This month marks my halfway point through library school. A year ago I was waiting impatiently to begin; a year from now I hope to be wrapping up the final bits of my capstone and hopefully doing some real work somewhere, somehow. I still feel as though I’ve only just begun, which sits in strange juxtaposition with my hopeful anxiety about how soon this process will be coming to an end.
This first year has been great. I managed, with the help of a few key people, to really hit the ground running, with a student job in an amazing academic/medical library as well a professional association board appointment within my first term. I have some incredible, talented classmates, and I work with a team of lovely, knowledgeable, enthusiastic librarians and support staff. I’ve been lucky to have so many people around who are willing to share their experience and expertise with me; it has almost been, dare I say it, worth more than library school itself. (Not really, of course... but also, sort of.)
I wanted to note a few of the cool projects I’ve gotten to work on over the course of this first year. I’ve been a busy little badger, doing my schoolwork, working in the library, and then doing all this other stuff besides:
Part of my weekly duties as a circ assistant at a research hospital/medical school library is to do the book drop run on OHSU's Aerial Tram
, which is pretty cool. It's like going on a tiny theme park ride every Friday morning. Anyway, to get to the tram, I walk through the hospital. And the thing about working in a hospital is that you quickly get used to it as a working environment. You're surrounded by doctors and nurses and support staff and so on, and it all becomes pretty routine. Frankly, it's easy to kind of forget that it's a hospital
, with all the business that comes along with it -- the sickness, the pain, the anxious families, and sometimes the sadness. But then, walking through the halls on a routine morning, you might get a jarring reminder.
My second term starts in a couple of days. Going to be doing some reference stuff, going to be doing some group projects, going to be kicking some ass.
Just a note: I had a guest post about video in the library up at Hack Library School
today! Many thanks to those lovely people for giving me a slot on their amazing blog, and thanks to Turner
for shepherding me through the process. It's like being asked to sit with the cool kids in the school cafeteria, assuming the cool kids are all library nerds. I feel so accepted!
As of today, it's been a year since I first decided to go to library school. I say "decided" like it was a reasoned, considered choice, but whatever was behind it, it wasn't my rational mind doing the choosing. My friend Turner
had been saying to me for years that it was something I should consider, that I would do well in the field, that I would like the work, that I would get a lot out of it. And I kept saying no, no, I don't want to be a librarian. I wasn't sure what I was going to do instead -- I was coming out of fifteen years spent working toward film making and teaching that had gone absolutely nowhere -- but I don't think I ever gave it any serious consideration at all, or at least not on a conscious level.And yet on December 6, 2010 -- I know the date because it was the day after my birthday -- I woke up with a pressing need to talk to Turner. Something in my mind had decided, without any guidance or input from me, that I was going to go to library school, and I
urgently needed to figure out how I was going to do it. But this post isn't really about that; that's just the back story.
This post is about everything that's happened since
I made that subconscious, somewhat life-changing decision.
I came into library school from basically zero: I didn't really know anything about the field, I had no experience working in a library, and apart from a few friends, I didn't have any connections. Not much to start with. But now, barely more than two months later, I'm most of the way through my first term, I've got positions in two professional associations, I have a real job in a real library, and I've made a bunch of connections with librarians both here and in distant states. Solid progress in a short span of time, right?
And I did it all by imagining that everybody I met had an exclamation point floating above their heads.
Greetings, novice. We need you to organize a speaker for the brown bag luncheon in March. Do you accept?
A few days ago I woke up with the song, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
" stuck in my head. Weird, right? It just came from nowhere. But maybe it reflects some deeper state of mind. (Probably not, but let's go with it for a minute.)
I spent a day recently at a small conference devoted to online culture. On the surface it looked silly and superfluous -- all LOLcats and post-ironic, meta-nostalgic references to Rick Astley. Everyone had a good time with it, and nobody took it too seriously. But underlying that goofy facade were some serious questions about things like copyright reform, using the Internet and social media to further (or hinder) social change (as in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street), and how we should go about archiving this vast store of information.
These are the questions to which I am most drawn at this stage of my novice librarianship. I mean, how do
we archive the Internet? And for that matter, how do we make sense of the knowledge it contains? How might we organize it to make it useful in the future? Librarianship is predicated on the idea of taking information held in relatively tidy packages and organizing it; so how do we extend our skills to the messy, feral information that inhabits the digital world?
I honestly think about that a lot. The problem I have is that at this stage, I still have trouble telling the difference between the questions that have answers that I just haven't seen within my first two months of study, and the questions that are questions for everybody
. When I have these questions, should I be patient in the hope that all will become clear with a few more classes, or do I go out and start digging around in the murky swamps of librarianship? I have mostly tried to do the latter, but when the questions are big ones, sometimes it's hard even to know whom I should ask.
