Category Archives: MLIS program at UWO

Posts regarding thoughts on the MLIS program at the University of Western Ontario

What my MLIS taught me and what it didn’t: A look back one year after

Well, it has been just over 14 months since I graduated (attended the convocation ceremony) from the MLIS program at Western University in London, Ontario. I originally started this blog as a way to inform others of my progress and thoughts on the MLIS program at Western. I have decided that now is as good a time as any to reflect on what I learned in school and how prepared it made me for the library work that I have done over the past year. I am going to divide my experiences into categories devoted to parts of my current and previous jobs.

Management – Management class in school was a dreadful thing. It was 8 weeks of people skills, which at the time was boring as could be, but I have found it somewhat useful, and 4 weeks of practical management/job development information. In my experience as the current CEO of a small public library I have found that the dreadful team building exercises were not a complete waste of time. I have used some of what I learned from the class to deal with the volunteers and employee, as well as interacting with the township.I still believe that the manangement class was too much team building (a week or two would have sufficed) and not enough management skill building. What about managing a budget, or finances, or dealing with other people whom hold the reigns (boards, head librarians, or department bosses)?

The other course on management at the school (Special Libraries) prepared me more than anything for my current job. It showed me how to build a budget, a proposal, and other paper work type stuff that the school neglected in its management class.

Cataloging – Cataloging at the MLIS level was a joke. I basically learned what each type was and how to find it in a book, though these are valuable skills, I have yet to understand how learning so little about each type really helped me in any way become a better librarian other than to be able to watch someone else catalog as their manager.

Reference Services – Reference class was probably the most useful class I took. It helped hone my ability to ask the right questions to get the answers out of a patron. Also because I love being at the reference desk, this has been my most positive experience with the school where I can form quality reference interviews in a matter of seconds; while getting the patron on the right track. This has been immensely useful at all my positions as both a Library Technician at a public school and Librarian at a Public Library.

Technology – Technology I have not really used much of what was taught in school. I am responsible for the website at my local library and use a front ended editing program. Alot of the entry is basic text and not a lot of HTML. I took a class on CSS and HTML that was nearly useless to everyone involved and have yet to use the small bit of information that I did learn.

Conclusion

Library school (at least Western) seems to be run as a librarian mill. Pump out graduates while feeding them some lectures about what librarians are today: Managers. This is what they try to tell you, and in general it may be true. Library school does not prepare you to be a librarian….you do. Library school shows you a little bit of everything and allows you to make up your mind what kind of librarian you want to be. While going through school I wanted to work at a University Library or special interest library, I ended up working in School Libraries and a Public Library after I  graduated; I took many elective classes devoted to what I was interested in (Archives, University Libraries, Special Libraries, Storytelling, etc.) because that was what my narrow mind at the time wanted to do. To be honest this is how most library students (MLIS or Library Tech) probably choose their classes. It is also the only way you will survive library school. Taking a class you have no interest in is going to flop horribly (maybe not to the point of failure, but to the point of hating library school). Library school will not teach you what you need to know on the job, the MLIS program at Western will guide you though and show you what you may or may not be interested in. In the end you are responsible for teaching yourself how to be a library professional, that is what I took away from library school.

Final Semester and Final Thoughts.

So I have finished my classes, finished that last pesky assignment and have given myself a week to let it all sink in. Now time for my reviews of classes and profs, along with some final thoughts for those using this blog as a way to gauge Western as a Library School.

Class Reviews:

Academic Libraries (Online) – As far as an online class goes, this wasn’t a bad class. 3 essays, 1 site visit and weekly participation. Due to the fact you don’t go to classes you are required to write a 300 word response to an academic issue (plus citation), and write a 100 word annotated bibliography of a alternative reading each week. So 400 words per week x 10-12 weeks = 4000 – 4800 words….for 20% of your mark….not too bad. At first I thought this was horrible, but I’ve had worse. The prof wasn’t bad, but with it being an online course you don’t really get to know the prof.

Consumer Health – After class one you will be thinking the learning style of the class is out of touch with reality. Problem based learning is where each week you tackle a topic regard consumer health questions, but you don’t actually come up with a solution, just ideas about the solution. Have I lost anyone yet? The class seemed like a joke, but as it moved on things started to make sense, and by the end I was a believer in Problem Based Learning. The Prof, Selinda Berg, is a nice person, though she seems easily flustered or forgetful most of the time.

Archival Description – Another Riedstra course, he could put a herd of raging elephants to sleep. This class was a very practical course, the last course I had with him (which is a prerequisite for this course) was very theory based. In this course you learn RAD, basically archival cataloging rules. You complete three practical assignments that are designed for you to grasp the system, along with a 12-15 page essay and a final assignment. The final assignment is to go out to a real archive (which the prof will pre select) and catalogue a new or partially catalogued fonds in groups of 2 -4 people. This was hands on stuff, I chose to do Elgin County Archives and worked with another person to organize files from the mid 19th and early 20th century.

