Learn more about programs from Hack Library School

Every now and then, someone contacts me to ask what I think about the library program at McGill. I’m always happy to share what I can, but it’s a tough question; I’ve never been in an LIS program anywhere else, so how do I know how McGill compares?

If you’re looking for a variety of perspectives on various programs, I suggest you check out Hack Library School. They have a series of posts called Hack Your Program, where students provide both facts and commentary about the programs they attend. The majority of the programs are in the United States, though the latest one is from Israel.

Of course, there’s more to HLS than just Hack Your Program; much like the ILSS, the blog covers a variety of topics of interest to library school students (e.g., getting involved with student organizations, which continues to be a surprisingly tough sell). And if you’re a student looking to become more involved with the community, here’s your chance:

HackLibSchool is seeking more contributors. We need students who are new to LIS programs! We need museum studies and archivist students! We need students that represent the diversity of the field! Where are you all??

What are you waiting for? Go join in!

Library school student power

Today I’d like to delve a little deeper into a topic I’ve briefly mentioned before on more than one occasion. I’m not sure whether students actually know about this; perhaps they’re completely in the dark, or perhaps they’ve been told but they can’t believe such an outrageous idea. At any rate, as far as I can tell, most students certainly don’t act as if they know about it. At its core, what it boils down to is this: library school students have power.

I can’t tell you whether this applies to students in other professional programs, or other Master’s programs, but I can certainly tell you that it doesn’t apply to most undergrad programs. Library school students are in a unique position to influence their peers and the profession as a whole, but they don’t seem to realize it. Here’s how I would describe this power:

  1. Professionals in the LIS community are not simply willing to listen to students; most of them are very much interested in hearing the student perspective.
  2. Library school professors are usually willing to change their classes based on student feedback.
  3. Students have a wide range of opportunities to set themselves apart from their classmates.

Before we get started, I’d just like to urge everyone to use this power for good, not for evil. Frankly, if your main goal in life is to hold power over other people, librarianship is the wrong field for you anyway. All of my suggestions should be fulfilling and add to your professional development in and of themselves; please don’t do any of these things just to feel powerful. Having said that, everybody wants to change the world, and it’s okay to make your voice heard.

Regarding point #1: librarians are notoriously nice people, so I can’t really blame a student who has a brief conversation with a professional and comes away saying, “well, of course he was nice to me. He’s nice to everyone. That’s his job.” But take it from me, professionals really are interested to hear what they’re teaching in school these days and we really are interested to hear fresh ideas. So how can a student get in touch with a librarian? I can think of a number of ways, some of which may be out of some people’s comfort zones, but there should be at least one that works for everyone.

  • Join a mentoring program, like McGill’s Professional Partnering Program. I know I keep mentioning this, but it’s really a no brainer: if there’s one available to you, sign up. And if not, start one on your own. This is a super low stress way to meet someone, since you know the professionals have volunteered because they’re interested. For bonus exposure, ask your classmates about their mentors and consider organizing a group event.
  • Attend events put on by professional associations. Later I’m going to urge students to become involved with their student chapters, but a great way to meet professionals is to go to events that aren’t designed specifically for students. For example, I’m involved with the Canadian Library Association Montreal Chapter, and we often organize informal social events. Students are encouraged to come to these events, and no one is treated differently than anyone else: professionals learn from students and vice versa. For bonus influence, start asking around to find out whether the chapter will be looking for new exec members after you graduate.
  • Start a blog. This is another piece of advice I’ve given before, but consider this: every time another blogger mentions your blog or quotes something you’ve written, you are influencing the biblioblogosphere. While I was a student, I got in touch with a number of librarians through my blog and formed some lasting professional relationships. And for every blogger who mentions your blog, there will probably be a bunch of professionals who read it, enjoy it, and don’t leave a comment. For bonus power, leave comments on other LIS blogs.
  • Find a professional you admire and contact them. This is where it gets a bit scary, and I’m afraid I can’t promise every librarian will want to be your best friend. You might be surprised, though, at the number of professionals who would be more than happy to spend some time telling you about what they do, or even showing you around their place of work. If there’s a particular library you’re interested in working at, get in touch with one of the librarians there. A good way is to look up the library’s website and find the email address of a librarian who has a job that looks interesting; just write to them explaining that you’re a student and asking whether you could meet with them to ask a few questions. For bonus points, make sure you have a few specific questions in mind when you actually do meet them, since some librarians may not have a good idea of what to tell you unless you ask.

