Decompressing Tech unConference: May 15, 2009 #techuncamp

The other morning while getting ready for work, I was thinking about the beginnings of this entry which originally started out with, “Recently, I went to my first conference…” which was not necessarily correct as I went to a student journalism conference back in the mid-’90s in D.C. and did the LinuxCon circuit across the US (San Jose -> Atlanta -> New York) in the late ’90s and early ’00s. So no, this was not my first conference. But it IS my first conference as a librarian, so we’ll begin with that.

On May 15th, Heidi1 and I went to Tech Camp unConference at Michigan State as it was local-ish, free, and the content was right up my alley. After dithering about what to bring with me and getting that all sorted, Heidi and I piled into my car and drove the 1.25 hours to E. Lansing.

Why this conference rocked:

  • The Tech unCamp was a wonderful mixture of students, new grads and established librarians who had at least one thing in common: They were all passionate about technologies and or bringing emerging and new technologies to their library. With the experience level running from neophyte to supreme geek being, the range of experience was wide open and I learned a lot.
  • Libraries should look to Ann Arbor District2 (also shout outs to Grand Rapids Public 3) on how public libraries are using existing and emerging technologies in order to do outreach and further along interaction with patrons and staff. Peeps should also look to Lawrence Tech in the academic vein about how academic libraries are using social networking and web 2.0 to the benefit of students, patrons and staff.
  • Drupal v. Joomla v. WordPress as CMS: Drupal for large enterprise sites with Joomla as it’s redheaded stepchild brother and WP coming up fast and furious on the backend as the Open Source CMS. I participated heavily in this discussion, discussing my work with Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Archives where I helped launch their WP site and how they used it. This discussion also really helped clarify why libraries are using certain technologies over others, especially why the big push towards Drupal.
  • Web 2.0: Natalie Zebula, the tech librarian at LTU, led the discussion on using Web2.0 in libraries (I was the mad secretary, partially fueled by large amounts of caffeine) where in this discussion group we talked about all things web and tech related from dragging staff and patrons into the 21st century by introducing new teaching methodologies and services to how to do outreach in the 21st century world.
  • Talks on using social web, information architecture and how to do social outreach: the final event of the day was the panel hosted by peeps in variety of capacities from social network and research to IA to using social networks in the real world. The IA stuff was huge draw for me because I started taking an IA class this summer, Heidi is also into IA (and she’s been a great resource in filling in things I’m missing tech wise) and it seems to also offer up a lot of stuff I’m heavily interested in — stuff that I did not know even had a name and now I know it does, which just proves I’m not even remotely insane! Heidi and I talked to Dan, the IA dude, after the camp for a bit in the parking lot and discovered that Dan and I moved in similar circles socially back in G-Rap in our younger years (and that he’s also nine days older than me). The world IS incredibly small.

Overall, this was a great introduction to conferencing for the newly inclined (such as myself) and was also highly informative. Not only were the discussions about the use of real world technologies in the library setting but also in other professional and personal settings. Personal experiences with social networking and web 2.0isms carried over in a lot of the talk that was going on, which isn’t surprising when you think about it. Much of what drives a lot of these technologies IS people’s curiosity and whether or not they work for them.

This explains, I think, how technology evangelism begins: All it takes is at least one person who is passionate about X, whatever X may be before it starts spreading to their circles (and so forth and so on). ExFiance #2 and I got on the TiVo bandwagon back in 2000 when his aunt and uncle had one of the first beta TiVos. The ability to PAUSE LIVE TV and the ability to record and hold hours and hours of shows for long periods of time sold us on this new fangled gadget. We were busy “young professionals” and missed a lot of what was on because we were out being busy! With TiVo, that changed the way we saw and viewed television.

Within a year, most of our local social network owned a TiVo once they saw not only how useful but also how incredibly geeky it was. Why plan your lives around a television show, TiVo tells us, when you can plan your shows around your lives. Now a decade later with knock-offs offered by cable/satellite companies, it’s almost hard to imagine a household without a DVR in some form or another. But stance on the technology revolution is for another day.

