Monday, December 21, 2015

How FRBR helped me come to terms with a Harry Potter play

What a time to be alive as a geek! This weekend, my boyfriend and I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens and it was a train of feelings. I don't want to derail this post by telling you how amazing it was, but WOW.

Let's talk Potter

Anyone who spends significant time around me knows that I love all things Harry Potter, particularly Hermione Granger, who represents all my hopes and dreams for myself. I have been to the Wizarding World theme park, the midnight movie releases, and my personal record for speed-reading is having completed the final book in 14 hours. I am a regular listener of the terrific podcast, MuggleCast. I own a Time Turner. I listen to the audiobooks when I can't sleep.

If you follow any news about the fandom, you might have heard that there are two important projects happening right now in [Queen] J.K. Rowling's world; for one, she has written and is releasing a prequel (about 80 years prior) to Harry's story, which follows the author of one of his textbook's Newt Scamander. The film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be released next November, and I have complete faith in JKR and her team, which includes of lots of HP alumni on the production side.

The second project is a play, opening in London next summer. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes place after the closing epilogue of the the HP books, and focuses on Harry and his middle son, Albus Severus. My excitement for Fantastic Beasts has not been matched by this play, as much as I have tried to be excited about a new creation from JKR. I've tried to figure out why my enthusiasm is having trouble getting off the ground.

  1. One of the best things about the Harry Potter books is the fact that they are so accessible. Books are so basic - they don't require you to travel or have special equipment. If you don't have the money for a book, you can usually get it for free through a public library. Books don't ask much of us - and we receive so much in return.
  2. Not counting the editors, books are really an interaction between the author and the reader. It's intimate and personal - and there is no one else around to screw things up. A film on the other hand, is dependent on many more variables: the budget, the author's involvement, the available technology, and most importantly, the skills of the actors. Let's remember (and then immediately forget) the hot mess that is Michael Gambon's attempt at portraying Dumbledore.
  3. Perhaps the thought of a play is concerning to me because I have not always loved the translation of book to film, and theater seems to invite even more fluidity to the Wizarding World. The theater has undeniable merits - the vivid experience, the vulnerability, the aliveness. Going to the theater is a rare and singular treat, and that fact is exactly what causes me to question the stage as an appropriate venue for Harry's world. Every performance, no matter how skilled the actors are, will have its subtle differences. Those fans who are fortunate (read: wealthy) enough to access this piece of the canon will have something that the rest of us can't share. 
Regardless of the content of this play, I'm still struggling with the fact that this piece of canon will be released in a less accessible medium. It's similar to the argument that Mugglecaster Selina Wilken makes in favor of a printed, definitive encyclopedia as a opposed to articles on Pottermore and random bits of information on JKR's Twitter feed: 
"An officially published encyclopedia would be an edited, indexed, bound, solid, unalterable reference guide to expand the Wizarding World, filling in backstories, adding dates and names to this universe and making it feel more real and tangible. Pottermore and J.K. Rowling’s tweets, by contrast, don’t feel like expansions of the world, but rather like they’re limiting my own interpretations of it."

More Big News

So why am I excited for a prequel, but not a sequel? I think it comes down to the fact that one (Fantastic Beasts) is introducing an almost entirely new cast, and the other (Cursed Child) is building on character portrayals that we adore already - and are pretty protective of. 

This week, the names of the three actors playing our new Harry, Ron, and Hermione were released. The internet is abuzz because the actress playing Hermione is a Noma Dumezweni, a black actress. I want to be clear that despite my reservations about telling this story as a play, I think that this decision to cast Hermione as a woman of color is beautiful and important. The deeper meaning and merit of this decision is explained really well in this Buzzfeed article - it's just awesome. Hypable also counters a lot of the stupid arguments against racebending this amazing character (who, by the way, is NEVER described as a particular race in the books). In a way, this change from the films might help alleviate one of Selina Wilken's complaints that new information about the world stifles our fantasies; a black Hermione validates the imaginations of many fans. JKR is suggesting that there are multiple interpretations of her canon.