Point #2 is fairly straightforward: if you don’t like the way a course is being taught, or if you have suggestions for how it could be improved, just tell your prof. Your best bet is to schedule a time to meet your prof in person, since this shows that you’re serious. Naturally, make sure your suggestions are constructive; don’t criticize anything unless you also suggest how it could be improved (this will serve you well in your professional life as well). At the very least, put in some serious thought when you fill out your course evaluations – profs read these comments and adjust their teaching based on them.

Point #3 mainly applies to having power over your own career path. As I briefly mentioned recently, many students choose to sit back and let library school happen to them, arguing that they can’t do much more because they’re “just a student.” Simply attending classes and showing up to an extracurricular event here and there means that you will receive your MLIS and impress potential employers to exactly the same degree as everyone else from your class. Fortunately, setting yourself apart is relatively easy, and not even terribly time consuming.

  • Get involved with a student group. And don’t just attend their events; if you actually participate on the group’s exec, you can put this on your CV or cover letter. In my experience, it doesn’t even matter that much which group you work with. SIS has a wide range of student groups, but they all do fairly similar work, so don’t worry if there’s no position for you at your first choice of group.
  • Organize an event. For example, in my second year of library school, I was co-organizer of Web 2.You. It can be intimidating to contact a well known speaker, but you will find that they are very friendly to students, and in many cases speakers who usually charge a fee will reduce it or waive it altogether for a student-run event. This is really a fun way to gain some experience, get some exposure, and help your fellow students (not to mention helping the local professionals who attend the event).

I hope this helps motivate students to take control of their careers. To the professionals reading this: do you have any tips for helping students exercise their power? Leave your advice in the comments!

How to make a difference, even as “just a student”

A lot of people go to library school because they want to change the world. They want to help others, promote literacy, and all those good things, but mid-way through an MLIS program, many students feel a sense of not being able to make a difference because they’re “just a student.” If full-fledged librarians have trouble making a difference, what could a librarian in training possibly do to help?

I’m not going to write a full rant about how students have more opportunities and influence than they realize (at least, I’m not going to write one right now); instead, I’m going to offer a concrete example of how students (and librarians too!) can change the world.

A group of McGill SIS students (some of whom are no longer technically students, but now recent grads) and one librarian have organized a trip to Guatemala. As members of Librarians Without Borders, they will be volunteering at a school and helping to develop a new library; in fact, they are probably doing volunteer work as I write this post. Check out their blog to learn more about their adventure, and then consider organizing a similar trip at your school!

Freedom to Read Week is coming up

Freedom to Read Week doesn’t actually start until a week from now, but we’re celebrating a week early at SIS because the 22nd to 28th is our spring break. (You may recall I posted about Freedom to Read last year too) The CLA McGill Student Chapter is raising awareness by having a challenged books photo shoot (an idea we borrowed from the Freedom of Expression Committee). Anyone who comes to the SIS student lounge at lunch on Tuesday or Wednesday will have the opportunity to have their photo taken while reading a frequently challenged book, and everyone who participates will be entered in a draw to win a gift certificate for Chapters. Hopefully the winner will use it to buy a challenged book!  Brittany Trafford, our CLA Student Chapter secretary, has already taken a stack of appropriate books out of the library, so there will be plenty to choose from.

How is Freedom to Read being promoted at other schools and libraries? Leave a comment to let everyone know.

Freedom to Read Week 2009

Helping students connect with the professional community

Tonight the Canadian Library Association McGill Student Chapter will hold the kick-off event for its brand new Professional Partnering Program. Here’s how the program works: at the end of the summer, students interested in the program filled out applications including such information as the types of library that interest them most, and these students were matched up with local professional librarians who volunteered to be part of the program. Tonight, the students will meet their partners for the first time at a casual event, complete with food and suggested icebreaker activities.

As External Liaison Officer of the CLASC, I will be helping out with the event, but I’m even more excited to meet my partner, an academic librarian here in Montreal. I just hope I don’t overwhelm him with all my questions!

What will happen after tonight? As explained on the CLASC’s Professional Partnering page:

Partners are encouraged to determine what types of activities work best for them. Suggestions include:

* a tour of the workplace
* job shadowing
* regular e-mail correspondence
* informal chats on the phone or over coffee
* c.v. and job-seeking advice
* career planning sessions
* introductions to professionals at conferences, lectures, or meetings

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.