1.We met on Twitter, realized we had many of the same interests as well as we both attend Wayne State for lib school AND we both worked on campus. Tis a small world, indeed! Also, Heidi graduated from the program! Woot!
2. Eli provided his slides from the conference but part of what makes it interesting is also his speech!
3. I did various interviews months ago with peeps at GRPL and I knew that they were getting on or were driving the bandwagon with emerging tech THEN as they were one of the first libraries I knew who are active on Twitter. GRPL also blogs, games, and uses emerging tech for outreach to their patrons. Word to my old home library!

I iz officially a librarianz! For realz

I’m terribly behind on posting updates and finishing writing nearly a dozen articles that I have saved, but bear with me, the content is forthcoming. I promise

About a month ago, a posting came through my program general discussion list about GSA positions that were going to became available at the P/K Graduate library and the undergraduate library, respectively. GSA (graduate student assistant) positions are paid positions where ones tuition is also paid (almost literally until you graduate from the program) and offers bennies. Thus, you get hourly wage plus free tuition. Being the broke-ass student that I am, I applied for the position and was notified less then two days before the interview that I had said interview. Thankfully my schedule was clear enough for me to pull it off and I did some creative re-arranging with ThePugKids to get them settled while I was gone. The interview was — interesting.

A week goes by and another email goes out to the general discussion list about library internship availability at the P/K Graduate library. Literally the same position, minus the paid tuition and bennies. I email the HR rep and ask her about applying for this position as I had not heard back from the selection committee yet and she says that’s fine that I can also apply for that position.

A few days later, I write my cover letter, attach my resume and reference information and email it to the HR rep and ask her about the status of the GSA position. She returns my email that night (Sunday) within an hour and tells me that unfortunately the positions were filled and that my resume was forwarded to the selection committee for the library internship position. Clearly, I am beyond disappointed. I was counting on getting the GSA to help me out financially — there were four spots and dammit, I should have gotten one of those! The extra FinAid money that I would have received would have helped me out tremendously in setting up my digs in Detroit and not stress about job worries so much. With the “economic crisis” coupled with the fact that I live in the most financially depressed state in the nation, the probabilities of transferring to $corporate_bookstore across state were looking pretty slim.

While I’m sure they would take me on, losing bennies, hours and a pay cut would fucking suck — but I’d do it if it guaranteed me a job until I found another job, preferably one in a library. The application for the library intern position was due Monday before Thanksgiving. I didn’t have any exceptions on getting the job, the weather has been sucky since we’ve received nearly 12″ of snow in the last week and the stress about trying to get across state for another interview, etc was driving me batshit. I clearly did not have high hopes of even being called in for another interview, the semester is closing in fast and well, I had to come up with another plan.

I was doing homework today when my phone rings and it’s a 313 area code, so I figured it was — someone I did not know. (I’m terribly witty at nearly midnight, can’t you tell?) It happened to be one of the selection people from my first round of interviews a few weeks back. Turns out that there were only three GSA positions available, not four, and that I was to have been slotted in the fourth spot. They were highly pleased to see my resume for the library intern position and hey, since they already interviewed me and liked me, would I want the library intern position? I think my “YES!!!!!!!!!” was heard for a six-block radius.

I chit-chat with the librarian coordinator for a bit and she tells me that I have to contact HR to get the paperwork pushed through. No sooner had I hung up the phone with the coordinator, another 313 call comes through, this one from the HR. Could I come onto campus tomorrow to fill in paperwork? The position pays 2x a month but apparently the deadline for new hires to get paid for the first pay period in January is tomorrow. Um, shit. I can make it on Monday when I am on campus for class, but, possibly not tomorrow. She says that’s fine, but that this means my first check won’t deposit until February 4, which I’m totally okay with.

So while we’re on the phone, the HR rep says, “Hey! Great news! They’ve upped your pay by $3 more an hour to be more competitive.” Jesus, I haven’t even been hired for more than an hour and I’ve already got a raise! The scary part? I’ll be working 20hrs a week and making the same amount of money as I was making full time at $corporate_bookstore. I’ll still be holding on to the $corporate_bookstore job for 10-15 hours a week until I can find another part-time library position or what have you — but man, while the first few weeks of January are going to be rough, this is so going to be totally worth it!

