It Is All Coming Together

March 12, 2007

I’m in the final stages of putting together the document that contains student concerns about online classes at SCSU for the department chair. It has been a rather time consuming task that has had some ups and downs. Some students have expressed concerns about anonymity – not wanting it to be known that they were involved in the process, others thought some of this might have been prompted by one event and others weren’t exactly sure what we were doing. I have been extremely anxious about student reactions to the wiki and incredibly careful to try and not make people uncomfortable (hopefully, I succeeded). Overall, everyone who contacted me with questions, however, was extremely polite and positive – even if they wanted out. But in the end, I worked with about 30 people – 28 of whom are current students and 2 that are recent graduates of the program.

Since I started in the program, I have keenly felt the lack of community for the students. To combat this feeling, I’ve been doing quite a bit to find some way to help students find a sense of camaraderie amidst the impersonal communication that can permeate the online world. Ironically, this entire discussion about these concerns has been a massive exercise in helping to build a sense of community among many of us in the program. I’ve been working more closely with a handful of students – those who took time to edit the wiki that I created, proof read the document that I wrote and took lots of time to say thank you. I would love to say thank you back to them.

Ultimately, whatever the outcome of our attempt to get our voices heard, I would have to say that this effort has been successful. We are working as a community to try and accomplish something positive. We have bonded. And, I have never felt more a part of SCSU than I do today.


I’m So Far Out Of My Comfort Zone

March 10, 2007

Life has been crazy, crazy, crazy. Without quite knowing how this happened, I got myself involved with many MLS students at SCSU who have serious issues and complaints about some of the online classes. Last week, there was a rash of emails on the student listserv with various complaints – most of which were well thought out emails rather than diatribes. I participated in the discussion and tried to promote the group that I created on Facebook in order to find some way for students to openly discuss these issues in a forum without faculty or administrators. Several people joined the group. We had all sorts of issues with people who couldn’t join the group, and it became apparent that this isn’t the best avenue for such an online community.

A bit later, one of my current professors mentioned (in both a class discussion and on the student listserv) that there would be an ILS department faculty meeting coming up – and that the issues raised on the listserv by the students were on the agenda. She suggested that someone might want to email the department chair to ask about avenues for student participation. So, I felt compelled to do something. Without a doubt, the online classes need some improvement (not so much in terms of academic rigor, in my opinion). Complaining about this is easy. Taking a step forward to try and effect change in a positive and constructive manner isn’t so easy. However, this seemed to be an opportunity to get our voices heard – one that shouldn’t be passed up.

So, I stepped forward and emailed the department chair. The chair responded quite quickly and asked for a list of concerns and suggestions that she could distribute to the faculty. I was pleasantly surprised by the email – and really thought that this was something that I could easily do. Of course, I think that the document that I send to the faculty should come from as many students as possible. In the spirit of trying to get input and cooperation from other interested parties, I set up a wiki. I added the list of issues that students had emailed both to the listserv and to me personally. I then emailed the student listserv inviting students to participate. I sent the wiki url and password to students individually who expressed interest. Some students were concerned about faculty and administrators having access. Of course, the wiki is publicly available, but I figured if I didn’t advertise the url access would be somewhat limited.

Response has been great – better than I expected. I have about 25 students who are interested in being a part of this (some anonymously). Several have already edited the wiki and added to the list of concerns, commented, etc. Meanwhile, I’m continuing to monitor the site, add concerns and make other changes. I’ve found some good web sites about support services for distance students and some good historical information about SCSU’s online program that I have added. I’m not entirely sure that I wanted to unofficially head this mission. However, here I am doing it – and ultimately, it is important that distance student (and any taking online classes) feel like they are connected to program and that they have a voice. I hope that this is a good first start in that direction. But, I’m exhausted and I still have lots of work to do to actually put together a coherent and well-worded document.

 How did I become the point person on all of this?????

What Am I Doing Here?

February 18, 2007

I hope that it is pretty normal for people to have doubts about their graduate school experience. I can say that I don’t think that the time off from school over winter break was sufficient time for me to be reinvigorated. And then, I went ahead and took two classes. One of my arguments to convince myself of this was that I tend to spend the same amount of time on my coursework whether I take one or two classes. So, why not take two? Plus, with two classes, I would be 3/4 of the way done with my coursework at the end of the semester. I couldn’t resist my own arguments.

