In less than one week, on June 8th, I will have turned in the last of my school assignments. On June 11th, even though I’m not attending the commencement, I will officially be a MLIS graduate. Working on this degree over the last year and a half has, at times, been inspiring, frustrating, boring, emotional, difficult, fun and challenging.
My last semester at Binghamton University, where I double-majored in Philosophy and Pre-Law (PPL), I wrote a meta-philosophy paper as part of an independent study. I wanted to know exactly what I had just spent four years of my life thinking about and studying. Was it really important? What, if anything, did I learn from the experience?
My paper was really not that impressive and essentially said that philosophy is important even if it does not provide concrete answers because it still asks questions, advances the dialogue, blah, blah, blah. It was very abstract and, looking back, relied on a lot of weird rhetorical and creative flourishes that did not necessarily make sense and that I would never have attempted in a class assignment as it would have been a sure way to receive a poor grade in a department full of ethical philosophers.
So, the paper kind of failed on a philosophical level. However, it still is one of the most important tasks that I undertook while at BU. It was only a semester long but it was mostly self-directed. I got reading suggestions from my advisor and was allowed to write and explore in whatever way I chose. I gained a lot personally from this paper and it made me really think critically about the degree I was receiving and what it meant – and would mean – in my life. Those were the things I could not write about – yet they may be the most important.
Now that I am at the end of my MLIS I find myself wishing that I was given a chance to explore the degree in the same way. What would a meta-MLIS paper look like? It is difficult to really think critically about the MLIS degree from inside of it. Drexel is on the quarter system. So, I took five 10-week quarters starting in March 2010 and ending June 2011. The breaks between quarters I spent catching up on things that would get pushed aside during the busy 10 weeks before it. There was not much time to look inward and assess what I was learning.
But now that I am graduating and facing an unsure job market I suspect that I will have some free time for just such an endeavor and I plan to document it here. More than just writing about LIS education, I really want to figure out what I gained from it on a different level. Sure, I learned about metadata and information architecture and web design. But what else? What did I learn that is not specifically taught? How has the last five quarters changed me?
I think that a blog (specifically, this one) is a good way for me to start exploring the thoughts I touched on above. I am not necessarily saying this because I think that what I have to say is profound or even important to anyone but me. But blogs allow for conversation – even if that conversation is only perceived. They are dialectal in nature. Lacking any sort of advisor or professor as I had during my undergrad, a blog is a decent substitution.
Claire Creffield recently said this much more eloquently:
Blogging might seem (has always seemed to me) like a hideously public way of conducting personal reflection, but its saving grace is its joyful acknowledgement of the inescapably communicative nature of thought. Blogging puts into practice a recognition that, if a private language is an impossibility, so, too, it is impossible to pursue self-knowledge by means of a wholly private use of language.
In addition to blogging about my MLIS experience, I also hope to write more about education in general and comment on some of the ideas that Michael Stephens brought up in his recent LJ column.
Education should be inspiring for all involved. Learning should be filled with discovery, encouragement, and experimentation—both with ideas and tools. The best online and in-classroom experiences can and should be enhanced by the online LIS professional commons. – Michael Stephens
Michael Stephens’ new Office Hours column is out in Library Journal today and it is incredibly insightful and important for everyone involved in LIS education to read – and I’m not just saying this because it references a blog post I made a few months ago.
Stephens also gave a presentation yesterday at McMaster University called Transforming Library Science Education: Heretical Thoughts. You can view the slides from the presentation HERE. They focus on a lot of the same issues he aims at in the column. There are so many interesting ideas in the slides alone I can only imagine how thought-provoking the talk was.
UPDATE 19/May: Stephens has added some thoughts from attendees of his heretical thoughts presentation on his site.
*I have about three more weeks of classes. Once they are finished I plan to focus on writing a lot more. I have several ideas in mind including addressing the issues discussed above.
*Featured image credit Michael Stephens.
What are the common ways that people cite information online? How do you do it? Do you use a full bibliographic citation? Probably not. That is because writing for the web is different than writing an academic paper, a book chapter, an essay or something else that requires proper citation.
Online most people tend to be relaxed and informal about citations because web writing lends itself to a more conversational format. Only a real snoot* would want everything discussed in a blog post displayed in proper MLA Works Cited format. Usually a hyperlink, an @ or, my favorite, a h/t is common. I have been thinking a lot about this idea since a discussion came up in one of my classes, International Issues for Info Professionals, recently. The professor, Deborah Turner, requires that all students properly cite sources in Blackboard discussions. Since she is running this class as an e-seminar, she discussed having torn feelings about this. It has been my experience that most professors do not require full citations. Or, if they do, I have managed to maintain a GPA of 3.9 without ever once doing it.
