Well, here I am at the end of second semester looking back on the last nine months. I think that when I started this program I didn’t really have a clue what I was in for. I was excited about going back to school. I was excited about experience the life of a student on line. I was excited about what was in store for me at a graduate level. But I don’t think I really knew what I’d be studying.
Of course, I read course descriptions and outlines and looked at the required reading. But I didn’t really know what any of that meant. At this point, I’m finished the “core” courses. I’ve learned about the social media/orientation course where I essentially learned how to survive in an an online school environment. I’ve done the overview course, LIBR200, that touches on every aspect of library and information science. I spent serious time thinking about library management before moving on to study information organization. Fresh out of LIBR202, Information Retrieval, I’ve just finished looking at how searchers search for information and how people can organize information so that it can better be searched.
I’ve also begun to explore my elective courses. I’m lucky in that I already have a job that I don’t anticipate leaving any time soon. I read discussions regularly between SJSU students looking at resume building and course selection. I’m in the enviable position that I can, pretty much, take whatever is of interest to me. Having said that, my end of the field is education, so I’ve been looking at the Teacher Librarian track and selecting courses from that concentration. I’ve started my electives with LIBR250, Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals. That’s quite a handle and I’m sure is a very different course in the hands of different professors. I took it with the Dr. David Loertscher, who I’ve discussed before. We looked at, primarily, constructivist models of education from the school librarian’s standpoint.
So, what are the Big Things that have come of the last two semesters? Where do I go from here?
The Big Things are nothing like what I thought they would be. I anticipated the programme to be highly practical. I would learn how to catalogue and become a master of MARC (Machine Readable Cataloguing). I would go through simulated management scenarios. I would design and evaluate real databases (oops, I did do that!) But instead, I spent a lot of time thinking about the foundational ideas behind all of these tasks. Given the state of libraries and schools in this day and age, that process is far more “practical” than learning a particular skill that may go the way of the Dodo Bird in a year or two. Here are three of the the Big Things, that I’ve been thinking about:
- Library and Information Science = Epistemology. What is knowledge? What is information? What is belief? How are these connected? How do these relate to data and wisdom? These are pivotal questions to someone in library and information science. We have spent centuries defining and recording “knowledge” and “facts” on paper which has created the need for libraries. How does our current view of what knowledge is relate to the role that librarians play in modern society?
- How information is organized relates directly to how it is found. This, on one level, is a no-brainer. You throw a few hundred books on a pile, the books that are most easily accessible get used. Organize them on shelves in categories and they are more readily available to those that need to find specific information. But what does this look like when much of the information that we are looking for aren’t in books? When information is in web accessible databases, blogs, videos and tweets, how does an information professional organize this so that her community can find what it needs?
- More specifically, how does the role of librarian fit into the current school environment? When the job is less about cataloguing books and helping students navigate a catalogue to locate what they need, where are the teacher-librarians priorities? How much of the job focuses on the teaching? What is important to teach? How are the skills and ideas that are taught most effectively addressed. It must have been nice when the world was simpler. When there were clearly defined beliefs about the canon of knowledge and what skills were important to navigate that canon, I assume that road felt clearer. I’m not saying that there weren’t issues to be addressed, every age has those. I’m just not sure that the issues were as fundamental as the issues being dealt with now.
I guess that if there were a fourth Big Thing, it would be that there are far more questions than answers. I have learned to value questions much more than answers in that it is in the questions that true knowledge resides. Without questions, answers lack context. They are mere facts without meaning. It is the questions that guide learning.
Having said that, I have plenty of questions. I will be taking LIBR285 this summer. This is the mandatory Research Methods course that occurs in all Masters programmes, regardless of the field. The section that I am taking is required for anyone who is considering doing a thesis at the end of the programme (we also have the option of doing an e-portfolio.) Many friends think that I’m insane for entertaining this option, especially when I point out that my programme allows the completion of two theses. But the reality is, what better way to deeply explore the questions that matter most to me than by writing a thesis? I’m also going to take LIBR240, Information Technology Tools and Applications, this summer. This course will help me to get better at the fundamental skills of web design and the specific web developers language that will allow me to better organize online space for my school/student community. You will likely see the result of that work here in very tangible ways. Through learning CSS, I will likely tweak the look of the blog and I know that I’m expected to blog as part of this course, so you may be subject to a variety of pieces related to web design (I apologize ahead of time for that!)
As I look back and forward, I am excited about how my thinking has transformed over the past year and how I expect it to continue to change. My teaching has improved immeasurably. My understanding of the role of the library in the school has developed and my understanding of my role within that has begun to crystallize. I have developed far more questions than I will ever have time to answer and I expect that the next time I write a reflection on my progress, it will likewise show a significant shift in thinking. Why didn’t I do this years ago?