HLSDITL: Day 7

This is my final post of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! Read all of my HLSDITL posts here. And visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone who participated. 

Hello, friends! Welcome to my last post for the Library Student Day in the Life week. It’s been fun and definitely not as difficult as I thought it would be to come up with seven consecutive posts that related with some aspect of my normal week. I just wanted to say thanks for visiting, commenting or liking my posts. While I won’t be able to post everyday in the future, I will continue to post on the topics I’ve introduced this week. If you liked what you read, go ahead and follow me. If you hate what I said, leave a comment explaining why. I love conversations, and I’d love to hear from people about their opinions on libraries, library schools and book reviews.

Now, down to business! As far as school is concerned, if you remember my post breaking down my weekly schedule, Sunday is the day I try to do the least school work, except for the hourlong Skype discussion I have with my ethics group. Today we talked about some of the privacy topics I mentioned in Friday’s post. The most interesting tidbit was from a student who just moved to Italy to teach English. She informed us that they have a “controlled” society which she described as “a little bit like living in 1984.” Not only are there a variety of surveillance cameras where she is, there is the completely acceptable expectation that the government and police are listening. Which was interesting considering the text had said European countries are more likely to be concerned with privacy.

Online classes require you to take responsibility for your education.  Photo courtesy of Ryan Hyde.

Online classes require you to take responsibility for your education.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hyde.

But this synchronous aspect of my asynchronous program got me thinking about the overall online program at UMD. As far as online programs go, one of the reasons I chose UMD is because the classes met completely asynchronously. Although there are deadlines, you get about a week to post discussions (though, some professors prefer you post on the first day and return to post responses as the week wears on). More than that, you get to pick the time of day to do work, which is ideal if you work a night job like I was (many synchronous programs hold their weekly class meetings at night thinking they are accommodating their students).

But this is the first semester where a professor required synchronous discussions that would be live in some way (phone, Skype, Google Hangout, etc.). It was difficult to pick a time that worked for four different people, especially when one moved to Italy half way through the semester. But to be honest, once the hurdle of picking a time was cleared, the discussions have actually been really interesting. Something about hearing someone’s arguments out loud can make it easier to respond on the fly. I think professors requiring sourced, lengthy replies for each post can make debate a little stale and less off-the-cuff. This allows for a balance of working through issues together and making fully supported arguments later once we are more fully able to understand each side.

If you have a more flexible schedule but still can’t move close to a school, you might find synchronous online classes up your alley, since they require weekly class meetings where you can take advantage of this type of interaction. But if you have a pretty strict schedule, asynchronous will likely be the way you’ll have to go. The key with graduate school, especially online, is that a lot of the responsibility falls on you. You must make sure you put in the amount of effort it requires you to learn in these courses and you must be proactive in making sure you are getting what you want to learn from them. UMD’s online degree is very generalized, but most professors allow you to follow your interests within each class. So if you want to work at a university, you can focus your research on academic libraries. If you want to work with children in public libraries, you can focus on that. As long as you can tie it into the class subject, most professors give you a little leeway in that regard.

If I could go back in time, would I pick the online route again? Well, sometimes I miss the camaraderie of commiserating or celebrating with my fellow students as we walk across the quad (they still call it that, right?) after class. But, the online learning environment is actually well-suited to my preferences. I just wish some professors would interact with us a little more. In undergrad, I befriended many professors and I still talk to them today. It’s difficult to build that relationship with professors you have never actually met. Although, it’s nice when professors record weekly video messages or short lectures, like my ethics professor does. It makes it easier to relate to her.