Information Behavior – Taught by the lovely Elisabeth Davies, this course takes you through the way in which different people handle information. Ranging from Engineers and medical professionals to musicians, academics, and parent; the class covered a range of different people. The lectures were interesting, but the readings were very heavy. A lot of psychology and sociology in the readings. A great class if you can get through those types of readings.

Storytelling – I was so pumped for this course, but just like profs can make a class, they can also break the class. The prof for this class was a PhD student and won’t likely be teaching the class again, but he definitely broke the class. We had to review some of the literature, that wasn’t bad, except that the literature wasn’t well related to the content of the class. The class was advertised as a storytelling class where you get to practice your skills at telling stories in general, whether that be for children’s story time or in the interview when the dreaded “tell me about a time….” question comes up. We told two stories officially throughout the term, and had to write an auto ethnography. I had never heard of these before, but here is the low down. An auto ethnography is an academic paper written in first person, using a story arc to fill in the reader. I can feel the blank stares, this went against everything I had been taught about academic writing. Needless to say this class was a disaster and am glad to have survived it, maybe a different teacher will make it better, it could have been a great class.

 

Final Thoughts

The Library School in Western University is a compressed program, though can be extended. The compressed program I took had me racing to the end of each semester, and I feel I did not get as much out of it as I could have, had I taken a 2 year program. I feel the classes were too many at once, too short and gave little to no time for reflection on what you could have learned. Because I have never gone to library school before, I have nothing to compare it to. Many professors have tried to explain to me that Western, as a library school, is considered a top school in Canada. I have also heard horror stories from some students who have gone to U of T or U of Alberta. Is it the best school, I hope not, is it a bad school, no! I think the MLIS program at Western is adequate and gets you the basic skills needed to do the job, but is nothing spectacular or special, aside from the Co-Op option, that will put you a step ahead of those in other programs.

 

Looking forward…so very far forward.

So third and final semester is underway. I’ve tried to stay focused, but find myself looking forward and having less than adequate attention on my schoolwork. Being in my final semester my eye is on the prize. I am looking for jobs and contacts, not really caring as much as I should about my assignments. I tried front loading my schedule, in an attempt to avoid this, but my classes don’t let me do that all the time. I tried doing as much as I could for january, february is a little dead in the assignment sector, but March is going to kick my butt. Gotta try to stay focused.

I had read, in an older blog about the program, that this was a possibility. No employers really look at marks and I’ve only got 2-3 months till I am graduated….I need to find a job! So do I really need 90’s across the board? I spoke to a bunch of graduated students and the general concensus is 70’s are easily half-assed, and as long as I can keep my school assignments straight I should be able to manage a half descent grade average.

A few tips for those who might enter their final semester and be overwhelmed

1. Keep looking forward, but remember….you can’t get any of those jobs you’ve been applying for all semester if you don’t graduate

2. Try to do as much as you can the first 3-4 weeks. Gonna be one hell of a storm at the begining of the semsester, but the more you complete the less you have to worry about later on.

3. Keep your head in the game, I understand we want to get those jobs, but try to focus on school and just soldier through it.

Reflections of the second semester

So the second semester is almost at an end. Semester two for the most part was more tolerable than the first, mainly because I had some electives, I will attempt to give an overview of each of the courses and my opinion of the course and/or professor.

Management course(LIS9005) – This is the last of my mandatory courses, it was a poor class, but my prof can’t be blamed, mainly because she was a great prof. The class spent 8 weeks going over team building  and one management based group project. The last few weeks has actually started to get into the whole management portion of the course, but it feels like it is too little, too late. The Prof (Sarah Roberts) is a great prof, she made an otherwise boring class somewhat entertaining and would get us involved with her stories and experiences, as well as encouraging class participation. Since everyone is required to take this course I suggest taking it with Roberts as her counterpart Pam McKenzie has a bit of a negative review from students I’ve talked to.

Special Libraries – A great class, I was originally told this is a better management course than the actual management course, and I would tend to agree. The prof is once again a great prof, a little heavy with the jokes though.  Professor Craig is a corporate librarian who puts the class through a semester long project of building libraries of your choice in groups of 3 or 4. My group did a Library for Ubisoft, another did a Lego library, and another ended up doing a Foodshare Library. It was a great experience and put us through the paces in building a final report through User Reports, Budgets, Collection Development and more. The class is only offered in the fall, but I suggest this for anyone in the program, not just those interested in Special Libraries.

Intro to Archives – Another interesting course. The prof knows his stuff, but Lutzen Riedstra is a very soft spoken man. His lectures could put a raging bull to sleep. The course consists of 3, 5 page papers on weekly topics that can be spread out throughout the semester depending on what aspects of archives you are interested in. The final essay is an option between doing and archive visit in a group and writing about it, or writing a 15 page topical paper of interest to you. The archive visit is fun, and I would suggest any who take this course to do that option.