Indexing the Internet

Currently, I have a 1.5″ binder that is jammed packed with articles that are assigned in one class. If I were pro-active, this binder would have been completed and sorted at the beginning of the semester over than half-way through but I am the queen of procrastination (or suck at time management, take your pick).

As I was reading the this weeks homework for that class tonight, the assigned article is about indexing as a cottage industry, I found myself surprised by the author discussing the “probability of indexing the Internet” which made me go back to the beginning of the article and look at the date — 1996. My notes in the margin? “Google? Yahoo?”

While I’ve been woefully behind in keeping the day to day (or week to week) stuff of my first semester of lib school documented as well as I would have liked, one thing that has struck me since the beginning of the program is that some of the information that is parsed to us as teaching tools is woefully out of date. I don’t mean in age, per se, but in content of the information being given. In the computer competencies class that I’m taken, the book (current, dated 2008) is incorrect about various technologies as well as gives too much information on things that for the lay person, may seem to be over wrought. I’m trying to figure out why a librarian will need to know what EEPROM is, but apparently this information is necessary for dissemination.

Referring back to the article from 1996, yes it does give a good overview of what indexing is and is not but on the flip side, how much are we to take away from this over what has changed in the last 12 years? By this I mean that clearly there has been much advancement in the field of librarianship that would warrant more current and perhaps more timely piece then something that is so aged?

I find this to be a circular argument within myself in that as someone coming into the program with such a heavy technical background, perhaps I’m jumping the gun on these topics but on the other hand, it is not like my professors are not technically savvy or incompetent — they are, in fact, neither. It just seems irksome that so many of my professors seem stuck in older information while new information arrives daily. THIS is what I do not get. For now, I am going to go mull this over a bit more and will return with a more complete update soon, I promise.

plan of work: next generation librarian

To give you an idea of what my general week is like: I work 32 hours at my job, take nine credit hours of classes and my free time is filled with homework. I’m behind on some, not so behind in others but all of my assignments and etc. are up to date. One thing you learn in grad school, really learn, is how to prioritize your time. I made this choice, I know this, and the lack of social life I’m totally okay with that decision.

This entry is going to be fairly short, my eyes are watering from how tired I am, but I did want to update on what is going on. I still have to get into writing the “So, You Want To Be A Librarian?” series because it helps me refocus on what I’m doing now and what my plans are.

Today I met with my adviser for the first time and started working on my plan of work. The p.o.w. is what Wayne State uses to help guide students through their years while at lib school and helps with the student to make a better use of their time. It’s mandatory for all lib students to complete this by the time they have enrolled in nine credit hours (which I’m currently doing). Failure to do so means that their account is put on hold until the p.o.w is completed and turned in and it also means that until it is completed, the student cannot register for classes.

Wayne offers a general MLIS degree as well as several concentrations, certifications, of which I am doing two. Yes, two certifications: Archives and Information Systems. I choose archives for my love of research, history and general nosiness. Information Systems was chosen because of my technology background (a decade in real world tech experience, mostly high end) and it would be extremely foolish of me to not capitalize on that learned history. There is also a possibility of doing a thesis option, or I can simply do a directed study (create my own class), which I think that I would rather do than a full-on thesis option. My original thesis proposal at Central Mich was never completed due to time and energy and feeling a totally, “What the hell am I doing?” but it can be transferred (subject matter is the global village with social networking and pop culture) to Wayne, if I want, to get actually started on it and completed. Right now, I’m leaning towards more of the directed study approach over a full-on thesis, but, who knows what will happen. Instead of 36 credit hours needed to complete the degree, I’m up to 51 credit hours. My projected graduation date is Fall, 2010.

I also discovered that there is a little utilized graduate scholarship that essentially gives a full ride that I can apply for — and I could have applied for this year and had no idea about. I am going to be submitting for 2009/10 year because if I can get monies that I don’t have to pay back — yay for me! 🙂 As par usual, more concise updates will be provided later.

