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Surviving MLIS group projects – years later we still laugh about it

18 Nov
When I had to do projects in library school

When I had to do projects in library school

A common complaint in library school was the amount of group work that was required. The GIF posted above and found on Librarian Problems is hilarious to anyone and everyone who has gone through this experience. Many of the MLIS students in my cohort at McGill including myself were coming from a Humanities BA where marks were reliant on individual work in essays and exams. It was an especially huge learning curve because for all of our first-year mandatory courses there were at least two group projects. The atmosphere when a group project was announced was usually panic-stricken as the majority of librarians are introverts and in first semester we were essentially partnering up with strangers. As an extrovert, I was perhaps less stressed than my fellow students, I mean, I figured that since all potential group partners had been accepted into the Masters program I could only assume that we were all fairly intelligent studious people. In retrospect, I was generally lucky to have “good groups”. Around me I could see people who took group work to the extreme forcing their fellow group members to spend hours longer than required on projects in the attempt of attaining a perfect assignment. Other group members could go AWOL without notice leaving their groups in the lurch. The only bad experience that I had in a group  (that will not be named to protect the innocent) seemed so disastrous at the time but 5 years later I brush it off knowing what it taught me in diplomacy and the importance of knowing when it’s time to cut your losses. Now as the only librarian in my schools I honestly miss the group dynamic. I miss having other librarians to bounce ideas off or to work collaboratively on a library-focused project. The skills that I learned in group work are still there and I made some good friends during these projects. So much that I was tagged 3 years after graduation in a friend’s Facebook post about that featured this GIF making fun of our shared  experience of group work. If you are in library school now, don’t worry, you get through the group projects and to those who clench up looking back upon those assignments, what was your best or your worst group experience? Do you ever talk to those people anymore or have they developed into lifelong friends?

Save the planet and your precious time – Recycle stuff!

30 Apr

One evening last week I was busy putting together a presentation for a few grade 7 classes on how to use the Internet effectively for research.  I was definitely under a time crunch as the teacher had asked me with very little notice if I could do a presentation with her classes. Never one to turn down an opportunity to help the students develop their information literacy skills, I accepted.  The only problem was that I was stuck. My ideas weren’t flowing, I was having trouble coming up with an interesting concept for the presentation and I was getting tired and frustrated. That is until I remembered that during my second year of McGill University’s MLIS program I had already put together a presentation for high school students on evaluating websites for my Information Literacy class. Luckily I was able to find the presentation saved on my laptop and to my sheer delight, it was a great presentation! I definitely had to tweak a few things but everything I wanted to share with the kids on establishing the criteria for a good website to use for research was there. Even the examples of websites that I had used a few years ago for my assignment were still relevant. The example of the article on Barack Obama on the website Conservapedia was especially useful in helping the grade 7s understand the difference between websites that present objective vs. subjective information regardless of how “professional” a website might look. Way to go 2010 Amanda!

During library school, students are often asked to “make up” a fictional library or scenario for assignments. My advice to students is to try and take advantage of these types of assignments to prepare material that might actually be of use to you at a future date. So many students simply go through the motions when it comes to completing their assignments. However, if you truly think that your work might serve you in a professional situation then you will put a lot more thought and effort into it! Use your class assignments to create tutorials, information literacy presentations, strategic planning charts, etc. that you can “recycle” when you need them most.

For professionals, I encourage you to take a peek at your old assignments (especially if they are still on your computer). You might be surprised at how well written something is that you wrote while still in school. The whole point of library school is not to get straight As but rather to give us a foundation for our professional careers. So then, with all the things we need to accomplish in a day, aren’t we lucky if our MLIS assignment that we got a A on could also save us time?

Have you ever recycled an assignment for professional use?

Hiatus and comeback!

11 Feb

As my regular readers have noticed, I’ve taken a little hiatus from my blog. This essentially corresponded to the time I left my position as the director of the Tracadie-Sheila Public Library in New Brunswick last September. I was extremely proud of the work I did at the Tracadie-Sheila Public Library and my decision to leave my position was bitter-sweet. On the bitter side, I was leaving an incredible library full of wonderful people to whom I’d grown extremely attached (patrons, staff, volunteers, library board members). I was also sad to leave behind projects that I cared passionately about such as our new library building project and our continuous efforts to create new and rewarding community partnerships. However, on the bright side, my decision to leave was based on a very happy development in my personal life (my engagement) and so part of me was definitely excited to relocate to Toronto.