I actually am coming to terms with this play's existence, thanks to a concept from my 415 Information Organization class - yes, the semester is over and I have retained something. I started thinking about the play in terms of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR), which is a conceptual model for relating information sources. The most memorable aspect for me was the idea of [Group One] entities: work, expression, manifestation, and item. In a normal model, a work would be Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; an expression, or the intellectual realization, would be the text in its American English translation; the manifestation would be its physical embodiment (print book published in 1999), and the item would be the singular copy that I have on my shelf at home, with my name written in the cover.

The way that I can rationalize this play is by thinking about the FRBR entities and their relationships. What if, rather than Prisoner of Azkaban being the work, we think about the entire world of Harry Potter at the work level? Beneath that, we could imagine that everything JK Rowling creates is an expression of that work. Book Hermione, Emma Watson's Hermione, and Noma Dumezweni's Hermione are related conceptually, not chronologically.

Clearly I am abandoning FRBR, but this is what I picture as a conceptual model:
  • W1: Wizarding World
    • E1: Hermione Jean Granger
      • M1; as written by JKR in the books
      • M2: as portrayed by Emma Watson in WB films
      • M3: as portrayed by Noma Dumezweni in Cursed Child
      • M4: as portrayed by Lindsey Lohan on SNL
      • M5: as portrayed by Bonnie Gruesen in  A Very Potter Musical, A Very Potter Sequel
      • M6: as portrayed by Meredith Stepien in A Very Potter Senior Year
      • M7: as portrayed by Potter Puppet Pals
Ultimately, having Hermione as someone who looks so different alleviates my concerns that this play would be an inadequate attempt at continuing the trio we already know. This Hermione, and this story, will be a new and original manifestation of the fantastic expression that exists only in JKR's world. Just because Emma's version of Hermione was so lovable does not mean that she is our only Hermione; in fact, fans have imagined her as a woman of color for years. I am so grateful to JKR for leaving Hermione's physical description, other than her bushy hair and big teeth, open to interpretation; Hermione's most important trait has always been her intelligence and resourcefulness, and all women should be able to see themselves in her. We are all Hermione.

Noma Dumezweni can and should create her own vision of Hermione Jean Granger, and, if the play ever comes to the States, I am excited to watch.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Reading again - finally!

With my literature review finally behind me, and then my final presentation for 415 (Information Organization) last week, I let myself get into the holiday spirit. In the past week we set up our tree, finished all the wrapping, and hosted a party on Saturday for about 30 of our friends. I also baked ten dozen cookies to serve at our party, and to bring to work and my final class tonight - our assignment, if we are not presenting, is to bring a snack. 

I also let myself totally indulge by reading a real piece of fiction: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. This book is in HIGH demand right now and is also going to be made into a film soon, starring Daenerys Targaryen. The Minuteman Library Network is clearly inundated with requests. I have requested the sequel (spoiler: I liked the first book) and there are about 100 people ahead of me on the list. Luckily we have a great resource called Interlibrary Loan, thanks to Fred Kilgour (one of the "Twentieth Century Library Figures" from my presentation last week)!

So, this book really pulled me in. Maybe I was asking for it, after months of reading encyclopedia entries and information behavior studies; however, I give Jojo Moyes a lot of credit. I read the entire book in two days (and still haven't returned it - oops) and it's one of those stories that leaves you thinking about it once the cover is shut. 

Summary: Lou, an unemployed and quirky townie needs a job to help support her family, who is struggling financially. She finds work as a personal care attendant with Will, a quadriplegic from a wealthy family in town.* Before his accident, Will was a thrill-seeking lawyer, but now he is, understandably, in a very dark place. Will's mother has hired Lou to help lift Will's spirits, and potentially save his life, after seeing something special in her that is both intriguing and frustrating. Lou is just kind of a weirdo, but Moyes thankfully avoids turning her into a manic pixie dream girl stock photo. Lou is relatable, but not predictable, and Will is certainly not a stereotypical Prince Charming.

The cast of characters is witty, funny, and so very human - all struggling with complicated moral choices but also just trying to find moments of joy in lives that are less than simple. Moyes tackles a complicated issue with grace, and without politicizing it. The only character who seemed monochromatic was Lou's boyfriend, Patrick. Because of Moyes' excellent writing, I suspect that it was her intention for Patrick to just totally suck. Though most of the book is in Louisa's perspective, Moyes breaks us the text by inserting chapters that are from other characters' minds to describe particularly poignant moments. 