So, You Want To Be A Librarian? Part I

So, You Want To Be A Librarian? is going to be a continual, on-going series on stuff that I should have known about before I applied for lib school. Stuff that I didn’t find out until AFTER I had applied and the rejections AND acceptances started rolling in. Stuff I generally felt would have been beneficial to me before I made final decisions to what schools and programs to apply to and eventually, what I wanted to do when I graduated (other than get a big girl job and pay off the massive student debt).

So the first question you must ask yourself is, Why? Why do you want to become a librarian? What is it about librarianship that you feel would make you an ideal candidate? Do you dream of working with kids? Working in a corporate setting? Working in a special library or archive? Teaching aspect? Collections? Fondling rare books? If you don’t know off hand, that’s totally okay — a lot of students in my first year program have various ideas of what they want to do but are being persuaded by new interests and technologies that they did not think were available to them or were not feasible with a MLIS degree and even more have no clue.

But that is what the beauty of the MLIS degree — unlike many other graduate programs — is that it is entirely flexible based up your desires and wants. And the other great thing about getting into a MLIS program now? Jobs are booming. The next decade or so is going to see more jobs and opportunities open for those in MLIS degrees not just in traditional settings but every where. The skills learned as a librarian are so completely flexible with the ever changing needs of current and emerging trends and technologies, what company wouldn’t want to hire someone who has this skill set? And oh yeah, most of the jobs that are coming open are not necessarily new jobs but the Boomers are finally beginning to retire, which means a mass exodus of people (who will begin to suck up Social Security, but that is another rant) are opening up existing job markets for new grads. So in short, a MLIS degree can be whatever you want it to be. Now that you have an idea that becoming a librarian isn’t just slinging books to snotty patrons who demand absolvence of 50 cent fines, the next decision is where do you go to school.

Like any other graduate program, where you opt to go to school makes a difference on how you want to jump start your career. BUT, and this is a big but, you could go to the right school and get the right degree and still not end up in your chosen career path or perhaps have difficulty finding a job. Grad school really boils down to what you put into it. While yes, some snobbery is looked upon in certain fields by where you choose to go to school, what really matters at the end of the day is how you choose to use the tools given to you. There are two types of library schools: theory based and practical based. Theory based programs are ones that will train you to work more in the research and academic fields of librarianship. These programs are geared more to the whys and hows over the actually working in the field. In U.S. News and World Reports rankings, a good portion (if not all) of the top 5 lib schools are theory based.

Clearly, not everyone who accepts and attends these schools will all go into academic research or want tenure track jobs in the academic field, but it is something to think about. If you’re not sure what approach to take, that is still totally okay. All of the schools do offer traditional teachings along with the rigorous work needed for the academic track. At this point, if you’re pretty sure you want to go to lib school, but you’re not sure what field yet and you’re even more confused on where to apply. Again, totally okay. Take deep breaths and lets look at some factors that one has to consider.

I knew I wanted to go to lib school for a number of years but wanted to test out the waters in other areas first. While working on my first Masters, I realized that I should have just applied and gone to school. But I don’t regret getting my first Masters because it gave me the self-confidence I needed to realize I could compete successfully in such a rigorous area. When TheEx and I started dating, this was a big topic of discussion between us. TheEx is one of those hyper-intelligent men that knew everything about anything and had started but never finished a grad program when he graduated from undergrad ages ago. At the time we were dating, he was working in the insurance industry and was his talents (and passions) were not being fully utilized. Our plan of attack then was for us to apply to graduate programs in our respective fields but at the same universities. As he was terribly close with his family, we choose programs that were mainly Big 10 and in and around Michigan.

In no particular order:

I did not finish my application to UofI nor my application to SJSU. SJSU was picked AFTER the break-up between TheEx and I because California is a gazillion miles away from Michigan. Also, SJSU is moving to online-only program, which seemed to negate the whole point of moving away from Michigan.