The more I think about this issue, the more I realize just how relaxed I have become in regards to proper citation and giving credit online. It is probably a product of my many years of blogging and participating in online forums where informal citations are, to borrow Professor Turner’s words, “e-cultural norms.” Nevertheless, I am about to become an Information Professional. Or, at least, I am going to have an expensive piece of paper saying I am qualified to be one in some capacity. Should I not begin holding myself to a higher standard on this issue? How can I be serious about respecting ideas or protecting intellectual property if I myself do not practice it?
But here is the problem. Full bibliographic citations do not work on the web. I tried doing it in this blog post for everything that I hyperlinked and it looked silly and awkward. In Blackboard it is easier and makes sense due to the nature of the discussions there (btw, my newest project is to include sources from outside LIS and attempt to relate them to as many of the discussions as possible on Bb in order to make things more interesting. I’ll probably blog about this at some point).
Everyone deserves credit for their work. What is the best way to ensure this on the web? Does anyone have any references about this topic for me? Is there any literature about it? Any thoughts? Is this even something Information Professionals should worry about? I’m curious.
* For an explanation of “snoot” please see David Foster Wallace’s (2001) essay Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage.
Hack Library School recently had an interview with Maggie Johnson. As a senior librarian at Los Angeles Public Library she discussed how budget cuts are affecting the library. In this short TMI (two-minute interview) Maggie talked about the sad fact that a lot of libraries do not have the funding to hire new LIS professionals. This is bad for anyone currently pursuing a LIS degree, but it is also bad for libraries that will miss out on a whole generation of librarians.
A lot of my fellow students are going to end up working outside of a library setting – taking all their new ideas, technological knowledge and excitement for innovation somewhere else. In my view, this condemns libraries to continual struggling under the old paradigm.
As I have been thinking about this interview, I can not help but wonder if there might, at least, be a silver lining here. Now hear me out. I do not want to see libraries fail, but I do want to see more awareness about the usefulness of LIS professionals. I encounter a lot of people who ask me why they need librarians now that there is Google. Of course, the reasons are myriad and all of us in the profession know them – but why does this question persist? I think (hope) that as LIS professionals begin to branch out and impact other areas – publishing, editing, design, writing, media, etc – we put ourselves in position to become so much more than we are currently considered. The more LIS professionals impact other disciplines, the more we can bring people back to the library. Even bad situations have their benefits. It just requires a little creativity and a willingness to try something new (and maybe fail!). We live in an age defined by information, connectivity and collaboration – all things that LIS professionals traffic in on a daily basis.
This brings me around to the very notion of a library. For those LIS graduates lucky enough to get a job in a library, I urge you to enter it with a radically different mindset. I think that what I would like to see is a strong group of “Contrarian Librarians.”* By this I mean LIS professionals who stand a bit outside the norm. They question and challenge not to annoy but to “disturb the established categories of truth and property and, by doing so, open the road to possible new worlds.”** I would argue that change has always started from this position. Great ideas are often initially considered weird and they sometimes fail a few times before they take hold.
The role libraries will play in the future is a hot topic these days. No doubt they are going to have to change and adapt – and I’m talking beyond social media, virtual worlds and Web 2.0. Embracing these is a given. Going to the library will have to become a richer experience. Libraries no longer have a hold over information like they did in the past and, because of this, they need to foster collaboration, community interaction and creativity as well.
There will always be the need for books and quiet space, but what about collaborative space where local artists, writers, activists, musicians, designers, etc can get together to work on projects and share ideas? Why are libraries not lending more than just books? Anything that will benefit the community is fair game – bikes, musical instruments and recording/editing devices are just a few of the easy examples. How about some programs where people (this would be great for kids) in the community collaborate to write and illustrate books that they can then sell to patrons via some sort of print-on-demand scheme? How come more libraries do not host Farmers’ Markets where they can set up their own booth and engage the passionate citizens who shop there? Is a monthly “art night” out of the question? Ask for a modest donation, serve cheese and crackers and let the community browse local works of art. The library could even take a bit of the selling fee. Focus on different groups every month – local schools, nearby university and community colleges, local professional artists. Here is one of my favorite ideas that would not be very difficult to implement: The Social Physical Library. The possibilities are really endless. Is there something that is missing in your community? Why can’t the library provide it? Some ideas will be better than others, some will fail miserably. But a few might just stick. And that is how libraries will move forward.
Frank Chimero recently tweeted something that I think all new LIS professionals and students should keep in mind:
*A Google search for “Contrarian Librarians” leads to this blog by the same name.
**This quote is taken from Lewis Hyde’s fantastic book Trickster Makes This World.
Of course, the perennial question about funding comes up here again. If libraries can not even hire new graduates, how are the few that get hired going to make new changes? The answer: I don’t know, but they have to. If the traditional methods of obtaining funding have or are failing, then let’s look somewhere else. How about trying some Kickstarter projects? If $62,000 can be raised for Detroit to get a Robocop, surely some creative ideas can help bring some $$ and support to a library.