I've now started the audiobook now of P.S. I Love You, and I'm trying to avoid acknowledging how much I prefer the movie - I have always stood firmly in the "The Book Was Better" camp. If it doesn't grab me soon I will abandon it for something better -  especially if After You shows up at the Somerville Public Library anytime soon.

* More on this topic: A movie that will make you cry, and a movie that will make you laugh.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

One Semester Down

Two days - this is all that stands between me and my last assignment this semester. Technically, my last class is next Tuesday, December 15, when half my classmates in my Information Organization class will present their research on an LIS topic. My group is presenting in this first week, so my only job for next Tuesday is to listen and bring a snack. I think I can handle that. Finishing this first semester is a little surreal. A year ago, I had no intentions to apply to Simmons, and here I am one sixth of the way through my program.

Last Thursday I turned in my eleven page literature review for my Foundations class. My focus was the information behavior of lawyers, and it really gave me a new respect for my colleagues on the legal team at my work. Ultimately, I found that there are really two levels of information seeking in legal work; first, there is basic legal research, and second, there is a more complicated process of finding the solutions within that information - recognizing patterns and using experience to construct a strategy.

As librarians, I think that this is where we can prove our value in a world where information is at our fingertips. Librarians provide access, create context, and give validity to sources. In reality, it comes down to the difference between a book report and master's thesis - or a winning argument. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Librarianship as Emotional Labor

This post is a little different from my previous ones - basically, I want to gather my thoughts on a topic that I recently read about. Rose Hackman wrote an article earlier this month for The Guardian, arguing that emotional labor is the next frontier of feminism. Emotional labor refers to the type of work that count on "service with a smile," and historically there has been a "positive bias" toward women in these roles. Hackman also argues that it is work that is not accounted for in wages.

“The way I think of emotional labor goes as follows: there are certain jobs where it’s a requirement, where there is no training provided, and where there’s a positive bias towards certain people – women – doing it. It’s also the kind of work that is denigrated by society at large.”

The article does not mention librarianship, but I immediately thought of this profession, especially as it evolves away from the "shushing librarian" image and more toward positive user service interactions. Librarianship is an industry of knowledge, but human interaction has always been an essential part of the equation. I'm really interested in  the question of why predominantly women have historically been drawn to this field. Is it part of a positive bias? Or are there particular benefits offered in librarianship that are appealing to women (who are also often working mothers)? Are these benefits or labor conditions transferable to other fields where women have been missing (think: STEM)?

This positive bias is also not necessarily better for us lady librarians; it's damaging to women who are expected to fit this image, and damaging to men who might be seen as incapable of filling these roles. In my own personal experience, I have been hired for a job where I was explicitly told "we wanted to bring fresh, positive energy to the team." Maybe that positivism is part of my personality - and part of me is glad to be seen this way - but, after hearing that, I also felt a weird pressure that my job description included this unwritten duty to lift my team's (often negative) spirits.
Back to Hackman: She talks to a male friend who asks her whether the expectation that women excel in emotional labor is necessarily a bad thing:

"My friend would probably never dare say: “Oh, but women are better cooks,” “Women are more talented cleaners” or “Women are better with children.” And yet, that he was suggesting that maybe some women “are just like that” – better at emotions – seemed to be the argument I was bumping into most frequently when I brought up the argument. But this essentialist view doesn’t hold up academically."

I'm hoping to pursue these kinds of questions academically, and I am curating a Google doc of articles to look into when it's time to write a capstone paper. In the meantime, I would love to hear experiences from other librarians on whether they agree that this a field of occasionally under-appreciated emotional labor. Is the gender imbalance within librarianship the next feminist frontier??

Friday, November 13, 2015

Pickles and PhDs

As I approach the end of this semester (my final assignments are due 12/3 and 12/8) I am feeling an increasing sense of urgency, but also a feeling of confidence. Part of this is likely due to the fact that I have a whole weekend ahead of me with no plans, except making pickles. I've never pickled anything so it should be an interesting journey. Anyway, it will be nice to make some real progress on my research this weekend.