Anyway, I went to this conference to see a couple of people specifically: Brewster Kahle
of the Internet Archive
, and Jason Scott
(and also, of late, of the Internet Archive.) These two people, one librarian and one not, are out wayfinders through this wilderness, having begun the work of sorting through these questions. Most of what they've accomplished has been simple preservation -- culling huge quantities of information off of the Internet and storing it away for future use. No cataloging, no organizing beyond the barest essentials, just acquisition and storage. Apparently the entire history of the Internet fits inside a standard shipping container. When asked how the Internet Archive catalogs its collection, Kahle answered, "we don't. We leave that for others." And some 200 institutions have put together roughly 2500 collections from the Archive, though that barely scratches the surface of the information contained therein. One of the biggest challenges the Archive has faced has been dealing with video files -- with no single standard format, it has been a constant battle to keep their video files in an accessible, usable state. When one format becomes obsolete or falls out of use, they update everything to a new format. And this is done only to make sure that in five years people will still be able to view that file, much less 50, or 100, or 500. And certainly that doesn't include really understanding what that material contains.
I think this work is going to be absolutely pivotal in the coming decades; I almost want to say that librarianship could stand or fall on how it tackles these questions. And yet the more I play around with them, the more it seems that nobody currently has a really strong grasp on them. I see some really interesting ideas
going around, but if librarians are the ship captains on the sea of information, then the Internet is the ocean which we are only just learning how to sail.
I think about this a lot because this is the sort of thing that I know we won't cover in library school, so if I'm going to work on it, it's up to me to tackle it on my own. I don't know if this is where I'm headed long-term, or whether it's just the shiny thing that currently has my attention. But I do enjoy a big question.
I've just finished my second class weekend, which marks one month (more or less) of library school. In that time I've read about half of three required texts, plus portions of about five more non-required texts because I'm that much of a nerd. I've done two professional interviews, and one diagnostic interview. I've also turned in a few short writing assignments -- full marks on all of the above, thank you -- and have two bigger group projects underway. Given that I am basically at liberty with no kids or spouse to look after and no full-time job to work, it's all been perfectly manageable, at least as long as I can keep myself organized. (I have a feeling as my life gets more complicated and my academic work advances, though, that David Allen
may be making a re-appearance in my life.) Since I am an eager little bunny with a lot of available time, I've also picked up spots in a couple of professional associations -- I'm now the events coordinator for SLIM-Oregon SCALA
, and the student liaison for the Oregon chapter of the SLA
Which is to say, I'm getting all up in this student librarian thing.
Like a lot of library people, I cut my teeth in book sales, specifically at Borders. I worked at #65 in Portland for two years, including what was one of the very lowest points in Borders' history, the year of Ron Marshall. In these last few, sad days before the very last Borders store shuts its doors for the very last time, I think a little reflection on where it all went so wrong is worthwhile.There have already been a wave of stories dissecting and analyzing the company's death,
many of them wrong, but a few of them right on the nose.
I don't think I have much to add to them, so I'm not going to linger on the subject. Instead, I just want to write down for myself what I personally learned from my time in a dying company.
I awoke the morning after my 35th birthday with the sudden, urgent realization that I had to go to library school.
This was surprising because prior to that morning, I had never actually seriously considered the idea. My buddy Turner
had joined ESU SLIM Oregon
Cohort 10 a year previously and had been telling me pretty much from day one that I would do well there, that I would make a good librarian, that I should really think about it. And I had been gently dismissing him the entire time; I loved libraries and admired librarians, but I had no intention of becoming one. But that morning, apropos of absolutely nothing, I literally awoke with a start and a flush of anxiety over my sudden need to talk to Turner about library school, like, right now.
At some point during the night, my subconscious mind had made the decision: I am going to become a librarian.
I'll assume that everybody knows (or can guess) what the grad school application process is like, so we'll skip ahead nine months to August 2011, which is when I officially joined SLIM Oregon Cohort 12. I live in Portland, where saying that you're a library school student ranks up with "artisan, single-source vegan chocolatier" and "street photographer" among hipster occupations. And to that, I say, "finally!" Finally I have something upon which to hang my hipster cred, because up until now I've only ever been a garden variety nerd.
I have slung books for a corporate retail bookstore chain. I have taught middle-aged ladies, disinterested urban teenagers, and awesome little third-grade girls to make films. I have run metrics for an IT help desk. I've sat at the reception desk, I've stood for hours over the photocopier, I've proofread and edited and transcribed. I spent years and years trying so hard to become someone I wasn't, to adapt my personality to social tasks -- schmoozing, pitching, toadying -- to which it was never well-suited. I've done a bunch of things. But this, finally, feels like something at which I can just be good. These librarians, these are my people. This is my tribe.
I'm not sure yet where I want to go with this -- from the outset, I'm leaning toward a focus on special collections and the sort of soft, cuddly end of information science. But then, I'm still learning what all the possibilities are, so that could easily change. I admit that I occasionally feel a twinge of envy toward the big, fancy, top-tier LIS programs, and I remain surprised that I somehow ended up going to grad school (at least technically) in Kansas. But I also feel pride in my scrappy little program, and excited that I get to learn in such a tightly-knit community of librarians.
So here I am. I'm a student librarian now; student librarians are cool.