If you build it, will they actually come?

Tumbleweed Rolling

Anyone? Anyone at all?

Having a web presence is important, both for you as an individual and for your library. I wrote about how as a student, it’s really helpful to build an online presence and Steven Kaszynski wrote on his blog about library’s promoting their online presence. It makes sense and it’s not too hard to do right? In all honesty, this past semester there have been a few things that I have struggled with, in terms of building an online presence for my library school student group, ALISS. This blog post by the Annoyed Librarian on how little users actually pay attention to library’s on Facebook really hit home, because I’m struggling with this very problem! I have to ask the question, if you build it, will they really come?

Over the summer, as the new Chief Info Officer  of my group, I was charged with maintaining the website. I redesigned the website and installed WordPress to make the website more dynamic, and make it easier to update content. Students can comment on the posts and there’s potential for conversation on the website. Guess who actually comments on the blog? Other ALISS officers and spambots. Not quite what I was hoping for. Between the other student officers, we post really great opportunities for students to apply for scholarships, internships, student events and more! Opportunities that I didn’t even know how to find as a first year student. All great stuff, but it falls on deaf ears. We tried promoting it through the SLIS list-serv, to which another student replied “I almost never pay attention to those emails.” We promote our events and the website on Facebook and Twitter and still there’s a lack of response. So what happens when you’ve built our online presence, continue to update content but can’t get your audience to pay any attention to you?

The SLIS program at my school is geared towards people who are already working FT jobs. It’s a commuter campus. Our students tend to be older, have families and other responsibilities outside of school, so they might not have time for student events. But that’s why having the online presence is important. However, part of the problem is that you still need face-to-face interaction to promote your online presence. If people aren’t paying attention to your posts while they’re online, I’m not sure how promoting through other online outlets will help. It just doesn’t. Making connections in the classroom and telling people things like “Hey you like ____ right?  I heard about an internship that you might be interested in. It’s posted on our website” might carry more weight. To be honest, I’m not sure. I’m speculating here.

This semester, all my classes were online. This is a first for me and in general, I do like going to a physical class and talking to people in person. I felt cut off from my student body and I don’t know who our new students are. How can I reach out to them and promote our events if I don’t know what their faces even look like? If I feel this way, how many other students do? I have a lot of questions and I don’t have a solution to this problem. I’ve heard from other student groups and ALA chapters that it can be hard to get people to participate, but how do you make it successful? If anyone has any insight, I’m all ears.

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Back To School

Fall is one of my favorite seasons.

We’re off to a new school year. For some of us who are still in school (or work at one), this is a fun/busy time as we all get back into the swing of things. Lately, there have been some excellent posts with advice to the new library school student. Andy Woodworth wrote a great post to the MLS Class of 2013 and over at HackLibSchool, the Library School Starter Kit has a TON of tips and advice for the library school n00b. Seriously, I wish I was more plugged into the library world last year when I was just starting. I really had no clue about the wealth of knowledge and great community that existed out in the interwebs. I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on where I have come from a year ago. For any new library school students, I hope they can learn from some of my mistakes.

 

A year ago, I sat in a new student orientation. I had recently moved to Indianapolis from California and was adjusting to my new settings. I will admit that I did not do a lot of research into the online library community before I started school. It didn’t even occur to me to do that, because I was a very low tech, not plugged in person. I used Facebook and that’s about it. I didn’t even know what an RSS feed was, I didn’t read any blogs except for webcomics, I didn’t know that Twitter had any purpose, I didn’t know that writing in a blog would be therapeutic, I didn’t know what “the cloud” was. Really, I did not know a lot. In fact, it took me quite awhile to get to where I am now. My remedial tech skills class taught me what Google Reader was, and forced me to go out and find library blogs. From there, I was able to find a way to connect to the online library community. After forgetting my flash drive at school MULTIPLE times, I figured out what Google Docs was. I have had a Gmail account for a couple of years and I did not use it to it’s full power until a year ago. This is so shameful. But from this shame and all these mistakes, I grew and I learned. Yay for life long learning!

I learned that it would be important for me to connect with the library world. This means keeping up with current events, finding librarians and library school students on social media and going to conferences. No, you don’t have to join Twitter, there are plenty of librarians and library groups on Facebook too. Even Linked In is a great place to connect with other professionals. I can’t stress how important connecting and staying current with the field is. Every library school student should be doing this, because we are so fortunate to be in a field with many people who are willing to help and answer questions. As a student, we have so many duties and obligations to our studies and our jobs; but taking the time out to just see what’s happening in the library world really enriches what you bring into the classroom and your job.

I have come a long way from where I started a year ago and a large part of it was just trying to be more active in the library world. I know that this year things will change even more dramatically but that’s another blog post. What have you guys learned from the start of your library school experience? Any other tips you want to add?