Last night I indulged in a night of crafting, Gilmore-Girls, and no-homework. I stitched initials onto some Christmas stockings that I bought for our apartment, and then started making a hat for my boyfriend. I learned how to knit from my old bosses in my job at the Saint Michael's College library, Kristen and Naomi. It's an unspoken law that librarians must learn to knit. I also have a cat, so I can check off that box too.

Last weekend I came very close to being the owner of two cats, when I heard that the MSPCA was waiving their adoption fee for adult cats (older than one year). We've often talked about getting a second cat as a playmate for our ornery and constantly hungry cat, Maverick (he is very well fed on an expensive diet, but Maverick considers anything less than 8 meals a day to be utter depravity). In the end, it wasn't the right time, but eventually I think we will get a kitten. Possible names are Professor Minerva McGonagle, Zipporah, and Tesla.

Yesterday at work, I found a cool (but maybe not surprising) link between school and my job. At a meeting for our Information Services team, our training group gave a presentation about how they had recently changed their curriculum for new attorneys at our firm, and one of their goals was to provide information on a topic as the need arose, rather than give them everything they might in a long, six-hour session. They found that this prevented information overload and that the new hires are able to retain more of what they learn.

This is really relevant to the literature review that I am writing for my Foundations class, especially because I have chosen to track the information behavior of lawyers. We had to choose a population to review and I selected lawyers because I thought it would be useful to me. What I hadn't planned on was the fact that my work and my colleagues could be a resource as well. I had some help from a coworker in our law library, who told me about some journal databases to try; then, yesterday, I even found myself thinking about my topic at the meeting. Basically, our training team was trying to identify points of uncertainty in our lawyers' work and resolve the issues pro-actively.

I can't really use this real-time information in my paper, because my assignment for Foundations is not an original study, but rather a literature review - though it certainly requires plenty original thought. Still, it's useful to have context as I begin my research. My first piece of reading is a PhD dissertation that someone has already written on the topic, and it's 300 pages. TGIF.

PS. Good luck shout out to my fellow woman-in-technology role model/superhero Coleen as she leaves our firm and begins a new career adventure. I feel honored to have her read my blog, and I promise to write back to her e-mail soon ;)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Temporary Disturbances in the Force

Hello there!
I've had trouble finding time to write recently because work has been incredibly busy. I like my job for many reasons, one being that my firm offers great benefits, like sabbaticals every 10 years; however, in the last two weeks, one coworker's sabbatical overlapped with another person's honeymoon. Doing the job of three specialists has made me feel like a battle droid running around with its head cut off. This week, one of my coworkers is back, so things have quieted down a bit.

Finding time to celebrate Halloween!
I have definitely started to find a healthy balance when it comes to school work, and my last few assignments have come back with high marks. I felt confident enough, when I registered for classes next semester, to sign up for 9 credits instead of 6 - kind of.
It will work like this: during spring break in March my adviser, Jim Matarazzo, is teaching a week long class called "Special Libraries," which is 3 credits like any other course, but meets from 9-5 like a regular job. This means that I will have to plan to use some of my PTO from work, but I can cut out a class later in my program and finish sooner than the 2 1/2 year track that I am on now. This works out well, because I was worried when I found out that it's not really possible to do two classes during the shorter summer term.

My other two courses next spring will be one of our core requirements, LIS 407 (Information Sources and Services a.k.a. Reference) and the more focused LIS 437 (Legal Information Services). 437 should be especially applicable for me, as I hope to eventually work in a law library or similar space. My foundations course requires us to write a literature review (due in less than a month now, on December 3!) on the information behavior of a specific user group, and I chose lawyers because I thought it would be interesting and useful. I also had the idea to reach out to a colleague in my firm's library, and he helped me to identify some helpful resources. This weekend I plan to dig into the reading phase of my research!

