Guest post – Amanda discusses presentations by professionals

As my spring graduation approaches and I face the idea of no longer being a library school student (inspired or otherwise), I hope that the next generation of students will continue to blog about the issues that affect them. I’ll keep blogging, of course, but I think it’s important for students to hear authentic student voices, as well as professional ones. One way I’m promoting this is by encouraging other students to write guest posts for the ILSS. Today’s article is from Amanda Halfpenny, who’s in her first year of the MLIS program here at McGill.

A common complaint of students in MLIS programs is that our classes are often too theoretical and that we are not receiving enough practical information on what it will really be like once we are professional librarians in the real world. Students at McGill University decided to take matters into their own hands and since we got back from Winter Break there have been student-organized professional speakers on almost a weekly basis during lunch hours. These presentations have been organized by different student associations and the turnouts have been extremely impressive (in some cases higher than the number of students who actually attend their classes). It is not difficult to understand why: we are all curious to listen to librarians talk about their careers and we are hopeful that they will impart some words of wisdom that will help us as we prepare to begin our careers.

Last Thursday, the ABQLA (Quebec Library Association) student chapter hosted JoAnne Turnbull the general director of the Reseau Biblio of the Laurentians. She was an enthusiastic speaker and succeeded in engaging all the students with her witty accounts of the ups and downs of her career as a librarian in a variety of types of libraries (academic, corporate, law and public). In general, the students in our program are all concerned with whether or not they will find an interesting position after graduation. However, when JoAnne explained how bleak the job market was for librarians when she graduated in 1987 (1 position was posted for 60 graduating students), the students at her talk realized how fortunate we are that, despite the present economy, we have strong prospects of finding a library job soon after graduation. Another encouraging message that JoAnne shared was that if you are bored with your current job, it is fairly easy to create new challenges by either helping to develop new projects or simply by applying to a new position.

I strongly encourage MLIS students at other universities to stop waiting for your professors to organize professional speakers and to do it yourselves! You will not only learn a lot from the librarian who comes to give the talk but you will also gain valuable experience in organizing events (finding a speaker, advertising, etc.). For professional librarians, I would hope that you are all open to the prospect of speaking with groups of MLIS students. We are truly interested in what you have to say! So thank you JoAnne, and all the other guest speakers in the past month who have taken the time to come and meet with McGill’s MLIS students. We truly appreciate it!


Guest post – Jared discusses online music

Today’s guest post is from my professional partner, Jared Wiercinski, Digital Services / Outreach Librarian and Music & Contemporary Dance Librarian at Concordia University. Thanks, Jared!

Graham and I met through the Professional Partnering Program which is organized by the Canadian Library Association McGill Student Chapter. It’s been a great experience so far. I got to gulp down a really tasty radioactive sugar drink at the kick-off event, and Graham has been continually handing over secret documents from McGill (obtained through his work with the library administration there). So far, so good.

Graham was kind enough to invite me to write a guest blog post on anything I wanted to write about. At first I struggled with the idea, not knowing what to write about. Writer’s block, I believe it’s called. But then it dawned on me – why not write about online music?

Concordia has a really interesting Music Department that includes jazz, classical, popular and (my personal fav) electroacoustic music. Probably the most interesting  project for me so far has been looking at different ways to make sound recordings available online. For the most part things are pretty old school here. As far as course reserves go professors typically bring in compact discs to the library and then students come in and borrow them (or not). Truth be told it’s pretty hard to motivate yourself to come to the library to listen to CDs with so many other alternatives: iTunes, peer-to-peer file sharing sites, MySpace, YouTube,, et cetera. Especially during this holy season known as winter.

So I’ve been experimenting with different ways to make music available through our website. The set-up I’m currently using involves a Flash Player embedded in a web page that plays the mp3 files off of our server. The web page is hidden behind our WAM software, which means that only students who are registered in the course can listen to the music. This pilot project is in the early stages but seems to be going well. So far I’ve set up online audio files for two courses: “The Music of the Beatles” and “Rock and Roll and Its Roots”, both taught by Craig Morrison.  Needless to say it’s been a labour of love.

So yeah. That’s all I’ve got to say. Drop me a line at if you’re interested in or working on this type of thing as well. I’d love to hear from you. Cheers!