Would I recommend to aspiring library students UMD’s online program? That one is a little more tough. UMD’s online program is still in its infancy. It was launched in 2011, and they’ve only just graduated their first cohort this past August. And, they only just allowed two specializations (School Library and Government Information Management and Services), which are quite different from the general degree. The biggest problem? There is no flexibility. If you want to take an extra course that interests you, you’ll have to jump through hoops and then you might still be denied access. They have some good reasons, but it really has rubbed some in the program the wrong way. Personally, I can educate myself on many of these topics, so I’m okay with them picking my courses because it means I get my degree faster and I am guaranteed a spot in those classes, so I don’t have to worry about graduating late. However, it seems like they should easily give the option to those that want a little variety or more control. Bottom line, give UMD another year or two for them to iron out the kinks. That will give you a chance to get some real world experience before you enroll straight into grad school, something I definitely recommend.

HLSDITL: Day 5

This post is part of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! I’m an online University of Maryland MLS student, the social media manager for UMD’s iDiversity organization and a library clerk on a public library’s reference desk. Come back every day this week to learn more about what it’s like to be a MLS student. And be sure to visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone participating this week. And read all of my HLSDITL posts here.

Today I spent pretty much the whole day reading some ethics assignments and drafting notes for my Sunday discussion. This week was all about privacy and the ethics involved in the topic.

Following the Patriot Act, debates over privacy were everywhere, especially in libraries. Even as a lowly student assistant at my undergraduate library, I encountered its impact on my institution. We all were told what the rights of students were and that we should refer any request to a supervisor. I got the distinct feeling some felt that student assistants would be asked for patron information, thinking we would automatically give it out when a badge was flashed. Of course, none were, but that doesn’t mean invasion of privacy through the request of library records wasn’t a reality.

Privacy is a hot-button topic in these days of social media.

Privacy is a hot-button topic in these days of social media.

But a discussion of the Patriot Act was only one reading on the issue. The thing I love about my ethics class is the professor always seems to find a way to bring in new angles on an oft-discussed concept. For example, she shared a game which intended to reveal all the ways that our personal information is shared and bought and stolen online. It’s called Data Dealer and is mildly addictive, at least for the first hour or so.

On a more serious note, she offered up a thought-provoking read about a parent’s invasion of his daughter’s privacy. I admit I had a diary and a decoy diary to fool my parents, but I don’t think either was ever looked at, nor did I ever write anything worth spying. And, I grew up before the widespread use of the Internet to share personal information. Privacy wasn’t an overwhelming issue to me growing up. But in this day, I can see youth and their parents being quite concerned. But why should this angle matter to librarians? The question becomes, do parents have the right to know what their children are reading? Should a librarian share that information with a parent if he or she asks? The quick answer is no. Like any patron, that information is for the patron only. But as with any ethical situation, there is more than one way to look at the situation. What if the child is reading books on the best way to commit suicide? How do you make such decisions?

The point is this: Ethics is incredibly complicated and difficult to apply consistently in every situation. It boggles the mind how many different right answers there are to a single question. But that’s why we need courses on ethics, at every level of schooling. Not because we need to learn THE code that will help us solve every dilemma (I contend such a thing is impossible). We need to recognize that our opinions are not the only ones out there. We have to learn to foresee how a decision we make that we feel is ethically right could turn out so wrong. And we need to learn to have an open mind, more so now that we can so easily encounter those of differing ethical standpoints thanks to the Internet.

HLSDITL: Day 3

This post is part of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! I’m an online University of Maryland MLS student, the social media manager for UMD’s iDiversity organization and a library clerk on a public library’s reference desk. Come back every day this week to learn more about what it’s like to be a MLS student. And be sure to visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone participating this week. And read all of my HLSDITL posts here.
HathiTrust and Google Books has raised questions of whether we need libraries.

HathiTrust and Google Books has raised questions of whether we need libraries.

Hello, folks! My evaluation and planning class had a side discussion going on HathiTrust (a digital repository) and Google Books. This discussion quickly turned to one of access, which segued into discussions of WorldCat and the “buy-it” features found on WorldCat and Google Books. One of the main arcs of the discussion was about whether the aforementioned services will replace libraries. While we all generally agreed it was unlikely that these services will cause the end of libraries, it got me thinking about an overarching question I have faced in many of my graduate classes: Should librarians use or point patrons to nonlibrary resources?