Outside of school, there is something interesting that happened at work. I'm on the "Innovation Board," which fields and implements project ideas from our Information Services group. One of the recent ideas was to host targeted TED talks for IS and then have a discussion about the video. My colleague in DC and I took this on, and a few weeks ago we hosted our first one. About 30 people combined attended our events, and discussed a talk by Tony Fadell called "The first secret of design is . . . noticing." It was so successful, that I had the idea afterward of counting these quarterly events toward our firm's required annual training hours. This week, after getting clearance, I e-mailed our participants to let them know that they would be given credit for the event, and to spread the word to boost attendance in the future! Hopefully training will be a great incentive, and people will continue to come to these casual but educational talks. I really enjoy them because my department is a little separate from the rest of IS, so it gives me a chance to get to know people in my local office. I also love any chance to break my normal routine and get away from my desk.

Just for fun, here is a picture of my boyfriend and me in our Halloween costumes this weekend. Can you tell which one I am?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Devotion to Knowledge

This post is for anyone who may be worried about their undergraduate programs being (or seeming) totally unrelated to a masters program. I came into SLIS program feeling a little bit of this anxiety, which lived next door to my fears about having been away from any school for a year. I have adjusted without too much difficulty, and I think this last year has been invaluable in terms of gaining some real perspective.

In May 2014, I graduated from Saint Michael's College (VT) with a double BA in English and Religious Studies. After those four years of liberal arts, I appreciate a healthy dose of critical self reflection. I have recently been trying to imagine a rough intellectual trajectory to rationalize how I came to my present studies in LIS - in fact, this question is part of why I started this blog. The English piece of my B.A. degree makes sense (books, right?), but how do I bridge my past studies in religion to my present work in LIS? My answer arrived in an article during the first week of my Foundations class; "Toward a Theory of Librarianship and Information Science" was published in July 1972 and it certainly shows its age. Jesse Shera adorably ponders where computers will take us, and even hints at the potential for thought control.

I don't agree with everything that Shera has to say, but I was quite taken with the term that he ascribes to library studies. He calls for librarianship to be seen as a "social epistemology," and basically describes it as the study of the nature of knowledge. Shera (1972) challenges us to examine the way that knowledge us used and the "nature of the intellectual process in society - a study of the ways in which society as a whole achieves a perceptive and understanding relationship to its environment."

This phrase "social epistemology" really caught my attention because Shera's definition reminded me of the way that I always explained my religion major as an undergraduate. I attended a Catholic college but remained agnostic during my education, and I focused mostly on the academic study of Islam. When asked about my interest in RS, I would say something like, I'm interested in how and why people believe, and the ways that belief influences their lives. In other words, I wanted to know about the spiritual lenses that people use to interpret and know the world - the "perceptive and understanding relationship."

In the 1980s, social epistemology as a field evolved away from library science and became a separate study in philosophy and sociology; however, I think Shera's original thought process is still related to my own. There is something comforting about the idea that I haven't strayed so far from my original path; for me, it has always been about a devotion to knowledge.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Shifting Focus

As a SLIS student at Simmons, there is a big deadline for two important items. One is finishing the TOR (Technology Orientation Requirement) and the other is to complete your first advising session. I finished the TOR before the semester started and this past week I completed the second task with my adviser, Jim Matarazzo. What a wealth of knowledge that man is! Connecting with him was a bit of a circuitous route of self discovery (through another advisor, the registrar's office, our assistant dean Em Claire Knowles, and finally Jim) and by the end of all these conversations, I had changed my concentration and found my voice.

Jim is my second adviser, because my original meeting did not go as I had hoped. I had initially been assigned to a professor within the Information Technology concentration, and I met with him a few weeks ago via his virtual office hours. We had a twenty minute teleconference that began with my asking him about when one of my classes would be offered; the purpose of the meeting was to roughly plan out classes for the next two years. He mentioned that it would be taught online in the spring session, and when I told him that I preferred to complete it on campus, the entire conversation went off track. He decided to convince me why my perspective was wrong, and via our teleconference, walked me through the platform for one of the classes that he is currently teaching: "See, this is how students can reply via video to each other's posts, and here is a video of me giving a lecture," etc.

Unfortunately, the problem with teleconferencing was that he couldn't see my face and the fact that I was increasingly frustrated that I was being forced to defend my preferred style of learning. I listened to his lecture on why online classes are better and tried to explain that I just prefer to be in a classroom, especially for a seminar style class like Foundations. I absolutely see that online learning could be useful for someone who has social anxiety, or lives far away, or has a unique work schedule; it's neither better nor worse, just different. After this meeting ended, I was kicking myself for not channeling my inner Amy Poehler and using the line that she repeats throughout her book, Yes Please: "Good for you, not for me." This phrase is concise and recognizes the value in the other person's argument; however, it's also assertive and self-confident.

