library & information science

Cardigans and sensible shoes

When I enrolled in a Master of Library and Information Science program in the spring of 2018, it surprised and confounded many people. I got – and continue to get – questions like these on a regular basis:

“Another degree? You just can’t get enough school, can you?!” The facts: It had been 13 years since I had last been a student of any kind, and while I do love learning, I don’t honestly love the student life. My first time in graduate school I worked multiple part-time jobs to pay for it, and took very heavy course loads in order to finish as quickly as possible. I was miserable, but I wanted to be a social worker. This time around I have the luxury of taking one class at a time, so that I can really engage in the coursework while continuing to work full-time. While yes, technically this is my third graduate degree program, they’ve all been professional programs – preparation for work that you can’t do without some specific knowledge and skills. I’m not just collecting degrees, and I assure you that if I could just become a librarian without the five years of school that it’s going to take, I’d just do that.

“But I thought you loved your job?!” The facts: I absolutely love my role as the Director of Education at Alzheimer’s San Diego, and have no plans to leave it. I don’t yet have any specific library science career aspirations, but know myself well enough to say that dementia education is probably not the last work I’ll ever do. First of all, I’m only 45, and (hopefully) not even halfway through my working years. Secondly, I am motivated by an optimism that, within my working life, an effective treatment for dementia will be available, and the work I do now will no longer be something the world needs. I dream of being made irrelevant, and being in an MLIS program is my way of manifesting that: when that day arrives, I’ll be ready! Public library work appeals to me deeply, and would be a natural pivot from social work and public health. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, I encourage you to go spend some time in a public library and pay attention to everything that’s happening. I’ll bet it will make sense.

Our sweet little lending library at Alzheimer’s San Diego. I dream of a career in health librarianship, but haven’t yet figured out how to talk them into letting this be my full-time job.

“What do librarians study, anyway? Do you just memorize the Dewey Decimal System, and practice shushing?” The facts: Like a social work degree, the MLIS prepares one for a broad range of different types of work: academic, public, school/teacher, or special/corporate librarianship; information instruction; information systems management; data science; archives, preservation, and records management; and probably many other things I still don’t know about. I assure you I’m learning much more than just how to pull my hair into a bun, and strategies for sensible shoe selection.

So no, no shushing classes. Then what exactly am I studying? I’m glad you asked! Because until I was in a program, I couldn’t have told you what library science is, either. The coursework has been fascinating, and unexpectedly relevant and useful in the work I do now. Here are the required “core” classes for all MLIS students in my program:

  • Information Communities: How people organize themselves around common needs for information, and theories of information behavior (seeking, finding, using, and sharing).
  • Information Retrieval Systems Design: Understanding the architecture of questions and searching, and basic database design.
  • Online Learning: This is a 1-unit class they required us to take in our first semester, before we could go on in the program, teaching us how to use the essential tools we’d need: learning management systems, video conferencing, etc. It was in this class in early 2018 that I was introduced to a nifty new program called Zoom.
  • Information Professions: As this is a professional program, they want to be sure we all get a j-o-b when we graduate, so this course introduces you to the field broadly, and the various environments where LIS professionals work.
  • Applied Research Methods: I actually haven’t taken this one yet, but it covers the basics of research so we can complete internships, thesis/portfolio projects, etc. later in the program

The rest of the classes I take are of my choosing, and so far I’ve completed Collections Management, Health Literacy in Public Libraries, Information Literacy Learning, and Reference Information Services. I’ve loved them all, and use the knowledge and skills gained in them almost daily at work.

The fall semester starts this week, and I’m enrolled in a seminar on Intercultural Communications. Again I find my school life, work life, and life-life in perfect alignment, as I engage in the personal work of understanding my own biases and blind spots, improving our effectiveness at reaching underserved communities at work, and making my dementia education programs as accessible as possible.

The History of the Cardigan Sweater was already full, but maybe in the spring.

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