UofM and UofW both rejected me and I was accepted to Kent State and Wayne State. I know why I was rejected from UofM and UofW: I got overly quirky in my SOP’s (Statements of Purpose) and my GRE scores were not the best. I take responsibility for that, wholeheartedly. To be fair, I was working full time AND doing another Masters program when I started working on my applications, so my attention was diverted towards other things. My choices then were based upon locality and where TheEx was applying for his graduate program, not based on what I wanted to do. This is not to lay blame on him or my choices, to be fair, I probably would have picked nearly all the same schools but I was not armed with more information at the time I picked the schools so that is the one regret I DO have. Also, three of my schools (UofI, UofM and UofW) are mainly theory based, not practical based.

Here are things one needs to consider when applying to lib school (again, in no particular order):

  • Location. Most people tend to choose schools either close to where they live OR in the area where they eventually want to work. This is a huge factor when considering schools for any program, so first make a list of areas you want to possibly be in when you graduate.
  • Cost. If you choose an out-of-state school, your first years tuition is going to be significantly higher than if you are an in-state student. This is a given for any program in any discipline. Wayne State will cost me about $10k a year in tuition. UofM would run me about $18k a year in tuition (though both are state schools). If I would have gone out of state, the cost is even higher. More money spent means more loans or other methods of funding your education have to be considered.
  • Type of programs available. Do you want to go to a theory based school or a practical school? Do you plan to specialize? Is there a school that is general enough that you can get what you need without having to transfer? Do you want to enroll full time or part? Do you plan on working while going to school?
  • Lecture delivery. A lot of programs now offer online only or mostly online programs. There has been a lot of discussion whether or not such programs are actually viable and worth the time and energy. There are a lot of pros and cons with this issue and not just in the librarian community. This also comes down to your own learning style: Are you a visual or a lecture type person? Are you self-motivated enough to keep up with the demands of a online only program OR do you prefer to be in a classroom environment? Do you want a mixture of both?
  • Internships/Practicums. Some schools require them, some do not. Some schools will help you find them, others require that you find them yourself. Let me add that in my current experience, if you do NOT have any library experience in any field or setting, internships and practicums are fantastic for gaining the experience.
  • Job Placement. Some schools, like Wayne, have a general discussion list that every lib student is subscribed to and everyday I receive dozens of emails of available jobs ranging from director positions in major library systems to internship and volunteer work. Wayne has career advising appointments available, a career center and they work with you from your first day in the program to making sure you are successful. Wayne is not alone in this, but it is telling to me that they want their students to succeed in every way possible. Just because a college or university boasts a high job placement rate does not necessarily mean they have the tools to do so. I’ve heard from many a librarian via interviews and message boards that have felt their school could have done a better job in preparing them for “real world” and given them more “real world” experience. This may be true (and some of the schools that were rebuffed for this include UofIllinois and UofMichigan), but it all comes down to you. How much are you going to hustle when you’re competing for jobs with dozens of candidates?
  • Application process. A minor yet important part of the search process, the application process. A lot of schools have rolling admissions, some do not. Others only accept applications in the fall/winter while others allow you to enroll for either the fall or spring programs. Some applications may be due as early as December and others as late as March. What this boils down to is how much time (and money) do you have to spare and how prepared can you be to get it all done in time?
  • ALA accreditation. This is the MOST important part of the process — is the school ALA accredited? Nearly every job posting I’ve seen, regardless of where, will require that the applicant either be near completion or have finished their program from an ALA accredited school. The number of ALA accredited schools is seemingly shrinking (there are less than 50 in the U.S.) and many are currently in review or have lost accreditation. Even IF you have a MLIS degree from a university/college, if the school is not ALA accredited, your chances of finding a position will be extremely slim. On many message boards I’ve read, schools that are in ALA review are not worthy of consideration for application. Why? Because if the school loses ALA accreditation, you will NOT have an accredited degree from the university. My understanding is even IF you started the program before the review, the school MUST maintain its accreditation for you to have an accredited degree.


This information should give you a good foundation when searching for library schools. Also keep in mind that you will hear wildly disparaging advice from current and post MLIS students on the application process, especially when concerning if the school is “good” or not. What I’ve presented are basics that should help any navigate the world a bit more easily than I did. Next in the series: The application process and the dreaded GRE test.