But... I did not say this to my adviser. I listened to him talk and became more and more upset, as I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I wasn't being heard and that this person was going to be directing my studies for the next two years - studies that will determine my career path. I even questioned whether the IT concentration, which runs primarily online courses, was the right fit for me. By the end of our call, another student had joined his "virtual office hours" and I was upset because I had not gotten to ask any real questions about my classes. He advised me to reach out to the Registrar for information on how often courses are taught, so I called them only to be told that actually department heads are much more knowledgeable when it comes to planning course schedules. "But my adviser told me to call you!" I panicked and was practically crying. The girl in the Registrar told me to try reaching out to Em Claire, our Assistant Dean for Student Services, so I scheduled a phone call for that afternoon.

When I told Em Claire about my concerns, she said all the right things and in a matter of a few hours, had resolved everything. She told me that the reason my first adviser had pushed the online curriculum so strongly was because he is the DIRECTOR of Online Studies. She heard me out and switched me from the IT concentration to a Generalist track, where I can focus on my interest in Special Libraries. Of course, I haven't lost interest in IT - I've just realized that my interests right now are too broad and I want to feel like my options are still open to all avenues.

Em Claire also assigned me to my new adviser, Jim Matarazzo, whom I met with this week. Jim suggested several classes for me to take (Web design, Competitive Intelligence, Knowledge Management) and is already talking about internships and jobs. He pushed me to answer the question, "Where do you want to end up?" and I realized that this is what was missing from my first advising session. Because everything leading up to that answer is just a fill-in-the-blank, right? YES PLEASE.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Organizing Information

Now that I have settled into a full week of classes, I can write about my second class. Information Organization meets on Tuesday evenings, and my professor is Daniel Joudrey. This class is often thought of as "cataloging," but it actually goes deeper than that, asking questions like 'why do we organize information?' and 'what is the future of information organization?'

I admittedly came into this course less than optimistic, because cataloging is really not a position that interests me. The role I currently have includes indexing legal records in a clunky system (among other tasks), and I'm definitely not interested in doing that for the rest of my life; however, understanding why and how we organize information is definitely a basic building block of LIS. It's also fascinating to see how far we have come from the days of card catalogs. I am curious to view this course through an historical lens.

One of the best parts about this course is that there are no quizzes, exams, or papers in this class. In the words of Danny, "one time I gave a pop quiz and people lost their shit." Thanks, Professor! There are no surprises and we can plan ahead (or fall a little short one week) as needed. Instead, we have a lot of reading, which is followed up with partner assignments and online responses, and also a large project at the end. Typically I am not the biggest fan of partner assignments, but this first one has been going really well. We have two weeks to complete a set of questions which direct us to various pages and resources in the Simmons library online catalog. It is aimed at getting us to see examples of the records and retrieval tools that we read about in our textbook. Danny recommended that we do it individually first and then exchange notes. I'm glad we have a chance to get a second opinion, because it's very clear from the syllabus that if we do badly on an assignment, there is no way to earn make-up credit. Danny also emphasizes the importance of being present in class every week. This seems fair, since my classes only meet once a week and missing one class means wasting a whole lot of money.

I am also learning that graduate school seems to have a lighter workload than my undergraduate program. This may also have to do with the fact that my undergrad courses were four credits each, and these are three, but I think it's also because our professors appreciate that most of us have jobs and lives and even families to look after. There are many students who have clearly come straight from an undergrad program, but a significant number of my peers are juggling multiple commitments. Danny said that our partner assignments for his class will never require us to meet in person and that you could hypothetically complete the whole exercise via e-mail. This is a big relief because I am only available for limited nights and weekends.

My week of classes ended last Thursday with a Patriots win and a beer with the best guy. Cheers to a great semester!

Yes, our neighborhood bar has a bookshelf.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Building Foundations

Happy Tuesday! Today is the second day of classes, so I'll start by telling you about my first day, last Thursday.

