Friday, January 29, 2010

Grad school, the first report

Here's the stats:

Who: Simmons graduate school of library and information science, or GSLIS, pronounced Giss-Liss. I am taking classes at GSLIS-west, the satellite campus at Mount Holyoke College. It's been going since 2001; in addition, Simmons recently started offering two masters degree programs in children's literature and writing for children at the nearby Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Love to take those, but first things first.

The other "who" is a really interesting, eclectic mixture of men and women, in ages from early 20s to late 50s, it looks like. People come from as far away as Albany, Brattleboro, Keene, NH and Branford, CT, and as close as Amherst and Northampton (that'd be me). Many of us have little or no previous library experience, but others have quite a lot. Everyone has really interesting experience--their work includes musician, former textile company owner, curator, teacher, journalist (yours truly, but there's at least one others). For the most part I've only met the people in my classes and the dozen or so of us who are entering this semester, and so far it's very white--I've seen two black people so far. Well, this is western Massachusetts, after all. But Simmons has a very strong emphasis on diversity, by which I mean not just increasing diversity in the school but in the rest of the world as well. They have specific initiatives along these lines, and I believe I can take courses in working with diverse communities, as well.

One professor suggested at the beginning of class that we listen as we introduce ourselves and consider who we might want to work with; they've been stressing collaboration already, which is right up my alley. Other generalizations:
--Librarians love acronyms, and you have to speak up if you don't know what OPAC or LC is. I'm not taking reference, I'm taking 407.
--Librarians like to kick back and have a couple, so says a couple of folks I met, but as a friend says, they say that about teachers too, and other professions.
--They are personable and friendly.
--And I can tell you that, based on the few I've been meeting lately, they are smart, current, curious, diligent, focused, and chatty. Love that. Feels like my peeps, like I've found my new home.

What: Note that the degree isn't just in library science, it's in library and information science, which means there's a lot of computer work. Technology is a required core class for everyone. I'm taking reference, and information organization, aka cataloging.

When: I'm taking two classes, three hours each, on Saturdays, starting Jan. 30 and ending May 8. Intense, yes. Also focused, fun, overwhelming at times.

How: Same as always--one day at a time. Once class, one assignment, one reading. Gotta stay in the present or else I'll freak out. I'm strictly limiting my outside commitments, now. I've canceled yoga in my house on Tuesday mornings. I am leaving Sundays and nights free, as much as possible, for Dave and Lily. It's going to be tough but they can able to handle it--probably better than I can!

What else: I'm very anxious about the work load. Everyone moans when I say I'm taking reference, which is a required, detailed, labor-intensive course. I'm avoiding doing it right now! The other course is information organization, which in a previous life would have been called cataloging.

Here's what I've learned so far: There's nothing like library science to make you realize how radically the world is changing. We are in the middle of a revolution as profound and significant as Gutenberg. I learned on Saturday that the title page of a book, the page with all the copyright and printing and ISBN information, hasn't really changed in 500 years. It's essentially in the same form it was when it was codified within about 50 years of the invention of the printing press. A digital card catalog essentially looks the same, has the same information.

But it certainly doesn't need to.

For instance, all the information on a catalog card is very specific, in a very specific format, and I'm sure part of its brevity is because of space constraints. A key word is not the same as a subject heading--in fact, there are five enormous red volumes, issued by Library of Congress catalogers, that denote what a subject heading is. I think I have this right. Subject headings come from a controlled vocabulary. So, for instance, if you want to find books on World War II, the most thorough and efficient answers will result in searching for World War, 1939-1945. "Senior citizen" recently changed to "older people."

Catalogs--originally called card catalogs, right, but what's a card catalog today?--have been around 100+ years or so (developed as the world got smaller and people were actually more able to share books and information) and are set up to be searched in the old, very specific way, when everything was done on paper, last name then first name, for instance. But when I go to search an online catalog--and of course they are all online now--I instinctively want to input the first name then the last, and maybe a few key words; I have learned how to search from Google. And Google has a fantastic algorithm for searching; it's fairly successful most of the time.

So what's going to happen? Are we all switching to what I am calling in my ignorance the Google search style? People are writing dissertations about this stuff and I find it way, way cool. I would love to take this class,

LIS 421 - Social Informatics "Social Informatics" refers to the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization - including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change and the ways that the social organization of information technologies are influenced by social forces and social practices. This graduate seminar is for students interested in the influence of information technology in the human context, including cultural heritage, professional concerns, and social inequities. The course introduces some of the key concepts of social informatics and situates them into the view of varied perspectives including readers, librarians, computer professionals, authors, educators, publishers, editors, and the institutions that support them.

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