Since I needed to relocate to Toronto, I got back into the full-swing of applying for library positions. This was a difficult period because I am definitely a perfectionist when it comes to applications and every time that I spent hours toiling over an application only to never even get an interview, it was like I’d lost a small piece of myself. After a few months, people said that it was because I hadn’t yet found the “right job for me”. In the end, this turned out to be true as at the end of August once “the right job for me” was posted it took me only 2 weeks total to send in my application, be contacted for an interview, have an interview, and be offered the position.

I now work for a Francophone school board where I am in charge of the libraries in two schools (a K-6 school and a middle school). This is a fantastic job because I have always been passionate about children’s librarianship. Being in a school library allows me to do story-time, teach information literacy, provide reader advisory and research and order books that kids will get excited to read.

Each Canadian province has different standards for what qualifications are needed for working in school libraries. In Ontario, most school boards have teacher-librarians in their schools; this position requires a teaching degree paired with a few courses in librarianship. When I went for my interview, I was told that my school board has not had teacher-librarians for over a decade, now all of the school libraries are run by library technicians. A part of me has issues with calling myself a library technician even though it is officially my job title. Having obtained a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, I tend to say that I’m a professional librarian who works in a school library (I was told by a friend not to say that I am a School Librarian because technically I’m not). Rather than feel limited by my job title, I use my professional knowledge and skills everyday to strive to ensure that I am creating the most positive library experience possible for these kids. Most of the kids at my schools are from recent immigrant families to Canada. The parents are often struggling to make a life for their family in Toronto and do not have the money to buy books nor do they visit regularly the public library with their children. Consequently, the library experience that I provide for these kids becomes their only exposure to libraries. I am very motivated by my goal to help kids discover a passion for reading that will translate into a life-long pursuit of learning whether they attend post-secondary education or not.

Last week, I attended the Saturday sessions of the OLA (Ontario Library Association) Super Conference in Toronto. This experience was extremely positive and encouraged me to get back into blogging because I realized how much amazing knowledge librarians share when they get together. The biblioblogosphere is an incredible place and I want to get back into the swing of things! (That and my dad kept asking me when I was going to post something new).

I have always been grateful to everyone who comments on my blog posts. So what do you think of the importance of job titles? How would you feel about taking on a non-professional position as long as you got to do something you love?

Longing to be a leader

21 Feb

Becoming the director of a public library straight out of a MLIS program can be extremely daunting. I have fairly high expectations of what a library director should be accomplishing at their library and in their community but the past month especially I have felt particularly overwhelmed trying to live up to these expectations. Perhaps because it is February and February is known to be the most depressing month of the year, I find myself getting discouraged more easily and reacting more sensitively when faced with my own professional shortcomings.

One of the areas that I am particularly struggling with is the concept of leadership. In the past, I have definitely never considered myself to be a leader. No one can question that I am very dedicated to my library and that I work hard but do I have innovative ideas? Do I have the creative approach to motivate others to work towards a common goal?

Prior to starting a MLIS, my formal leadership experiences were limited to being a camp counsellor and I certainly had no experience as a manager. During the one SIS management course at McGill University, we spoke a lot about management and leadership. However, there is a huge difference between discussing these matters using theoretical examples and being faced with real life situations. Unfortunately, real people do not always react the way that you thought they would when doing a case study!

Luckily, in the fall of 2010, I applied and was accepted to attend the 2011 edition of the Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute. NELI, as it is often called, is a leadership training institute in Canada that is designed specifically to assist in the development of future leaders in the library and information profession. Even after a few months of learning that my nomination was accepted, I am still incredibly stoked to be participating in this highly reputed institute! I know librarians who have attended in the past and they all agree that it is a truly transforming week professionally and personally. Yet I feel that it could not come soon enough…

In the meantime, I am still trying to find ways to improve my theoretical baggage on management and leadership in hopes that some of it will transfer over to real life situations. I have discovered an interesting conference PowerPoint Presentation entitled Creating Leaders put together by Daniel Phelan who conducted an interesting survey of NELI participants and who also provides a recap of some key leadership theory. I would be extremely open to any other suggestions you know of have of resources that might help me provide my library and my employees with the leadership that I know they deserve!