My Thursday class is one of the core requirements for all Library and Information Science Students at Simmons; it's called LIS 401: Foundations in Library and Information Science. It's heavy on theory but my professor also assured us that there will be plenty of practical discussion as well. The professor is Laura Saunders, who also teaches another course I have mentioned, 'Radical Librarianship.' I am looking forward to some of those themes being incorporated into our class, and this weekend's reading did not disappoint.

Making it Work

This is probably a good time to talk about my workload and plans for time management. I have chosen to take two classes each semester, and attend during each of the spring, fall, and summer terms. That should allow me to finish the required 36 credits (two 3-credit courses per semester) in two years (six semesters). I'm pacing myself this way because I also work 37.5 hours a week (9 to 5:30) at a law firm in downtown Boston, in the records management department. This semester, I am taking classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6-8:50pm, and my boss has agreed to let me leave at 5pm on those days so that I can make it to Simmons on time.

As the semester goes on, I will learn how to balance my homework and spread it out through the week. My professors also have listed the entire semester's readings on their syllabuses, in case I want to get ahead. With this past long weekend, I was able to complete my homework all the way through next Tuesday. My strategy once the semester picks up will be to read during at least four of the five days at work, during my lunch break (four days, with about 45 minutes, gives me three hours easily). My commute between work and home right now is unfortunately a little hectic (I jump from a bus to a train and am usually standing) so I can't do much work there; however, two nights a week I will be taking the train from Simmons to Lechmere, which gives me another hour to study.

Working remotely is essential, and I am hoping to minimize the amount of paper I use. My main tool for reading is my Amazon Kindle Fire 6. It fits in my hand and was only $80, so I feel comfortable taking it anywhere. I've downloaded .pdfs of all my readings, and sorted them into "collections." My Kindle lets me read and highlight the .pdf, and I take handwritten notes in a notebook or type them into a Word document.

Screenshot from my Kindle

I'm also purchasing an 11-inch Macbook Air from Apple, to replace my old white MacBook from 2010. It's been awesome and has never given me a reason to doubt it, but it's definitely slowing down and I am afraid to risk its dying mid-semester. It's also pretty heavy and would be a hassle to lug around to work and class. Between these two portable devices, plus my phone's hotspot capability, I should be able to work from almost anywhere. This weekend, I even got some reading done on the beach at Spectacle Island!

Boston Harbor - the view from Spectacle Island
Even with all this helpful technology, I know that none of this will be easy. It helps when the topics are interesting and enjoyable, but I know that won't always happen; it also helps when you live with an awesome and supportive boyfriend who makes late night dinners and picks you up from school. Shout out to Rob for driving all the way to campus last week! Usually, he'll just get me at Lechmere station in Cambridge, about ten minutes from our house. He also built me these amazing shelves for my study nook, when I need to get things done.

Class: Foundations 

I also want to write about my class last Thursday with Laura. There are twenty six students in the class and it is intended to be a discussion. I can already tell that our discussions will be very lively, and that this is going to be my favorite class this semester. Our readings this weekend totaled 47 pages, and some weeks we will also have assignments due. Next week we will have to respond in the online discussion forums, and our first paper, "Transforming LIS," is due September 24th. The articles we read were:
Doherty, J.J. (2005/2006). Towards self-reflection in librarianship: What is praxis? Progressive Librarian 26, 11 – 17.
Hartel, J. (2012). Welcome to library and information science. JELIS, 53(3):163 – 175
 Honma, T. (2005). Trippin over the color line: The invisibility of race in library and information studies. InterActions 1(2).
The longest and most interesting article (27 pages) was definitely 'Trippin over the color line,' as it challenged the idea that libraries are centers of intellectual democracy and egalitarian academic engagement, and instead argues that libraries were central institutions in the process of assimilating and whitewashing American immigrants. The democratic vision historically excluded those who were considered less eligible for citizenship, i.e. persons of color. Honma also criticizes the library industry, where whiteness has been cast as normative and the underlying sources of racism are not addressed; instead, a narrative of 'diversity' and 'multiculturalism' has recently taken shape, celebrating the presence of black bodies as tokens of progress but never truly facing the problem that white and western sources of knowledge are still privileged in the library space. Ultimately, Honma argues that librarians ought to take up a truly democratic mantle by fighting on the side of the oppressed rather than complying with (and acting as agents of) the oppressors.

