Monday, August 29, 2011

Less than twenty four hours!

Well, here I am, about to start library school tomorrow! Not much to say right now, other than that I've been unpacking and learning my way around Montreal (it's a big city so that should take some time). Fortunately I have a great librarian friend who is going to walk with me to campus tomorrow so I don't get lost, haha. She even works in the building where I'll be taking classes, so that's doubly convenient!

Wish me luck as I get started! :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Librarianship as a Second Career

As yet I have no personal experience to verify this, but I've been told that many of the people you encounter in library school are coming into librarianship as a second career. This is true of me as well. Initially, upon graduation from university, I wasn't sure if I wanted to go into teaching or librarianship, so I decided to teach abroad for a while to help me with the decision. Of course, I eventually learned that teaching and librarianship are so closely interrelated that it's easy to combine them. In no way does it have to be an "either/or" situation! That's why I want to become a teacher-librarian.

Even so, I'm really glad that I spent some time in the workforce before starting library school. I recently read Graham Lavender's interesting post about setting professional goals for yourself during your first year as a librarian. In this sense, I feel as though I have a head start, as I've had four years to develop confidence in myself as a professional. Because so much of the work I was doing as a teacher is quite similar to what librarians do (interacting with users, ensuring access to resources, assisting students in decoding material) I already know my work style, how I communicate with others, where I excel and where I could stand to improve. I was also fortunate to be in a school that emphasized Web 2.0 technology and collaborative learning, so I am familiar with that sort of educational philosophy.

Above all, though, the international school instilled in me a love of international education. As Britt Foster says, "Society needs more spaces where status does not affect access." (Said so succinctly, Britt! I've been trying to articulate the same thought for ages without success!) Unfortunately, in an international setting, status heavily influences access. It affects which languages you speak, what educational opportunities you have, what resources are available to you, what technologies you know how to use. So librarians in international settings have unique challenges as well as unique opportunities to connect patrons with materials and ensure those materials can be used.

That is why, in some ways I don't even feel like library school is truly is a career change for me. Although, my job title will change, I was an international educator before and an international educator I'll remain.

There are currently two opportunities that I'm interested in becoming involved with. One is the McGill students chapter of Librarians Without Borders, which currently has an ongoing service learning project in Guatemala. I am hoping to be extremely active in this student organization.

The other is to assist my friend and former coworker DJ Juhlke with the organization he will be working with for at least the next three years, Mountain Child. It aims to assist impoverished children in the Himalayas. There, DJ will contribute to the opening of small, multi-purpose aid stations throughout the mountains of Nepal. These aid stations will serve simultaneously as clinics, schools, and community centres. DJ is going to be the "principal" of the schools, though I imagine that his job will be a bit different from that of other principals I've known. He will be doing a little bit of everything, from helping to build the stations themselves to training both local and foreign teachers.

Before we parted ways in Korea, I told DJ that I was interested in helping him to secure library resources for the schools, or maybe even to open a community library in Nepal. "But right now," I said, "I don't even know anything about librarianship yet. I don't know what you need."

DJ laughed. "That's okay. I don't know what I need either! But we'll make it happen!"

So I'm hoping that I can spend some of my time in library school, especially with Librarians Without Borders, gathering ideas and tips that I can use to get some resources to DJ.

On a more personal note, I'll be moving to Montreal on Saturday. I'm excited for classes at McGill to get underway.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

In the International Library, the Signposter Tends the Gate


Made using the Card Generator

As a newbie preparing to start library school, my librarian friends have offered me some helpful advice.

"You're going to see a lot of your classmates freaking out if they don't get an A+ on every single assignment," they have told me. "Of course you need to do well, but it's more important to apply what you're learning to a real-life context as often as you possibly can." I have seen this sentiment echoed on numerous library forums and blogs: Get as much library experience as you can while in school, be it through volunteering, part time work, internships, co-op programs. If your school doesn't give you skills you need in a particular area (ie. graphic design), find another way to acquire them.

Here I can already see a major difference between library school and other degrees I've done: I'm responsible for tailoring my library school experience toward the kind of career I want. Just showing up and taking notes is not going to cut it.

To me, this indicates that the most successful library school graduates are not those with straight As, but those who have strong transdisciplinary skills, the ability to think across traditional categories of knowledge. Graduates who recognize full well what they don't know but have the motivation and tools to track it down will be the most successful in their job searches.

On a more personal note, I think transdisciplinary thinkers are the coolest people in the world. You can throw them into any situation anywhere and they will have the resourcefulness to handle it. Of course, librarians are transdisciplinary thinkers by the very nature of their work. This is what most excites me about the librarianship field!

My other passion, international education, dovetails nicely here. Students with transdisciplinary skills have the ability to tackle any subject with initiative and confidence. Add to that an international setting when you are operating among myriad cultures not your own, and there is a whole other layer to the experience. Immigrants, Third Culture Kids, expats, missionaries, and other cross-cultural people are constantly facing new challenges: shifting between cultural codes, acquiring new languages, adopting new habits, adjusting to varying levels of technology and creature comforts.

So, having already served four years as an international educator, what kind of transdisciplinary skills will I require to be a librarian in this context? How can I use my time in library school to get me there?

It's no secret to anyone that the library profession is changing. As the blog everyone's a librarian now put it:

The librarian's traditional position of authority, as gatekeeper between the user and the information they seek, is now being eroded - as Chris Anderson identified in The Long Tail, anyone can now publish their thoughts online, without the need for a publisher's investment in printing or distributing their material.

The blogger goes on to comment that the librarian's job is now to serve more as a signposter than a gatekeeper. Rather than relying on librarians to give them access to information as in the past, people can now access it themselves on the Web. However, with the huge glut of information out there, people need an information specialist, someone "in the know", to point them to the good stuff. That's where the librarian as signposter comes in, helping their users create pathways to the information they need.

All of this is very exciting, but to my thinking, international librarianship requires a fusion of both gatekeeping and signposting. At the international school where I worked in South Korea, for example, I could serve as a signposter, teaching my students how to locate and respond to useful information in a very Web 2.0 fashion. But given that most of the students there wanted to attend North American rather than Korean universities, I also had to serve as the gatekeeper of Western academic culture, ensuring that my students understood that issues like plagiarism are viewed very differently in the West than in Korea.

Nor may I always have advanced technology available to me. Serving as a teacher-librarian at a 1:1 international laptop school in Korea, for example, requires a very different approach than does settling up a village library in Uganda where most patrons have never touched a book. In that situation, knowing how to create an old-fashioned 20th century card catalogue would remain a highly relevant skill, as would the 21st century blogging necessary to solicit overseas donations to stock the shelves.

So I will have to "hack" my librarianing, patching together librarianship methodologies from various eras as appropriate to my context. I already have an idea of ways I can jump in and be of use…but I'll save that for my next entry.