Canada Reads inspires the reader in all of us

7 Feb

Canada Reads is an annual competition where celebrities debate on the “best Canadian novel”. The goal of the Canada Reads debate is to put a spotlight on Canadian literature and, perhaps more importantly, it also ambitiously attempts to get Canadians to read more. It seems of course like a natural reaction for anyone who listens to an hour-long discussion/debate on the merits of a few specific books to then be enticed to go out and read them. The proof that Canada Reads truly does increase the readership of the selected titles is demonstrated by a noticeable increase in their book sales. Bookstores will usually jump on the promotional bandwagon and market these books as contestants on Canada Reads (in the bookstore where I used to work we would use special stickers to identify the Canada Reads titles). Equally from a public library perspective, the exposure creates a rush on these titles and consequently all of the copies in our provincial system are currently checked out and the reservation list grows longer as the debate intensifies.

Today was the first round of the three days of debates hosted by the amazing representative of culture in Canada Jian Ghomeshi. The five books voted to be included in this year’s competition and whose winner is supposed to represent the essential Canadian novel of the past 10 years are Essex County by Jeff Lemire, The Birth House by Ami McKay, The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou, Unless by Carol Shields, and The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. Now here I must shamefully admit that I have not yet read any of these five books. In fact prior to Canada Reads, I had never even heard of Essex County or The Best Laid Plans. This is particularly embarrassing considering that I’m a public librarian and that prior to my MLIS I worked in the book industry and have always had a keen interest in promoting Canadian literature.

I perhaps should not be too embarrassed though considering that the whole point of Canada Reads is to say to all Canadians “Wake up! Canadian authors produce amazing literature and you should read their books!”. Apparently librarians are not to be exempted from this wake-up call. As librarians we should not pretend that we know everything about popular books and authors or what people should be reading. We are often too guilty of reading only the genres that interest us or we simply regurgitate the recommendations that we’ve heard from others. What I love about Canada Reads is that it entices people to explore books outside of their regular reading habits (this year for the first time a graphic novel was included in the competition).

Tanya Abramovitch, director of the Eleanor London Côte Saint-Luc library gave the assignment last year to her students in McGill’s School of Information Studies Public Libraries’ course to read three books from a genre that they would not normally chose. I think that this assignment is a brilliant idea and that more librarians should be encouraged to read outside of their comfort zone. Canada Reads provides a cultural spotlight for Canadians to discover amazing titles and authors that they might not have otherwise read but that are worthy of our attention. Librarians need to be actively promoting Canada Reads as a way of tapping into the media attention surrounding these titles to increase readership. However, we cannot simply rely on Canada Reads; we need to be at the forefront exploring publishing catalogues, literary magazines like the Quill and Quire, websites like Goodreads, and our own library’s book stacks searching for the next great book to recommend.

I encourage everyone, even those not in Canada, to follow Canada Reads on the CBC Canada Reads website.

I also would really love if people posted below their own recommendation of a book they feel is worthy of a national literary competition.

Happy reading!

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Library School

27 Aug

1)      Never underestimate the importance of developing friendships with classmates

I only really got this concept near the end of my studies. Librarians and more specifically library school students can form a unique bond based on shared interests. People who decide to pursue a MLIS often come from diverse academic backgrounds and can be at various stages in their lives. Some classmates have just completed their undergraduate degree, some want to start a second career, and some are parents who must coordinate homework and group projects around their kids. Regardless of different backgrounds, your classmates in library school will most likely be passionate about libraries. Take advantage of this common ground to start great discussions and develop meaningful friendships! During my studies, I took for granted being surrounded by people who shared my librarianship values, now that I am the only professional librarian at my library, I completely appreciate being able to reconnect with my friends from library school through the internet to discuss the new library trends and annoying patrons!

2)      Your passion for becoming a librarian will be tested. Stay strong!

I guarantee there will be many moments during your MLIS when you will wonder what the heck you are doing. I knew a few people who dropped out of the program in first year because it was not what they were expecting. I promise that your studies do not reflect what being a librarian is actually like. Everyone has dark moments in Library School; mine usually came while researching particularly difficult reference question assignments in my Humanities and Social Sciences class. When I couldn’t find the answers, I’d convince myself that I was going to make a horrible librarian. One of the best librarians I know almost failed Cataloguing. Don’t be discouraged! Never forget your initial dream and hold onto that throughout your studies. Remember, a MLIS is only 2 years but being a librarian will be a fulfilling life-long career!

3)      Don’t buy all the textbooks (and certainly not at full price in the bookstore)!

