undergraduate experience, it was common that a professor would acknowledge the intellectual contributions of us younguns, even in published work. We were often considered collaborators, and I expected that would be doubly true as a graduate student.

Now, I haven’t experienced any of the faculty in my program denigrating students’ opinions and contributions. In fact, I think the Simmons GSLIS program does a great job bringing students into the decision-making process and allowing us to have significant responsibility and input in the program. Although even in a place where student involvement is a priority, it sometimes seems more like lip service.

One of the events I chose to attend at ALA Midwinter was a meeting of the ACRL Task Force on Positioning the 21st Century Library in the Competitive Academy (I would include a link, but any interesting information on the ALA site is password protected). It sounded right up my alley: I want to work in academic libraries, and I love to read about the changes happening within institutions of higher eduction (or, as they say, IHEs). And as someone who hopes to be working in those 21st century libraries, I figured it might be a cool thing to get involved in, or at least pay attention to.

One thing I noticed when I walked in is that almost everyone on the task force is…well…older. The roster shows that most of them are library directors or deans. Now obviously, people who’ve been part of ALA for a long time, and have been in libraries for a long time, are more likely to be involved in ALA and to be part of these groups (actually, I don’t really know how one gets involved in ACRL task forces and the like; do you have to be an ALA veteran?). But I was surprised that a group dedicated to contemplating the future of the academic library didn’t think to involve the people who will actually be working in them.

During the course of their discussion, a few of the younguns in the room piped up with some of their thoughts, and several of them noted that it IS important to look to the future librarians in the organization if you’re going to be talking about, well, the future. And everyone on that task force nodded and said “oh yes yes harrumph it’s very important.” And yet, I felt that any actual contemplation of what those younger librarians (one of whom was a library school student) said wasn’t really happening. It felt like the aforementioned lip service. “Oh of course our young people have great things to say, now let’s get back to the important conversation we were having over here.”

Maybe I’m being unfair. After all, this was just my perception, and subjective perception is, well, subjective. But the ACRL task force meeting wasn’t the only place I felt that my opinions were being disregarded. I’ll be paying attention to this task force, and while I hope that they will introduce some comments, opinions, and insights from the next group of librarians to enter the academic libraries, I’m not holding my breath.

End of the semester wrap up

It’s hard to believe an entire semester is already past. Today was meant to be my last day of classes, but with the storm here in Boston, most of the universities and colleges are closed and my class was canceled. Sort of anti-climactic.

When I think about the past four months, it strikes me how different my life is, and not just in the way I spend my time, but the way I think and what I think about. I feel as though I’ve stepped into an entirely new world, with a new language and new ideas and theories, and it requires all of my time and thought to understand it all. It’s not that it’s particularly difficult or challenging, but rather that you can’t be only halfway involved. As though libraries become your identity, somehow. And all of this sounds kind of cultish and unappealing, but I love it.

Some of my experiences this semester have been frustrating, yes. And I’m certainly not going to claim that library school, library science, librarianship in general is perfect–there are a lot of issues and problems within the field as it struggles to keep up with a changing information landscape. But because of that, this is a really exciting time to be involved.

And what is most exciting for me are some of the personal changes I’m noticing. I never considered myself a leader before, or a joiner, for that matter. I wasn’t into activities or organizations in high school or college, or in my professional life. But I made a conscious decision when I came to school to get as involved as I could, and after only one semester I can see what a huge difference that makes in the ways that I interact with others and the things I believe myself capable of doing. I keep joking to the boy that it’s easy for someone as shy and nondescript as myself to stand out among a group of librarians. (And yes, I am still allowed to be deprecating about librarians, even more so now that I’m going to be one.)

So I jumped into grad school head first and after one semester of frantic (and not-so-frantic) paddling, I like to think that I’ll be able to really contribute things to this profession and to my peers. And it’s been a long time since I felt like that, so at least we all know something good will come out of the $60,000 debt.

Now for five weeks of vacation.

The Push and the Pull

Now that I’m back in school, and actually have things to do with my time, I’ve been forced to come to grips with, how shall I say this, a little flip-floppy aspect of my character. I guess I’ve always known this part of myself, but for the last six years, it was easy for me to ignore because there was really nothing for me to be that motivated about. But now? Now, it’s causing some problems. Because it’s really hard to be a super excellent student when you’re only feeling ambitious on a part-time basis. I am my own biggest distraction.

