Guest Post: Why am I getting my MLIS? Because I have to.

When I tell people I’m in graduate school studying to be a librarian, I receive the response, “You need a Master’s degree for that?” I find myself struggling to defend it. Librarians do more than what the average person realizes, but how much of that is really gained through the MLS? I usually wind up confessing it is like a stamp to gain entry a nightclub. I’ve been advised countless times by librarians that your coursework doesn’t really matter, but your experience does. I agree that there is no teacher greater than experience, but isn’t this a huge flaw in our profession’s degree? This is also disheartening for me because the first word I’ve used to describe myself most of my life is “student.” I like being in the classroom. I want to learn. I want more degree to mean more than a stamp or a merit badge.

I agree with Library Journal’s Editor-in-Chief Michael Kelley that I have learned almost nothing in library school that I didn’t already know or that I couldn’t have learned on the job or quickly on my own. Coding? I learned the basics of HTML and CSS on my own prior to starting my MLIS, but I was still required to take a basic web development course as a prerequisite for Digital Libraries. Dublin Core? An afternoon of reading would’ve sufficed but instead I had to write 1,500 words comparing Dublin Core to MARC. I wish I spent this time creating records for practice.

Then there are the things everyone assumes we learn in library school, but we don’t necessarily do. Cataloging? No idea! Archives? Tim Hensley, the Director of the Carole Weinstein Holocaust Research Library at the Virginia Holocaust Museum tweeted that he doesn’t hire public history MAs. He hires MLS, MLIS, and graduates with similar degrees because those programs train their students for archival work. This came as a shock to me because my program doesn’t offer archival training. I gained my archive experience under the supervision of a M.A. History graduate instead of a MLS graduate.

I’m three-quarters through my MLIS program and so far the courses have prepared me very little or not at all for a librarian job. This dissatisfaction with my education and preparation as a librarian isn’t unique to my program. Now please do not misunderstand, if you hired me today I’d do an amazing job because I gained experience outside of the classroom. My greatest experience comes from being a Graduate Assistant to the Scholarly Communications Librarian. Previously I had a seventh-month paid archives internship at an automobile museum and was a summer library assistant at a public library. By the time I graduate next year, I’ll have an additional archives internship and a year of full-time experience supervising a study abroad library. I believe I have a lot to offer to a potential employer, but isn’t because of my MLIS. It is because of these library work experiences that I realized that what I am “learning” in my courses is not translating into working as a librarian. Sometimes I wonder how much more I could be learning to better myself as a future librarian if I wasn’t stuck in a virtual classroom three nights a week or typing up papers on the weekends.

I’d love an apprenticeship instead of a MLS/MLIS degree. Librarianship is more like a guild than the academy. Unfortunately, I do agree with Andy that the MLS is here to stay because of the way that higher education is currently structured. Now, we have two options. We can keep advising every new class of MLS students to push through the degree like a chore and get as much experience as possible or we can revise library school curriculum to also prepare our future librarians.

What I want to see is updated curriculum that has caught up to the growing field librarianship. Classes on scholarly communications, copyright, and technology classes that go past basic coding. Not just because I am interested in it, but because that is the direction librarianship is moving. These are the skills I need to prepare myself for the scary library job market. Now you may say that scholarly communications is really only for academic librarians, but making research openly available benefits school and public libraries. And copyright… is there a type of library or librarian that cannot benefit from a stronger knowledge of copyright? Whether it is about protecting the rights of the library or patrons, or determining how we can make our collections available, we need to be educated in copyright law. I got a small glimpse of copyright law in my Introduction to Information Policy course, and decided I needed to know more than what library school was going to offer. This semester I enrolled in the Copyright Law course offered by the my university’s law school. Through this class I gained familiarity with both statutory law and legislative history, discussed the Georgia State case, and had class an hour after the Kirstsaeng decision dropped. It was a great learning experience. No class in graduate school has better prepared me to be a librarian, and it wasn’t even a library school class.

I am an angry optimist and use a Henry Rollins quote as a personal motto, “My optimism wears heavy boots and is loud.” I’m optimistic about the future of library school if we work to change it. We need to update the curriculum. We need less talking in the classroom and more doing. Let’s build experience into the curriculum. Projects don’t need to be limited to the last quarter of the semester. Give us the opportunity to practice by creating metadata records for collections, building collaborative websites, and using emerging technologies in our projects. Library students can be citizen archivists and help a university’s special collections with data entry. Projects can be brought to life if implemented by mid-terms rather than writing a theoretical paper. Have us practice virtual reference with each other, research the copyright and archiving policies of journals to discover by doing, and start writing a grant the third week of classes rather than the third to last. Students can work with open source software to develop stronger tech skills and gain experience building a thorough digital library or catalog. We can even build new software, such as an Omeka plug-in. When MLS programs cannot provide these opportunities to learn in the classroom, faculty and students can work together to develop new opportunities. Universities can host an unconference like THATCamp or begin partnering with other institutions to offer virtual internships. This way we can better prepare our graduates. Our profession and libraries deserve this.

Chealsye Bowley is an MLIS student at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL and is slowly taste-testing her way through librarianship. She currently is a Graduate Assistant in Technology and Digital Scholarship at Florida State University. In August, she will be running away to Italy for a year to be the Library Supervisor of FSU’s Florence Study Center’s library. She tweets @chealsye and blogs for Hack Library School.