I’m a millennial who grew up with the Internet and Google. For my own personal information needs, I turn to Google first. On the reference desk, I turn to our online catalog instead. Why the difference? To be honest it is mostly that my employers and my patrons expect me to use something other than Google. I feel as though patrons expect us to have some magical answer genie that they can’t access, and to be fair, most of their questions can be answered in our catalog. This is because in a public library, patrons are generally asking “Do you have any books on xyz?” But my personal information needs (i.e. not school-related needs) usually involve a question along the lines of “Who was that one actor in that film about the dog” or “I have Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. What can I make with that?” But that does not mean that Google is unable to answer reference questions. It just has to be used thoughtfully.

I have previously mentioned an example where it was only once I turned to Google that I was able to find the name of a book for a patron. But that’s not the only time Google comes through for me on the reference desk. At least once a week I get asked for a phone number of a business. While we do have phone books behind the desk, Google is a much faster and simpler resource. I also have a patron who calls once a month or so looking for book recommendations. Her interests lie in Amish mystery series, a genre I had not heard of before speaking to her. While you can search for “Amish mystery” in our online catalog, it doesn’t actually say if a book is part of a series. For that, I turn to Google.

I was not surprised to find that Google gets a bad rap in libraries when I began library school. From high school on, my educators spent a great deal of time drilling into my head that Google was bad. But when it comes to serving patrons, librarians should leave no stone unturned. Just like any resource, if used properly, Google can be a vital tool in any librarian’s kit.

Beyond Google, my professor mentioned a worry that by sending patrons to Amazon for books we might inadvertently be spelling doom for libraries. Far from being a traitorous move, I see this as just another way of providing stellar service to patrons. If our system does not have a book and the other local library systems don’t have a book, then patrons will leave empty-handed. That’s high on my list of things not to do on the reference desk. Instead, I run a check on Amazon or Barnes and Noble and let patrons know if what they need can be purchased there. Indeed, WorldCat.org offers a way to search both local libraries and leading bookstores in one site. I often send patrons there so they too can benefit from that resource.

The job of a librarian is about providing access. Not offering a lead on a place that does offer a resource is tantamount to denying access to that resource, at least in my book. Librarians will always be necessary for pointing people to the resources that meet their needs. If we make use of these valuable resources, we will continue to be on the forefront of meeting the information needs of our patrons. If we don’t, we run the risk of fading into obsolescence anyway.

HLSDITL: Day 2

This post is part of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! I’m an online University of Maryland MLS student, the social media manager for UMD’s iDiversity organization and a library clerk on a public library’s reference desk. Come back every day this week to learn more about what it’s like to be a MLS student. And be sure to visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone participating this week. And read all of my HLSDITL posts here.

Sorry for the late post, friends. Affordable Care Act training, that special project I mentioned at work and schoolwork have conspired to leave me scrambling today. Speaking of schoolwork, I figured I might share what a week in grad school usually looks like for me. Like most online students, I take two classes per semester. This semester I’m taking Ethics and Evaluating and Planning Library Programs. All of my classes have the same general format: Read the readings, respond thoughtfully in discussion posts that should include citations and a few long papers/assignments sprinkled throughout the semester which are meant to evaluate the students grasp on the subject. Discussion are what set online classes apart from on-campus ones. Discussions are what make online classes great, even if they are also what makes them so difficult and time-consuming (read more in this post). In the past year I’ve found that splitting work over the course of a week works best for me:

Graduate school involves reading…LOTS of reading. That’s why it is so great to find time to read something I wanted to read, instead of what is assigned.