Guest Post – LIS & Us: Keeping Students Excited about LIS thru Student Associations

Today’s post is from a classmate of mine, Ahniwa Ferrari, President of the McGill Library and Information Studies Students’ Association (MLISSA) (and be sure to check out his personal blog, ahniwa de montréal). He’s kindly given us his thoughts on how to stay motivated throughout library school, and in particular, the role student groups can play:

Everyone who attends library school is excited, initially. At least, I like to think that’s the case. Whether they come because they love books, or public service, or because they feel passionately about the free transfer of information, or for any other reason. The point is that people who attend library school often feel strongly, about something, at least initially.

And there’s the rub. Maintaining that initial enthusiasm is difficult. By all accounts, being a librarian or other information professional is unequivocally awesome. Being a student, though. Well that’s being a student, and it has its ups and downs but can often be less than exciting. So how does one try to maintain that initial enthusiasm, or how does one foster renewed energies throughout the term? In short, how do we keep the idea of LIS shiny when we’re writing our umpteenth paper reviewing online information resources?

I could offer multiple suggestions, but for now I’m just going to talk about what student associations can do, in particular, to try and help student maintain interest in the LIS field as they pursue their studies. As President of the McGill Library and Information Studies Students’ Association, some of these are things that I’ve actively had a hand in. Some of them are things that I wish we, as an association, had done. Certainly there are plenty other things that I’ll forget to mention, that hopefully other people may bring up in future posts on the subject.

In my opinion, one of the best things about being an LIS student is that you’re surrounded by other LIS students. Seriously, these people are awesome, and they’re dorks too, in their own ways, just like you. As such, I think that the first mandate of any student association should be to foster communication within the LIS student body. Knowing that we’re all in this together, and helping people build connections with their peers, can take a lot of the drudgery out of being a student. Associations can be involved in this process by giving students the tools to communicate. MLISSA runs an MLIS listserv, which allows students to email each other en masse. We’ve also created a blog, but unfortunately it’s buried in the official SIS webpage hierarchy and gets used infrequently. Still, blogs, listservs, wikis, and other technological tools can be a great way to keep students communicating and involved with each other. And if you can, host them yourself. Being on the school’s servers is free and all, but not without constraints, and everything should be done to ensure that students feel free to express themselves openly.

Throw parties. LIS students need to let off steam, need to have some fun, and need to dance. MLISSA throws one large rumpus per term, and they’re by far our most well-attended events.

Hold a career fair. Our second-best attended event, after our parties, is our career fair. Career fairs provide multiple benefits. They help potential employers remain aware of us, students, and potential employees. More important, they help us, as students, become aware and get excited about the very real job opportunities that are available, even just outside our doors. Remember, no one goes to library school because they want to go to library school. People go to library school because they want to become information professionals. Career fairs help remind them that they’re on their way, and demonstrate to them some of the exciting possibilities they can pursue once they graduate.

Get COOL guest speakers. LIS students have numerous opportunities to hear numerous presentations on numerous subjects. Unfortunately, a lot of these presentations are lackluster, PowerPoint-heavy, class lecture clones. Student associations can help counter this by bringing in interesting speakers, who perform dynamic presentations and who have unique things to say. Find a local library celebrity, if you have one, and invite them up. If there isn’t anyone local to draw a crowd, offer to fly someone in. Seriously, they have grants for this sort of thing. MLISSA had the pleasure of hosting Jessamyn West for an informal chat on a Thursday evening, and the event was a hit. Speakers like Jessamyn have such vitality, and such a fun perspective on our careers as information professionals, that one can’t help but be influenced by her enthusiasm. If at all possible, take your speaker out for nachos and beer afterwards. They appreciate it, and you get a chance to chat with them “off the record.”

Hold silly contests. Go dancing. Engage students artistically. Draw people out of themselves. Have a karaoke night / talent show / poetry reading / all of the above. Create a student newsletter. MLISSA manages The Marginal, which appears two to three times per year, and which allows students to express themselves, sometimes prosaically, often artistically, in ways that they might not otherwise indulge. Give students as many opportunities as possible to come out of their shells, and eventually they may find that they’re even having fun being students, again.

Helping students maintain their interest over the course of two grueling years can be a tough job. In the end, students have to do for themselves, but student associations like MLISSA can do their part, creating events and activities that pull students out of their heads and remind them that we live in an engaging world, and that we’re involved in a fun, fascinating, and incredibly cool profession.