Choosing Practice Over Theory

The debate over practice vs. theory is quite familiar in LIS education. If you think about it, the very nature of our profession and our degree really does spur this kind of discussion. It’s funny because I’ve been recently writing about what students who are interested in digital libraries should do while they’re in school. Taking classes in the things that interest you is an obvious tip. In a way, I feel like a hypocrite because I haven’t even done all of those things myself. In fact, and I could be wrong about this, most people seem to find what they want to specialize in within the first year that they’re in school. Then they tailor their electives to match those interests; i.e. if you want to be a children’s librarian, you’re probably going to take classes related to that. Really, a MLS/MLIS program is too short to teach you everything you need to know, but it should give you a solid grounding that you can draw from. It’s really your time to take the classes that you think will prepare you best.

If you take a look at history of my coursework, you would probably wonder what area of librarianship I want to go into. I’m seriously all over the place. I am actually very interested in academic and digital librarianship, but I haven’t taken a digital libraries class. To be honest, I’m not sure if my schedule will allow me to do so, which I’m not entirely happy about. Here I am writing about the importance of understanding the theory behind the practical and yet I don’t always listen to my own advice. Is it important that someone understands the why and how a digital collection is built? Probably! But my own experience of understanding that is outside of the classroom. I’m not sure what’s more important, having that hands on experience, or learning about it in class. The likely truth is, both are just as important but why have I not chosen to do that?

This fall, I have chosen to do an instruction internship as opposed to one in a digital library. I was particularly inspired by the Seek a Challenge post written by Michael Stephens, in which he gives excellent advice to students. I have very little experience with instruction or with public speaking. This is something that makes me feel very uncomfortable so naturally, I chose to do an internship in an area that I know needs improvement (and also scares me). The other part of this is that I have chosen to do an internship in this area, as opposed to taking a class that would teach me a theoretical understanding of how to teach. Once again, I have elected practice over theory. I’m not saying that this is necessarily good; but I had to ask myself if I would learn more by doing or by sitting in a classroom and being lectured. I chose to learn by doing and I figure if I really want to learn more, then I can take the class offered by my school next semester. I’d probably get a lot more out of it since I could see the practical application.

Obviously, everyone has different learning styles and will approach their own education accordingly. I never really thought of myself as a person who hates learning about theory in library school. Ideally, practice and theory should go hand in hand. However, we only have a limited amount of time in school to learn so much and there are times when choices have to be made. What do you think is more important? Getting hands on experience or learning the theory in the classroom?

What makes a school a degree mill?

I should be doing my metadata final right now but I have this BURNING question in my head, that I want to have clarified. In light of reading Will Manley’s post about the value of the MLIS, I have to ask myself, what schools are the “degree mills”? I have found a paradox of people not trying to rip on the online schools, but then complaining about “degree mills”. Is every school a degree mill in this case? Is it every school with lax admission practices? Probably. I had even posed this question to my fellow HackLibSchool editors and while we are all familiar with the term, they weren’t sure what actual schools are considered a degree mill. I am curious to hear what others have to say about this.

I am also reposting my comment on Will’s blog here. He really set up a great conversation, just by asking reader’s questions.

My Response: 

I am going to jump off librabbie’s comment here because I am at the other IU campus and from what I read, our programs are very different. We technically have the same degree but my campus is very focused on practical experience, but some of us would like more of the information science classes that Bloomington offers.
Anyway, LIS education is a topic that is very dear to me, and as a current student, I have put a lot of thought into what kind of program I wanted. On to the questions!

#1: Should graduate library schools make an effort to restrict their enrollment to the prevailing job market?

Yes I think it would really help to have standards for good applicants. I had considered one program, but all they asked for was $50, filling out an application, and maybe your transcripts. No letters of recommendation, no personal statement…how exactly were they going to determine if you were a good fit? That application process alone told me that this would not be a good school for me. It made me pre-judge the quality of the program because if they don’t care who joins the program, why do they care about what they teach? Of course, now that I look back, I see that I could have been wrong, maybe the school produces strong graduates.

Context #2: Are graduate library schools distancing themselves from the public library market by becoming too ivory towered in their approach to training future practitioners?

At IU, the core classes are very traditional and geared towards the traditional library roles. We all have to take reference and library management. Like some of the other commenters mentioned, most students have a lot of electives so they can gear their courses towards what area of librarianship they want to go into. I have a few friends interested in public libraries and youth services, so they have signed up for courses that reflect those interest. I am lucky because my program does offer classes that cater to academic, public, and school libraries.

Context #3: Why have graduate library schools not forged closer ties with working libraries and focused their research on projects that can actually have practical value for libraries?