Government Information – I did this online and that was certainly a mistake. The prof for the online version of this class is a government librarian from Queens University. He knows his stuff, but is not really professor material. His marking scheme is a mystery to me, but I survived his course. The course is good if your interested in learning how to find and analyze government information, though it is not a bird course that is for sure. Government information is not easy to find or navigate. Topics covered include: Canadian Government Info, US Government Info, UK Government info, International Government Info (such as UN, World Bank, etc.). This course may have been better as an in class course, and I hear the person teaching it on campus is pretty good.

Digital Libraries – Don’t let the title fool you, this course is a good course, but not what you expect. Basically you spend a semester building a website for a collection of your choice. You also do this using a program called Greenstone, it is a challenging and outdated program. If you are not technically savvy this course is not for you; The class is not taught well, as Gord Nickerson just speeds through all kinds of topics without allowing time for it to sink in. The tutorials he has are on Youtube and these are what you will be required to do if you want to learn anything about using Greenstone. These tutorials (10 of them) are worth 1% of your participation mark each, and will likely take up to an hour or two to go through each of the tutorials.

So there is my two cents on this semester.

Participation….makes it happen.

So in a previous post I had mentioned ways to get experience. Experience is a great way to get ahead, though in this program with the amount of volunteer oportunities and the co-op option almost everyone is going to have some sort of experience coming out. So how do you seperate youself from the pack? Participation in extra curricular activities is the key.

In such a compressed program many students don’t get involved in the extra curricular, because they don’t think they have the time. This is not the additude to have. The unfortunate truth is when you gradfuate you and 100 others in the same school as you will have the exact same degree. As well there are likely a few hundred others graduating across Canada. What can you do to seperate yourself from the crowd.

Join an Association – There are many professional associations out there that can seperate you from the rest of those MLIS grads. Almost all of them have acronyms such as: ALA, CLA, OCULA, SLA, OLA, LWB, etc. Each of these organizations has a distinct goal or purpose and can help an employer get a sense of what type of person you are before even giving an interview. It also lets employers know you are actively involved in the field.

Partipate in Association politics – Become an active member of the associations local chapter. I am currently (Fall 2013) the CLA-UWO chapter Public Outreach representative. So don’t just join an association seperate yourself even more and become involved in the activities within the local chapter of the association. This looks good on a resume and shows you are even more involved with the ideals of the organization than simply as a participant.

Join the Student Union – Become an active member of the student union. This will show employers that you were actively participating in the day to day opwerations of your school or faculty. It is a great experience and shows leadership

Go to Conferences – Given the oprtunity make your way to local, regional or national conferences if you can. These are great opportunities to network as well as put on your resume. By listing conferences you’ve attended recently (say in the past 2-3 years) will show you are interested in certain topics and issues in the field. This can be very valuable for profession al development and could open doors to jobs through the people you meet.

Present at Conferences – This can seem scary, but does not have to be as formal as you might think. You can present ideas or papers in large lecture hall, or just present a poster in a hall of many posters. In either case you may be able to betwork and show initiative when you put on your resume that you presented a poster on Library as a Place at the OLA super conference in Toronto. It can be a fairly simnple process of standing with your poster and answering questions for an hour or two.

These are just a few examples of how you can seperate yourself from the crowd. By participating in different events or organization you are only in competition with a few dozen, rather than a few hundred people with the exact same MLIS degree.

Reflections of first semester and the changes coming to the new program

So my first semester has come to an end……thank god that is over. It wasn’t bad or too much, it was just intense….especially those final two weeks. Here are my thoughts on various aspects of the program now that I have a semester under my belt.

Classes:

9001 – This is basically your theory class. I had Prof. Cameron Hoffman, a PhD LIS candidate. Cameron was great, had all kinds of stories and kept the class interesting. If your here for the practical and not the theory you will likely hate this class. It covers everything from Library as a place, Library Space, Copyright, and a plethora of other library related issues. The Fall semester I believe is tought by Prof. Troscow, with Cameron as a T.A. Also had lots of guest speakers.

9002 – There are a few changes to this class that are coming this fall, but here is what I had to endure. Taught by a great prof named Davies, makes an otherwise tedious class somewhat bearable. The class was taught to us as a Cataloging class, and we went through everything from Dewey Decimal system, to Library of Congress Subject Headings and AACR, with a bit of MARc 21 thrown in for flavour. If you have no idea what I am talking about DON’T PANIC. You basically get one class of each so you have a broad view of cataloging. The new class is supposed to throw in an introduction to Archives, so I imagine that it will be less cataloging than I had to endure.