So, here I find myself feeling very ambivalent about what this all will do for me. When I started the program, I needed to declare a track in the MLS program. I think I somewhat got funnelled into the academic track given that is where my work experience is – and given that this is where I see myself continuing to work. I had thought that maybe I would like to take classes that dealt with other types of libraries – public or special. Part of me thought that taking classes about things I didn’t have experience in would be a better use of my time. I kind of allowed myself to be talked out of this – and here I find myself taking College & University Libraries. Now, I definitely am not an expert – and there are certainly many things that I could learn about the academic library. However,  it is too much. I have a good work background in academic libraries – and think that work experience would mean more than having taken the academic track in library school. The course material isn’t new – and it hits a bit close to home. This was also the case with one of the classes that I took last semester – ILS565-Library Management. In some ways, I wish I hadn’t followed the academic track. I think that my work experience in the academic area would give me sufficient credentials for my resume.

The assignment that was due today required us to visit a couple of academic libraries and compare some specific facilities. Honestly, I find this such a burden. I’m studying online because I don’t have time to commute to a school, – because I don’t have time for a traditional program.  I don’t want to do these kind of assignments (this isn’t a commentary on the value of the assignment, just a personal perspective). I already am struggling to keep things together at work, at home and at school. I have NO time for anything that isn’t dealing with problems at work, writing papers or being a wife. The bottom line is that being a wife comes first, the rest of my family is second, work comes next and then school – way at the bottom. But in reality, school is taking up WAY too much of my time. It is a sacrifice that others don’t necessarily appreciate to the same extent that I do. My husband often gets irritated that I need to do school work (when he thinks I really should be cleaning the house or something more constructive than sitting in front of my laptop). My niece and nephew get very upset that I have to miss family events because I have homework to do (although it is so cute and heartwarming when my five year old niece allows me to be one of the kids and play with her because I am in graduating school). I’m 36 years old – and I get very disgruntled at how much school disrupts my life.

You may have noticed in my priority listing that one important element was missing. What is it you ask? It’s time for me!! My family, my job and school are taking almost everything that I have. Granted, I’m getting to the point where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as my MLS. Yet, the end isn’t close enough. I have at least a year left before I will be able to finish. So, I’m sitting here on a Sunday evening feeling pretty bummed about the assignment that I turned in today and I can’t help wondering if this is all worth it. Am I really getting enough out of my program to justify not only the $16,000 that this will cost me, but also my time? Is this making me better at my job or is actually taking away from what I can give to work? Am I getting tired and if so, is this making me less effective at work? I can say that I think it is a good thing that tomorrow is a holiday. My husband will be working – and I will have the day to myself – no homework and hopefully there will be no problems at work. I’m looking for a day to myself. Maybe things will seem a bit less overwhelming then!

Technical Support Should Be A Core Competency

February 6, 2007

Steve from Blog about Libraries shares a story of a former coworker who “. . . didn’t get an MLS to do that.” Essentially, the person did not believe that she should be expected to help patron with computer-related problems. I can certainly understand the thought – and I am willing to bet that plenty of librarians may well feel that way. As Laura Cohen has suggested, technical support has become sort of an accidental library service, and I suspect that many librarians don’t feel comfortable enough with their own technical skills to provide support to others. I believe that this needs to change – immediately. I agree with Cohen’s assessment that “tech support is a key to our future.” We have no choice about providing technical support to our patrons. How can we possibly justify offering services within our spaces and not support them to the fullest extent possible?

Steve did not agree with his coworkers sentiments and offered three reasons why not: “professions do not stand still, we don’t have a choice, and the jobs that we signed up for may not exist anymore.” These are three great points. Ultimately, there is no choice in the matter. Hardware issues, software problems, and even networking troubleshooting are things that everyone who works in a library needs to know how to deal with. My question is how many of us are at this point where everyone can deal with these issues? I know that where I work we are not where we ought to be – and that this is not necessarily the fault of the library staff.

The ability to troubleshoot computer problems is not something that can necessarily be taught in library school. Sure, everyone who graduates from library school today should understand that technical support will be part of their job. However, what one might learn about troubleshooting technology today will not necessarily be valid in the near future. As operating systems change, new hardware breakthroughs are made, software updates happen, changes in network protocols happen, etc., library staff need to keep pace. It has to be the responsibility of individual libraries (or consortium or support agencies) to keep their staff up to date with  technological change – a sort of continuous professional development program.

Steve writes that “a reasonable response to this post is to ask where the line is. How far should we go to help patrons (because sometimes their expectations for assistance really are more than we can or should provide)?” We do need to make some types of decisions about what we can possibly support. There may be some tough decisions because if we can’t support something we probably shouldn’t offer it. Ultimately, the decisions may be different from library to library. But in some ways, I think we need to come back to Laura Cohen’s idea about how key tech support is to our future. We need to make every effort to provide as much support as we can. Technical support needs to be a key library service – and a core competency for every level of library staff.