Again, I feel fortunate that my school is located downtown, near many great libraries who welcome SLIS students. Almost every semester I have at least one class that has us talk to professionals in the field, or shadow them to get an idea of what a librarian does day to day. This is actually very valuable to someone like me who has limited practical experience. I also think that seeking out mentors in the field is another valuable way for someone to supplement their degree.

What disheartens me is reading comments from professionals in forums like this, who say that taking on volunteers or mentors takes up too much work and they simply don’t have the time. If you look around, you’ll see plenty of people complaining about the state of LIS education, of the divide between the practical and theoretical, but what will YOU do to change that? It’s easy to sit around and say “This degree is useless.” If people really feel that way, then we all need to do something about it. (Disclaimer: I write over at HackLibSchool and these are very important issues to us)

Context #4: Because on-line education is now the dominant delivery approach for graduate library school is too much emphasis being placed on the library as an on-line data center accessed from the homes of patrons?

I think the physical space is still important. I know that I see lots of people using computers at the public library, not everyone has access to the online data center. Of course, if your school is online…that’s another story.

Does graduate library school have any real value anymore other than as a place that issues union cards?

In a way, I would say yes, it’s like a union card but I honestly feel like my MLS is so much more than that. It has put me in contact with librarians and library students across the country. I have gotten some really great practical experience from my program and I have made a great group of friends/future colleagues. I truly believe that library school is what you make of it. I know people who skirt by with the minimum and those who are obsessive. It’s really up to you what you want out of this degree. I most likely wouldn’t have been able to even get my foot in the door in terms of jobs at a library without this degree, and when I step in, I know I will be thoroughly prepared. I think it’s just as important to learn the theory, as it is to learn the practical.

It’s Been Awhile

Blogging can be a lonely endeavor, you just type out all your thoughts into this huge void and there it just sits. However, I really enjoy putting my thoughts down somewhere because it helps me work out ideas and issues that I’m having. I had really tried to update my blog about once a week for awhile there, but I started taking a summer class and my poor blog has been neglected. I hope this will change soon.

My life lately has been a weird mix of feeling absolutely burnt out on library school, and yet still being very immersed in it. I’ve really tried to devote most of my time to my class, but I still have other library-related things to work on. For example, the ALA Convention  is next week! Holy cow! There were so many things I wanted to do to prepare myself. Some things, I had slowly worked on, like making cards, trying to update my Linked In, re-doing my resume, etc. but there wasn’t enough time to get it all where I wanted it to be. That is life!

If anyone is reading this and is going, I would like to meet you at some point. I’m a first timer, so I’m sure it will be an eye opening experience. Time for me to stop being afraid of strangers and welcome them into my life for a few days! I’ve gotten some really good advice from other bloggers on what to do at conferences, not to mention the awesome ALA HackLibSchool themed week. Check out conference advice from  The Library Adventure of Kiyomi and Archiving Desk to Desk for additional tips.

Hey, that reminds me, if you ARE going, please come to the HackLibSchool Meet Up (this is the facebook event page)! Hope to see some people there!

To learn programming or not? That is the question.

Last night I attended this Geek Speed Dating Night (minus the dating part) eventHeart, put together by a group called Refresh Indy. They describe themselves as “Promoting design, technology and usability, Refresh Indy is a part of the Refreshing Cities movement.” Sounds pretty cool and applicable to libraries right? I should probably back it up and explain how this Geek Night works. I got there with my library school friend (who writes at Red Lipstick Librarian) and my boyfriend (who was a web developer in a previous life). There were several round tables set up and other web developers, programmers and designers milling about. Then we all had 30 minutes at any given table to talk about topics like social media and marketing, iOS development, web design and development with these experts. It was a very low-key informal event that allowed for casual conversation on these topics.

I went into this hoping to learn about what’s going on in the web development world and wanted to see if I could bring some of what I learned into the library field. I have to say, it’s different when you work for a non-profit agency and you’re listening to marketing skills for someone with a personal business. Additionally, the only web skills I have are html and css. The first person we spoke to develops apps for iOS and I was in over my head, not to mention many of the experts leading the discussions had background knowledge in programming. I do not know how to program, I have a super basic knowledge of how it works, so at times I felt lost.

However, it was actually pretty awesome to get outside of the LIS field and see what others do. These are people who are creating web apps, building websites, they’re on the forefront of technology. There was a difference and a wake up call for me, coming from the library field. How many times have you heard the words social media and marketing or web development in the library world? I’ve heard it tossed around many times, but if you take those ideas outside of LIS, there are different trends that are emerging that libraries SHOULD be paying attention to. For example, someone was talking about how businesses don’t use social media correctly, that we have not utilized its full potential. Businesses try to tailor everything to the user based on what websites they’ve looked at, try to sell them products based on past user trends; but the users are actually using social media differently. People are more apt to purchase something if their friends recommend it, and where the real magic happens is the interaction between the people, not the business dictating what you should buy. In education, that’s called active learning, where peers are engaging with each other, exchanging information and learning in a proactive way, as opposed to passive learning. Can libraries implement this in their own marketing techniques or in other ways? Yes! I don’t have all the answers, but I just want to point out that the internet is a very helpful forum that allows for active learning to happen.