9003 – Reference services. I mean what else does a librarian do all day than hang around on facebook and answer the occasional question, right? Wrong. This class I was pumped for, as my practical librarianship class. It was….sort of. It had quite a bit of theory in it as well as the practical. The prof I had was Prof. Heather Hill, she wasn’t bad, but would have liked a more practical reference class.

9004 – STATTTTTS! Yep, you have to do em, there is no escape. Once again don’t freak out over the stats, it is only a 3 week portion of the course, that you glean over. This is the Research methods course, I had prof. Lu Xiao, whom is a great prof, and is easy on the stats. I’ve heard the other professor expects more statistical and research based stuff, than Lu did. So if you can get into Lu’s class do so.

9005- I could only take 5 course, and they forced me to take 9005 in the second semester. Therefore No Comment on this course.

9006 (no longer offered) – This was the Online Searching course. Your likely looking at me like I’m nuts, I thought the same thing too…’I already know how to search online’, don’t be so cocky. This course basically shows you how to use databases, and offers a variety of different resources most people are unaware existed. I still think it is not worth a course, maybe a 2 week intensive seminar. It was a pain, but I learned a lot, and the course is being dropped and everything I learned in it is being dumped primarily into 9003, with a smattering throughout the rest of the core courses.

Program Changes

When I entered the program there was an option to gain Areas of Concentration (AOC). This is no longer the case. Because my semester was the last semester with this option, we may still try…..though with the changes to the program that is not likely to happen.

The fall semester falls under a new and broader LIS program. the AOC’s no longer exist so they really don’t offer enough courses to meet the AOC requirements. As of now (Aug, 2013) the program is broken up like first year undergrad. Feels like a breadth requirement. This is what is offered even though I have seen jobs still asking for AOC’s.

Elective Class Selection

The selection of classes is limited, compared to what was once offered, this is a complaint I have heard across the board. I registered for my electives at the end of my first term and found no problems with getting the electives I wanted, though I had heard otherwise from previous cohorts. This may have to do with the mass intake of 120 new students every September. You guys will be screwed, and screwing me too. When you try to select elective courses now it is a grand old cluster of first come, first serve. With 150 students clamoring for courses they want it is unlikely that most will get what they hope for. Have fun, and remember to blame your friendly neighborhood FIMS and University for the system. Although one, should mention the old system may have been less chaotic, people got in by a merit system. Top marks, meant you got what you wanted, at least that is what I’m told by previous cohorts.

Gaining experience in an abbreviated MLIS course

So I look around and see a lot of people freaking out about getting experience. Don’t Panic! Deep breath…..ok. I have talked to a lot of people who came to UWO specifically for the CO-OP program offered here. Now In my first semester it seemed to be a common complaint that there were many co-op hopefuls and few co-op placements. Stay calm….before you click to join another school please read on.

There are other opportunities for you to gain experience in the library or archive or wherever your looking to go. I am one of those students who chose a different path to gain the experience required for an entry level position when I graduate. I did my undergraduate degree at Western and in my fourth year I started volunteering at the PRIDE Library. There I manned the reference desk on a casual-part time basis; when I reached my Masters I continued volunteering and started my work study as a Cataloger for the Graphica section they were building in the library. It has thus far been a great experience for me as a Special libraries reference librarian and cataloger. There are many opportunities for experience if you know where to look for them.

Here are a few options:

1. CO-OP – yep this is option number one, its paid, its usually 4 or 8 months, and it also usually sets you back said amount of time in your studies. There are next to no opportunities for co-op in London, so you better be willing to travel. This is not my area of expertise so I will say nothing further of it. There are workshops available to gather more info when you get here.

2. Volunteer at the University – The university has over 20 libraries on Campus, some of them are specialty libraries such as Medical, Engineering, Music, and PRIDE library. There is also Weldon (the 5 story behemoth) that is the main campus library as well there are 3 libraries, one for each of the affiliated colleges. Take your choice, offer to volunteer, even if it is as a ‘Page’, you gain experience on your resume at an accredited University Library and could come out of it with a letter of reference. This is the route I chose. The university also has an Archive in the basement of Weldon Library, this could be an opportunity for archival students.

3. Work Study – This is available usually only to students who are from Ontario, but it is an option. Once again there are numerous libraries on campus. Go online to the western website and look up the work study site, they may have librarian jobs (even menial ones) available. This is a limited part time job, but also looks great on a resume. Limited usually to 100 hours per semester, max of 10 hours per week.

4. Volunteer at a local or regional Public Library branch – The city of London has its main branch in the heart of downtown London (1 bus from campus). They take volunteers on a seasonal basis and volunteering in either the main branch or one of its 14 other branches scattered throughout the city. They are always looking for volunteers and is another avenue of experience, especially those looking to go into Public Librarianship. Other options are the public libraries in surrounding communities such as: St. Thomas, Stratford, Strathroy and Woodstock.