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.

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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.

HLSDITL: Day 1

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.

I thought I would chat a little bit about how I got where I am today. Until very recently, I worked as a newspaper designer. It was an okay job, but I didn’t love it and it wasn’t worth the commute or stress. There’s also that other little pesky aspect where my values didn’t really line up with the media industry’s values and goals. So I made the decision to switch careers. In late 2011, I applied for a few online library science programs. Online programs get a lot of flak, but I think that if they are done right, they are really great for people who can’t afford to relocate for school (you can read about how I defend the online degree here). I ended up choosing to go to the University of Maryland, which had only just starting offering an online version of their well-respected and accredited MLS program. I began the program in 2012 while still working 40- to 60-hours per week at the newspaper. Eventually, I realized I needed to be in an environment where I could apply what I was learning. So I applied for and accepted my part-time position on the reference desk, which I began in July of this year.

Working in a library is more than just stacks and stacks of books.

Working in a library is more than just stacks and stacks of books.

It turns out it was (and is) the best thing I could have done. I love my job and the great people I get to help. And I love my coworkers and the librarians that inspire me everyday. And if you are switching careers like I did, getting that hands-on experience before you graduate with your MLS is incredibly important. Here’s just a sample of things I do almost every day I work on the desk:

  • Hand out guest passes and reservations for our public computers.
  • Process new books and magazines
  • Field phone calls from people asking everything from library hours to whether we have that one book by that one person that has a chess piece on the cover (yes, that happened to me!).
  • Help people on the computer. This means everything from helping people set up emails so they can apply to jobs to helping people format Word documents to making flyers for their new business. I love my patrons. They are usually always grateful to be helped and always surprised by what you can do on a computer.
  • Recommend new books to patrons based on some books they already like (also known as active readers advisory).
  • Design monthly book displays (This is what I call passive readers advisory. More on this later).
  • Weed the collection of damaged books, books with multiple copies or books that haven’t been checked out in 10 years.

    Inspiration cards for NaNoWriMo.

    Inspiration cards for NaNoWriMo.

Sprinkled throughout are a variety of side projects my boss assigns to me. This week is about sprucing up a new section for NaNoWriMo, which is a monthlong program that encourages amateur writers to write a 50,000-word novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. We’re offering an inspiration zone in our library, complete with reference resources on writing, quotes from our favorite authors, and (my idea) inspiration cards (business-card sized) so people can take a little inspiration with them for later.

Tomorrow, we’re receiving training on answering questions about the Affordable Health Care Act, so I might share some of the my insights about that. My job offers monthly training in some aspect of the services we offer. I’ve done training on using OverDrive for our eBooks and navigating WestLaw, a database of legal resources, forms and cases that we offer to our patrons. This is just one of many reasons I highly recommend getting a library job before or during library school, especially if you are part of the growing number of online students. Ask any librarian in charge of hiring (and the folks over Hiring Librarians have asked many, many of these individuals) and they will tell you that no amount of schooling beats that hands-on experience. And later this week I’ll talk a little bit more about my classes and how much time I really have to put into school to succeed.

A kick in the gut: Defending the online degree

Today's tirade brought to you by my soap box.

In response to those discounting online MLS students.

Whenever my family and friends have asked me if I thought I was setting myself back by getting my degree completely online, I have a laundry list of responses:

  • My degree will be from an ALA-accredited state university that is in the top 10 schools among library and information science programs. We take the same classes from the same top-notch professors as those who are on campus. Perhaps the only difference is that we have to police ourselves when it comes to getting the work done, a factor that puts a check in our favor. To succeed in an online degree you have to be well-organized, highly motivated and capable of independent thought – all qualities that employers should be looking for.
  • Online programs are a growing trend in every field. If you are a library, don’t you want librarians who understand the way students in that program feel and are able anticipate their needs because they’ve already been there? Also, at the end of this program, I will be an expert in the technology that is necessary for online students. Can on-campus students say that?
  • I am making sure I stay exposed to other aspects of the library field by working in a public library, regularly visiting a college library near where I live and getting active with my state library association. This is because while the degree is an obvious requirement, what you do above and beyond the degree is what should set you apart.

Despite how sure I am that this is the right path for me and that my unique experiences – including the fact that I am part of an online cohort – are a benefit to me, I still feel personally attacked when I discover other people in my field are opposed to students and future librarians who get their degree online. Today’s kick in the gut came from the Hiring Librarians blog, which anonymously surveys librarians who play a role in hiring others. I’m a big fan of the blog, so this isn’t an argument against them. What this is is a response to those who think that because I got my degree online, I will not be a better librarian than the same student who got their degree in a classroom. This includes the librarian surveyed in today’s post, who said that “I would be reluctant to hire someone who completed an online-only degree.”

I think this librarian’s prejudice weakens his/her library and the profession as a whole. I’m sure the respondent must have his/her reasons. I’d be curious to hear them. While I have many things to say to this librarian, I first and foremost would say this: Don’t sell me and my fellow online students short. We worked incredibly hard to get where we are. Our professors go out of their way to make sure we gain the same skills as our on-campus peers, and we work just as hard as our peers to hone those skills. While our experience is not the same, it is equally educational. It’s an experience that can be of value to libraries, if their hiring managers are willing to see that the strengths that allow online students to succeed will make them undoubtedly great librarians.

I would also say that the flexibility inherent in online degrees allows online students to work in the library field right now, giving us valuable experience our on-campus peers aren’t always able to attain if they have to get to campus everyday. And isn’t experience in the field, as opposed to degree, the most important thing for success in libraries?

Dream jobs: Online Librarian

This post is part of an ongoing series about interesting and exciting job prospects in the field of library and information science. Join me as I explore the evolving roles librarians fill.

My recent research, as well as my experience as an online student, has led me to believe that online students should be treated as another user group, with their own distinct behavior and needs. I’ve even tried my hand at making an online information literacy session for my information access course. You can view it here, if it interests you.

Armed with this knowledge, it’s no wonder that I’ve begun seeing job postings for “online learning librarian.” Like this one, from East Carolina University’s Joyner Library:

Reporting to the Head of Research and Instructional Services, the Online Learning Librarian plans, implements and assesses the delivery of library services to the university’s distance learning students and other remote users; collaborates with campus faculty and staff in the marketing and integration of online learning materials into course curricula; investigates and applies new technologies to integrate information literacy and research skills into online courses; and provides online library instruction, virtual research assistance and online consultations.  The Online Learning Librarian will help shape future library services to distance learning students and should understand the evolving needs of nontraditional students.

Distance or online learning is not necessarily new, but it’s popularity is. Once relegated to suspect institutions, online degrees can now be gained at even the most respected universities across the U.S. And with this new-found popularity comes an exciting opportunity for creating new services. As the above listing says, the librarian hired will be in charge of shaping the future of the library. That definitely sounds like a creative and challenging job. And I think someone who received their MLS in an online environment would be uniquely qualified to “understand the evolving needs of nontraditional students,” as the posting requires. Definitely a job title to add to my list of future career possibilities!