There are days when I am seriously on the ball. I am motivated and energized. Everything on the to do list gets checked off, and I starting thinking up new plans, new involvements, new projects. I feel pure and healthy and super duper smart and I think, “Man, I am going to get the greatest job when I’m out of library school, and I’m just going to love it! I’ll work so hard and do excellent things in the world! I am awesome!” And then some mornings I wake up and I am just tired. My brain feels fuzzy and unfocused and all those great projects are forgotten, or just seem, really, kind of pointless. I don’t want to write or create or make any kind of comments in class whatsoever. I can feel myself just sliding into mediocrity, and on those days, I don’t even care.

I don’t really understand what causes these weird swings in my sense of purpose and ambition. I suppose some people might say I should talk to a therapist or something like that, but that’s not really my style. I think there are probably a ton of factors that go into it, including when I last got to the gym, how well I’ve been eating, how much time I’ve been spending at the pub, et cetera. It seems even kind of a silly thing to talk about: So what? I have some bad days. It’s just that it feels so wildly moody, so weirdly binary, and that, seriously, it is hard to be an engaged and involved and accomplished student when you feel so overwhelmed by things that you just stop caring for a day or two. I wonder sometimes perhaps if I was better organized or managed my time better, it would be easier to maintain my motivation. Or, I wonder if everyone experiences this, and it’s just a fact of life. Some days are just not as bright and shiny as others.

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?

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Three weeks in…

I can hardly believe I’m already three weeks into the semester. And I’m still sick! What the smack, people? The sinus pain, wracking cough, and dry, aching eyes make it very difficult to find the energy to stay up and do my homework, not to mention cook dinner, update various websites, have a life. I’m hoping that repeated doses of immune boosting beverages and vitamin C will ensure that this is the last week of suffering. And I actually went to Trader Joe’s last night and bought frozen meals for easy dinner preparation. It’s kind of sad, but the take out needs to stop.

Regarding my actual school work, well. I have a complaint, and I’m not the only one. I have a teacher who isn’t particularly good at explaining herself. Like, she really sucks at it. Everyone in the class seems unsure about what the assignments actually are, the readings seem completely irrelevant to anything important, and her “lectures” are long, rambling, disconnected things that seem to have no relationship to the purported topics of the lectures. I have her for two classes! It’s torture! And incredibly frustrating, because I have two assignments due in the coming weeks and I’m not sure I understand them at all! Sigh. I will never take another class with this woman again.

Aside from that, I still love library school so far. My reference class is great. I’m learning insane amounts of things. I see the point of doing assessments and evaluation research and am glad to have the opportunity to learn how, even though I’m sure it will never be my favorite thing in the world. And I feel engaged and challenged–when my teachers aren’t challenging me, I’m figuring how to learn the information I need myself. I’m confirmed in my thinking of six years ago: I’d like to be a student forever.

Reference, Research, and the Internets

Now that I have officially finished my first week in library school I suppose it’s time to comment on the experience, no? Alright, so far it’s freaking great. After Advising Day, I felt a little uncertain about what I’d gotten myself into. I looked around the room and thought, “I’m surrounded by some seriously socially challenged dorks.” Then I realized that I probably am a seriously socially challenged dork. Then I despaired of ever actually befriending any of these people, what with my shyness and everyone else’s shyness. Then I went to class and thought, “Wait–grades?! I haven’t had grades since high school! What the smack is a GPA? What if I’m not as smart as I think I am? What if I don’t do well on real, practical assignments and my only skill lies in pontificating about meaningless theoretical debates centered around the existence of truth and the truth of gender or some crap? What if I don’t like this?”

Yeah, there was a little bit of panic.

And the panic has, for the most part, subsided. I mean, I still might not be that great when it comes to real, practical assignments. I still think I’d rather sit around and read about things than do them, but that has kind of always been the case, probably since I learned to read. I’ll get over it. I think I can deal with getting grades again. Maybe I’ll even realize I appreciate them. And team work will inevitably be part of my future, so I’m all about embracing it. Overall, it’s been funny to realize that I’m actually learning a profession, and not just learning stuff, like I did in my undergraduate experience. I’m learning how to DO things, not just how to think about things. Although I am also learning how to think about things. I’m learning how to think about practical things. This is all a very different kind of learning experience.

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