  • Monday is generally spent looking through the modules (which hold links to readings, discussion posts and assignments for the week) to discover what readings I need to get through to prepare for the week. Each class generally requires reading at least one chapter from a textbook and several other articles or webpages (these include videos, blog posts or program FAQ pages). I usually get through the textbook first, taking notes either by pen or in a Google doc.
  • Tuesdays are the days that I usually put my first discussion posts up. Generally, discussions involve several postings over the rest of the week where we respond to each other. However, most teachers put some sort of prompt on the board and I use Tuesdays to respond to that prompt. Today, for example, I post on three separate boards which required an analysis of three articles chosen by classmates (three classmates each week offer their article critiques for us to read and respond to), a response to two articles on metadata assigned by the professor and a discussion of Google Books and the HathiTrust project.
  • Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are spent reading my classmates’ posts and responding to the one’s that pique my interest. This means that I check in four or five times a day and write 5 to 10 (or more) posts in those three days. There are 35 people in the class and somewhere around 30 -40 new (and often lengthy) posts to read for each class. It can be a huge task just sifting through all the back and forth and finding time to jump in with an in-depth post of my own (i.e. “I agree with you” is not an option for posts).
  • Saturday is usually spent double-checking to make sure I didn’t miss a discussion (there are usually 2 to 3 separate boards per week in my planning class, though only one in ethics) and preparing for the in-person small-group discussion for my ethics class. Discussion posts tend to die down by the end of the week so there isn’t much to respond to by this time.
  • Sunday is as much my break day as I can give myself. My ethics small group can only meet on Sundays, so I do meet with them via Skype for an hour. But generally I try not to do much so I can not do homework on at least one day a week. I usually spend this day trying to read what I want to read (currently I’m re-reading all the Harry Potters, cause I’m that librarian).

Keep in mind that all this happens while I work my part-time job, spend several hours a week hunting and applying for a second job, and reading books I plan to review on this blog. It can be difficult to juggle, but setting and sticking to a schedule for yourself really helps. Poor organization skills are the downfall of many a student. But treating schoolwork like a job makes it easier to hold myself accountable. This also means that when I get a good grade on my midterms or finals, I try to “pay” myself, even if it’s only with a pint of beer at my favorite pub.

One year down, one year to go: How things have changed

Change is good

Change is good

So it’s been a year since I began this journey to a new career and it’s been a mix of stress, excitement, terror and satisfaction. I’ve somehow managed to maintain a 4.0 (yay!) while balancing two classes a semester with a 50- to 60-hour a week full-time job. Since last August, a lot has changed, and many of these things have directly affected my ability to succeed in grad school.

  • I quit my full-time newspaper design job for a part-time job at a public library. I work as a senior library clerk on the reference desk and I am already 10 times happier than I ever was in newspapers. This reduced stress and increased free time have combined to make the second summer session a lot easier to cope with. Plus it’s a whole lot easier taking what I’m learning in grad school and seeing how it can apply in a library setting.
  • I’ve learned that to stay sane, I need to make time to interact with my friends. Without these moments to unwind, my brain gets all muddled and I can’t think straight.
  • I became a scheduler. All through undergrad, I pretty much just winged my schedule and somehow managed to muddle through (with the help of more than my fair-share of coffee and all-nighters). To succeed in grad school, though, you have to schedule, schedule, schedule. Schedule time to do homework. Schedule time to unwind. Schedule time to work out or cook or play with your dog. Setting out a schedule means you will not only have time to complete your work, you will also have time to relax. Sticking to the schedule is essential. Once you fall off of it, it is ridiculously difficult to get back on track.
  • And finally, I’ve had to learn to trust my opinions. The big differences between undergrad and grad school is that you are the expert at grad school. Having that undergraduate degree means you are now allowed to have your own opinions. You should trust them and have faith in yourself. The most difficult class I had so far was my management class because our final paper had to include original ideas, not just the sourced opinions of others. That was terrifying to me. It was only when I aced it and read the comments from the professor (whose opinion I trust and respect completely) was I able to realize that I wasn’t actually a fake and that I belonged where I was.

Now that I have two weeks to unwind from the insanity of summer, I am so proud of myself for succeeding in this quest to improve myself and to get into the career I want for the rest of my life. Look for a few posts on my first month in my public library job and another post going a little deeper into my classes and UMD’s online program.