More On The Value Of The MLS

November 5, 2006

Joshua M. Neff has a great post, Degree or Not Degree, That  Is The Question, over at the goblin in the library. This is obviously a question that I am extremely interested in – and think that my feelings are quite similar to Joshua’s on the matter. There are some great comments, especially from Joshua’s dad Rick, who is a librarian. (How cool is to be able to have this kind of debate with one’s dad??) In one of Rick’s comments, he writes: “What graduate library school did for me was to draw me into an historic tradition, and imbue me with a sense of libraries and of being a librarian.” This is ultimately, what I am hoping to get from graduate school, and one of the main reasons that I decided to go. I don’t necessarily agree that one can only get this sense from graduate school. I have certainly met many non-MLS personnel who possess this. However, this is a critical piece of what MLS students need to be able to possess when they graduate.

LIS Education – Vocational Training or Rigourous Intellectual Engagement?

October 18, 2006

What do we want from our LIS education? Laura Cohen has a list of suggested skills, which she calls foundations skills, for LIS programs in today’s world of Library 2.0. I like the list – think that most of the items are extremely important for people to have a handle on in order to be successful at librarianship. In response, Steven Chabot, from Subject/Object, posts an interesting comment. In the comment (available on his blog also), Steven writes: “While I agree somewhat with what you have listed, was not the degree conceived as Library Science? Many of the things you have mentioned, at least in terms of having to teach or learn them, could be picked up with a few hours of an O’Reilly book. Am I paying thousands of dollars to evaluate URLs?

Recently, Steven has been bemoaning the lack of academic rigour in his MLS program. Without a doubt, Steven has a point. Many of the technical skills can be learned on one’s own or in workshops. Yet, one problem is that there is a contingent of MLS students who have no library experience – and not much in the way of technical experience. LIS school must endeavor to train students with divergent backgrounds. How can I with over ten years of experience in libraries and extensive experience with technology have the same educational needs as someone who has never worked in a library and is not comfortable with technology? How do schools account for different experiences and varied levels of knowledge? Honestly, I don’t think schools themselves do account for such variables. Should they? Or should that be left to individual instructors? In my experience in graduate school, it is the professor that takes into account the varying degrees of knowledge held by students. I must add that some are exceedingly proficient at this – and some are not.

I have to wonder if in this time of uncertainty about libraries and their purpose if that same uncertainty does not plague library schools. Are MLS programs vocational in nature or theoretical? Which should they be in order to best educate librarians? Should students with differing levels of experience be allowed to have different programs of study? If the MLS becomes something that people just want “get through” is not the library profession as a whole going to suffer? I don’t really have any answers to these questions. Ultimately, I believe that a person who wants to learn how to be a librarian, who cares about the information needs of library users, wants to help people find information and believes in librarianship will do well whether they are self-taught, educated via a vocational MLS program, educated via a theoretical MLS program or taught through experience.  I believe in the value of the MLS (I wouldn’t be going otherwise), but believe strongly that we are all hold responsibility for our own educational experience.

The Education Of A Systems Librarian

October 15, 2006

In a recent blog post What exactly makes a systems librarian?, Corey Wallis reflects about what makes a systems librarian and what type of education would be best. Corey writes: “the big question in my mind then is obviously what course would help me in becoming the systems librarian I oughtto be.” I struggle with the same questions. Personally, I don’t think my current course of study (MLS program) will make me a better systems librarian in the practical sense. However, I do think it is providing me with valuable insights into the world of librarianship and is helping to make me more aware of library issues. This will make me a better librarian – and this is a critical piece of the puzzle I am trying to put together. So, I am looking at my MLS as part of the foundation of systems librarianship (I guess I would have to consider my 8 years of experience in library systems as the other major part of the the foundation). In my mind, this also means that the process of becoming a better systems librarian will never really be over. It is a lifelong process. Right now, I’m concentrating on my masters. However, when I am done, there will be other, more technical skills that I will need to develop. I’m not sure that I will enter another graduate program – at this point, I can feel myself getting a bit tired of school (I need to find a way to reinvigorate myself and my attitude), so I can’t stomach the thought of another formal program. But, I do think that I may find certificate programs, go to conferences, take classes on specific technical subjects, read current literature on important topics, etc. Ultimately, I very much enjoy learning, and I believe it is a key to personal growth and development. I hope never to stop – and often comfort myself with the belief that we can learn just as much from bad educational experiences as from good ones (which means every educational effort is worth something).