[Guest Post] OA Student Publications: Reaching Beyond the Journal

Last week, I sent out an invitation to the Hack Library School people to do a guest post on my blog. I’ve never had a guest post before so I figured I’d ask give it a shot by asking a group of people who have a consistently excellent product. I should note that Hack Library School also just won first place in the Newcomer Library Blog category of the second annual Salem Press Blog Awards. As one of the contest judges, I was enormously pleased to see that they were nominated and made the final cut. I was also pleased to hear back from Julia Skinner who took me up on the offer.

Open Access (OA) is an issue that I believe more librarians should take an interest in. With the distribution network of the Internet and the restrictive agreements which journals offer authors (both faculty and non-faculty), it represents a new mode and idea for information sharing and knowledge exchange. Consider the ongoing Georgia State University copyright lawsuit that threatens to change the very nature of how documents are handled at in academic libraries. For the skinny on the issue, read Barbara Fister’s Library Journal post for an excellent summary of what’s at stake.

Julia Skinner is a doctoral student in LIS at Florida State University. She recently received her MLS and a Center for the Book certificate from the University of Iowa. She studies library history and is also interested in LIS education, social media, and student OA publications. You can visit her blog or see her handiwork as an editor at the Hack Library School blog. Or you can keep up with her day-to-day on her Twitter account.

OA Student Publications: Reaching Beyond the Journal

I’ve said many times on my blog and in Hack Library School that a large part of the reason I love our field so much is the passionate and dedicated people who feel drawn to become librarians and info pros. Recently I finished my tenure as Editor at B Sides Journal and it gave me a chance to pause and look at student publishing. When I did so, I realized that a lot of the excitement and innovation I see elsewhere in the field is happening in the world of student-run journals as well. I have worked with two different journals, so I thought I’d share a little bit about all the awesome things they are doing and why I’m proud to be a part of the process!

B Sides

B Sides was founded by two awesome ladies (Angela Murillo and Rachel Smalter Hall) with the goal of publicizing unheard voices (UI SLIS students) and broadening the scope of our discourse in peer-reviewed journals. B Sides has a dual mission of publishing quality work and of educating students about the publication process.

B Sides has carried through with these goals through the journal itself (including some very well-read articles,) but has also reached beyond that to help shape the student experience in other ways. The biggest was the student-led conference that showcased the work of current and former students and provided a space for networking. As a compliment to the conference, we hosted two faculty-led talks: a ‘best practices’ session held before for students planning to speak, and a post-conference discussion of the publication process. We also set up a Twitter account and a Facebook account to share updates with followers and get input. My fellow editor (Katie DeVries Hassman) and I just passed the journal along to our new editors (Melody Dworak and Sam Bouwers) and I’m thrilled to see where they take it!

Library Student Journal

I serve on the Editorial Board at Library Student Journal (LSJ), and I am impressed with the awesome leadership our Editor, Claire Gross, has shown, as well as by the publications. LSJ accepts student publications from around the world, which means that readers can learn from a diverse group of authors about a variety of topics. The site also hosts a very active blog, where Claire shares resources on current events on the field and updates about the publication. LSJ is very active in social media as well, with a very informative Twitter account and on Facebook.

Why I Get So Excited About These Things

Both LSJ and B Sides provide an opportunity for students to boost their resumes by submitting publications and serving as peer reviewers, but I would argue that they are doing a lot more than that. First of all, they are both open access, which means that readers can access full text versions of works without paying money or relying on an institutional subscription. That means more people can read our work, learn from it, and give us feedback (my piece in B Sides, for example, has had over 230 reads in about a year.)

Student publications also provide a unique opportunity for students, and also for those interested in reading LIS scholarship. In both cases, the hope is that we get to share some of the great scholarship being produced, but also help students feel comfortable and confident with publishing so that they will continue to share their perspectives in journals throughout their careers. By making the literature of our field more inclusive, it is my hope that it becomes easier for us to learn from each other, think in new ways, and try new things.

It also makes me hope that we will see an uptick in practitioner-based research that is thoughtful and uses practice and theory to inform each other (theory to inform our approaches, outcomes to challenge parts of theory that don’t hold true.) There is some great research out there that takes a problem from a library and outlines the implementation of a solution, but there is also a lot that just talks about the successes of an approach. Instead, by helping students to engage with the publication process from the beginning, we can allow practitioners to approach their solutions with a critical eye and with a recognition that we can learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes.

I know LSJ and B Sides are working to help familiarize students with publishing and share their work, but I would be curious about other publications I am less familiar with. For those involves with other journals (student or otherwise), I would love to hear your thoughts on the value of student publications or on how publishing fits in with the future of LIS!

Library Renewal Guest Post

Michael Porter asked me if I would be interested in making a guest post for the Library Renewal blog awhile back. I had an idea for a post that would take a very objective look at digital collections with an eye towards the future. You can read it here on their blog.

I hope it acts as a conversation starter (or re-starter, for that matter) for examining the breadth and depth of digital collections and what they will actually entail to create, collect, and maintain. Because as much as people want to own digital content, I don’t think everyone has a grasp of the implications of what that statement means. Also, I think there might be good cases for renting or licensing digital content which people should consider.

(In other news, I’m working on a post that talks about the HarperCollins petition which just passed 60,000 signatures. Thanks to everyone who has sent me messages about that!)