During my undergrad, I had to buy all of the required books on the reading list. I wrote essays on these books and my exams were based on their content. It would have been pure insanity not to have had my own personal copies that I was free to highlight and make notes in the margins. In library school, there are certain courses that have a required textbook but that I swear will never again be mentioned for the rest of the semester. Most often, the professors will summarize the contents of the readings in their lectures. The most ambitious students continue to follow the reading list for perhaps a month but in the end, being Masters students and all, we are smart enough to realize that our time is more productively spent doing something other than lengthy readings that will be summarized for us or not ever discussed again. I especially recommend talking to the second year students to get advice on which textbooks are important to purchase. If you must purchase a textbook try and organize buying one second-hand as you can save lots of money!

4)      Learn to like or at least be able to feign an interest in cats

The stereotype that librarians are cat-people? It’s true.

5)      Facebook will become an invaluable informal learning tool

Most people in the MLIS program will have a Facebook profile. This is a great way to connect with your busy classmates while outside of class and get quick answers to your burning questions on assignments and where people are hanging out on the weekend. When I started library school, I was extremely selective of who I confirmed as a Facebook friend. I declined those who were casual acquaintances because I maintained that a Facebook friend needed to be someone who I truly considered to be a friend. I soon realized that adding other library school students and professional librarians on Facebook was a fantastic way to find out more about that person and that it could become a valuable sharing tool. I have discovered so many interesting articles, videos, and websites that have been posted by people in the library field. Also, on more than one occasion, I sent out a desperate message asking whether anyone could help me understand an unclear question from an assignment. Luckily someone was always online, usually working on the same assignment so that we could discuss the ambiguous question together. So if you haven’t done so, clean up any potentially embarrassing personal pictures/info and add some new library school friends who will help you integrate more smoothly both socially and academically into your MLIS program!

MLIS creates a Network of Friends for Life

23 May

Obtaining a MLIS can set a foundation of theoretical and practical knowledge that is valuable for succeeding in career as a librarian or information professional. However, one aspect of a MLIS degree that is not often discussed but that is invaluable is the creation of a network of friends in libraries/archives/knowledge management. I have just recently begun to reflect on how lucky I am to have studied for the past two years with such a wonderful group of people. Like most students, I had a choice of what universities I could attend for my degree. I could have easily taken the same program at l’Université de Montréal instead of at McGill. But I have a hard time imagining what my experience would have been with a completely different set of classmates. So many things create a strong bond between classmates: working on group projects, complaining about exams and assignments, discussing/poking fun at various professors.

Unfortunately this year I was so busy with school work, associations, and my part-time jobs that I did not socialize as much as I would have liked. For those who wanted, there were lots of opportunities outside of class to hang out with friends and classmates. An informal MLIS group called “Pub Club” even set times and places for people to meet together to enjoy Montreal’s exciting nightlife.

A few weeks ago on the Librarians Without Borders Guatemala Trip 2010 with fellow McGill students, I really appreciated what it was like to be part of a close-knit group of incredible individuals who all share a passion for libraries. Everyone displayed such a strong desire for the library project at Asturias Academy to be successful and we all worked very hard together to develop recommendations and library standards based on the school’s objectives and resources. In addition to the library project, we all bonded as a group while having somewhat crazy but fun experiences travelling around Guatemala. In the last few days of the trip someone mentioned how wonderful it would be if we could develop a form of telepathy amongst the group members. He mentioned that since most of us were going our separate ways after the trip, it would be great if when we encountered problems in our library careers we could simply close our eyes and contact someone telepathically to ask how they would handle a certain situation. Like many ongoing jokes that developed during the trip, we referred to this idea of group telepathy quite a bit. Despite our great plans for telepathy being unrealistic and likely be replaced by other means of communication (email/instant messaging/telephone), what I really love is the idea that due to this bond that I’ve developed with my McGill classmates I know we will continue supporting each other as we begin our careers and beyond.

The friendships that I have developed at McGill mean that I can now share the highs and lows of a career in libraries and seek advice from graduates who work in various positions from Montreal to California to South Africa. I also applaud two classmates who will shortly begin their PhDs at McGill; I completely admire their further pursuit of academia, who knows in a few years I might want to join them!

McGill’s MLIS Graduation is June 2nd and although some students have already left Montreal to pursue new jobs and projects elsewhere, I’m very excited at this chance to get together with so many of my classmates before we all go out into the real work world.