Book sales are great but maybe some libraries need to put in (gasp) coffee shops where people can gather (remember libraries need to embrace the idea of a community space). Why is Starbucks packed every time I go there but large sections of the library sit vacant?
This post is meant as a starting-off point for my thinking about the future of LIS professionals and libraries. Input welcome.
Note: some interesting Kickstarter projects to check out.
One of the worst things about being an online MLIS student is the lack of meaningful interaction with professors and students. Let’s face it, Blackboard is still stuck back in 2001. Ideas do not organically flow there. How can they when you have to make two insipid posts per week – 1 original, 1 response please! I am nearing the end of my program and though I am sure I have had more than a few classes with several students, I never really interacted or networked with them.
So, I wonder why more LIS professors have not embraced social media and recognized the great potential for learning that exists there. I am not saying Blackboard is completely obsolete (an upgrade wouldn’t hurt though). However, it is past the time for classes to shed the familiar shell in which they exist. I do not want to take any more online classes that are exactly the same: sign into BB, read the “lecture,” read the articles, make my obligatory posts on the discussion board and occasionally write a paper. How uninspiring! This model of learning belongs back in the physical classroom (actually, it doesn’t really belong there either). Online learning should be a dynamic and self-directed experience. The professors role is to act as guide by curating materials around the web. Basic competencies should be taught and then the students need to be led on their own journey of learning through doing, interacting, trying (maybe failing), and working hard.
I kid you not, this was actually in a textbook (time for these to go too) that I had to read for one of my classes. Thank you, Info 530, for teaching me about the most famous internet: “the Internet.” Glad I am going into debt for this.
I recently met with one of my professors in a private pod she created on Drexel Island in Second Life. The meeting was excellent. We chatted as if I had stopped by her office. She answered my questions and explained a bit more about SL to me. Lectures and meetings in SL with professors and students would greatly increase the ability to interact and network. It provides a space to learn more about each other as well. It pains me that this resource is available (for free!) and it is so rarely used.
Especially in the LIS field, emerging technology is incredibly important. If professors and students are not willing to attempt to use them to learn and expand, we are going to make ourselves obsolete. This must to start in school. I have learned some great things at Drexel, but I can’t help but wonder about how it could have been better. I am convinced that there have been days that I have learned more on Twitter than from an entire class.
EDIT: 11 Apr 2011
Since Michael Stephens re-posted this over on his blog, Tame the Web, I’m seeing a lot of hits here today. I thought I’d put my comment made in response to Micah Vandergrift on 18 Mar 2011 in the body of this post because it addresses some of the issues I’ve been thinking about some more.
I guess the reason that Drexel does not do anything in real time is because they want the online program to be accessible to students anywhere in the world, which I understand and am not unsympathetic towards. However, it has been my experience that many of the professors (certainly not all – I’ve had a few that don’t follow this model) are not truly embracing all the new aspects of technology, Web 2.0 and social media that are available. This bothers me more than it would in another degree because, well, aren’t info professionals claiming to be the ones to lead everyone into the future? If our schooling has still not progressed past the old paradigm slightly altered for a digital environment, then how are we going to teach (much less understand) how education, technology and information will be dealt with in the future?
The old model has much to recommend it. After all, it is how we were all brought up and most of us seem to be doing just fine. I would just like to see more experimentation, more use of ways to learn that take place outside the “classroom” – in this case Blackboard. Elluminate sounds interesting. It reminds me a bit of the Kaplan GRE prep class that I took but I’m only basing that off your explanation.
I am nearing the end of my MLIS and have spent a lot of time reflecting on what I have learned. Perhaps I had expectations that were too high when I entered Drexel and maybe another school would have been a better fit. Maybe a different degree. I’m discussing this in the abstract because I don’t have too many answers yet. All I have is a feeling that things can and should be done differently. The problem is: differently may be something so open-source that it really begins to mean the end of “institutional” education. And I do not think that I have a problem with that.
If my memory is correct, I wrote this blog post before discovering Hack Library School. I like the blog and am really interested to watch it grow over the next few years. I think that it is exactly part of what I mean about how education will change. The discussion there is always interesting. Perhaps soon it can begin to include more expertly curated materials about library-related issues. In fact, maybe someone interested will be able to go there and watch a video by a librarian in California discuss metadata, discuss it with other interested students and then read suggested links there. I’d submit that a student following that path would probably learn just as much (or more) in that method as taking a Metadata class primarily through BB where they read a few restricted articles from the library, make a post or two in the discussion board and then write a paper about it.
Anyway, like I said, these are all just some still unformed thoughts that I’ve been dealing with as I am entering the twilight of my MLIS degree. I hate to seem so negative but I’ve always been better at criticism that actually solving the problems – but I’m working on it and I’m glad to see you are too!