At the end of the night, I had to ask myself “is programming something that librarians should know?” My boyfriend mentioned that librarians shouldn’t have to know how to do these things but rather, work with programmers to develop the tools that we need for our own crowd. Having a familiarity with programming languages would definitely be a plus, also it would help to focus what you want out of whatever project you are working on. I think it’s quite normal for libraries to outsource this work to the IT departments, since many librarians do not have these skills. In light of people thinking that libraries should be hiring more IT professionals instead of MLIS librarians, it might be a good idea for library/ information professionals to learn about programming and web development. I’m interested in digital libraries, so this may be something I should become familiar with; whether I use it in my future profession or not.

Take On The World

Not going to lie, these past few weeks have been really stressful. I’ve been trying to finish up final projects, work, start a new volunteer position and plan for the next year. Before I started grad school, I had taken about two years off to just work and prep myself. Um, I forgot how stressful school can be. It’s amazing the different levels of stress a human being can handle and I’m lucky that I don’t have any personal life issues. In fact, I’ve been so busy that I don’t even have time to feel sorry for myself; but that’s probably a good thing. As my good friend told me, self-hatred is a symptom of living. Kidding!

The thought that ALWAYS nags at the back of my mind is “what is all this worth if you don’t use it?”. I’m always worried about the job market and from this focus group that I was part of yesterday, I’m not the only one. That being said, I think self-assessment is key to our education and lifelong learning. More about that later.

Anyway, this song pretty much sums up how I feel. I apologize for the lax nature of this post, my brain is fried at this point.

Joint Research Conference Recap

I recently attended a joint research conference with the university library and the school of library information science here at IUPUI. The conference mascot was the titmouse, a bird that was known for being able to survive because of it’s information sharing nature. It was really great to hear what library faculty and SLIS (School of Library Information Science) students were doing their research on, as well as their methodology. In our program, taking a research class is a core requirement, which is really good because as library and information professionals, we all deal with research one way or another, whether it’s helping a patron or conducting your own.

There were so many great ideas that I took from this conference, and the keynote speaker, Steven Bell, had a very provocative presentation on “Putting the Science back in Library Science”. He talked about the difference in how other disciplines approach research and how the librarians could try to incorporate those techniques into their own research. Here are some highlights from his presentation:

  • Doing research is good for the profession and should be good for the end user, the patrons. Don’t do research just to have something to put on your c.v., make sure it means something and can produce results for your library.
  • Get out from behind the desk and design studies that involve people. I know I have filled out my fair share of list-serv surveys and polls. Through reading academic articles, we’ve seen the bulk of library research is done is through this sort of passive means. Instead, we could look at how social science fields approach studies and experiments.
  • Library schools should incorporate design thinking into the curriculum. This point really stood out to me but I need to follow up on what he meant by this. He showed a brief clip of a interdisciplinary think tank who used creative techniques to solve problems. Perhaps, as LIS students, we need to learn how to think more creatively about our research approach and problem solving. A little more info this can be found here.
  • Reading from outside the LIS discipline helps us keep up with current trends. Then you can invigorate your own research by incorporating an interdisciplinary approach. It’s easy to stay within the same circle, but your information can get stale.

I was also very impressed with the students who went up to present their research. They all agreed that it wasn’t too difficult to get up and talk to all of us about what they have been working on. One presentation was a collaboration between a librarian and a SLIS student. It’s hard for students to take the initiative to do their own research because it might seem intimidating, so I thought it was wonderful that a librarian would be willing to find a student to work with, as opposed to another faculty member.

In general, I have found there to be a disconnect between the university librarians and the students in the program. I’d be interested to hear if other library school programs have a similar problem or if the university library and the library school program are more connected. Anyway, this research conference is an effort to bridge that gap. It was pretty awesome to see the SLIS professor who teaches an Intro to Research course ask one of the presenting librarians about her research methodology. Just from hearing their exchange, I saw the difference in academic culture, what the professor (who holds a PhD) thought about case studies and the librarian who is doing her first research project for publication. We’re all in the same building but it doesn’t mean we interact with each other on a regular basis, which was why this conference was so great.

After the conference, I thought about what a great opportunity this was for students to get the ball rolling on presenting. I had never been to a library conference before, so now I have an idea of what sort of things to expect . The professors are already encouraging students to think about doing our own research and presenting it next year. It would be a good way for students to develop their own professional interests, network and work with faculty members, and get experience talking in front of a lot of people.