Here is a snippet of this exciting article:
In short, LIS needs to embrace a “revolutionary multiculturalism” which McLaren (2003) defines as “a socialist-feminist multiculturalism that challenges the historically sedimented processes through which race, class, and gender identities are produced within capitalist society….[and is] dedicated to reconstituting the deep structures of political economy, culture, and power in contemporary social arrangements…[and] rebuilding the social order from the vantage point of the oppressed.'
I will definitely be re-reading this article before Thursday, and will probably be thinking about it long after. This theme of 'self-reflection' doesn't seem like it will be a problem if things stay this engaging. Hopefully my Information Organization class tonight can compete.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Orientation Day

Taking the train from Lechmere to Simmons
Last Friday, I took the day off work to go to Simmons' campus for the SLIS Orientation. It was a really exciting day, and I came away questioning all my choices (in the best way) and wondering how I will ever learn all those acronyms. Luckily, at the end of the day I had an hour bus ride to New Hampshire to mull things over.

Orientation Lesson One:

I arrived at Orientation early, because (1) it's what Hermione would do, and (2) I needed to stop by the Registrar. I still have undergraduate loans, so I have been trying to get those all set before I begin paying interest on my un-subsidized graduate loans (un-subsidized means that interest accrues while I am in school). My undergraduate loans are subsidized and Perkins (both Federal), so you'd think it would be simple, but the loan websites are not very clear on how to defer payments - many forms and little instruction. Until Leslie Knope becomes President, this is the confusing bureaucracy that is our government.

At the Registrar, I learned that Simmons is much more efficient than the government (is Leslie Knope running Simmons?)*. Apparently, the Registrar's office sends necessary paperwork to the federal loan people every month to let them know that I am enrolled. There's no need for me to fill out any forms after all!

Lesson Two:

In the main campus building, there is a little cafe and lounge area. I headed there after the Registrar and grabbed a coffee, then went upstairs to the conference center where Orientation was being held. Of course, there was free coffee. I immediately regretted wasting two dollars. I had forgotten the wonderful fact that there are free refreshments on college campuses all the time - and apparently this continues in grad school.

Lesson Three:

The morning of Orientation was filled up with presentations on our required curriculum, the TOR, Violence Prevention, and Creating an Inclusive Environment. We were also introduced to Student Groups, the Student Support Coordinators, and the SLIS Faculty.

I have been so focused on my classes that I completely forgot about extracurriculars at Simmons. As an undergrad, I was very involved with a few clubs and they were defining aspects of my experience at Saint Mike's. I plan on going with the same strategy in grad school: choose one or two groups I can really dedicate my time to, and not stretch myself too thin.

There are many great clubs within SLIS, and it's going to be tough to choose. Here are some of the options, abbreviated (librarians, it turns out, love acronyms):
  • LISSA - Library and Information Science Student Association, and umbrella organization for other groups
  • ALASC - American Library Association, student chapter
  • SCIRRT - works in international librarianship
  • UXBA - focuses on user experiences
  • ASIS&T - ASsociation for Information Science and Technology
  • PLG - Progressive Librarians Guild (radical!)
  • SLA - Special Librarians Association. A special library is one that has a specialized collection, as well as those not public or academic, such as a legal or military library. This is one I am really interested in!

Lesson Four

After lunch, we scattered for various break-out sessions. I went to the one for my concentration, Information Science and Technology (a sub-lesson to Lesson Four: Pay attention to the letter in front of the room number, because it indicates the building. Even though Simmons has a small campus, it's very possible and very awkward to run in late). My session was hosted by two hysterically contrasting characters, Dr. Gerry Benoit and Dr. Naresh Agarwal.

Basically, in my breakout session I realized that my IST program will be much more limiting (as a concentration is meant to be) than my liberal arts curriculum at St. Mike's. I had the luxury as an undergraduate of taking really fun extra classes like Politics of Food and Tolkien and Medievalism (the latter counted toward my major). At Simmons, after I complete the four SLIS core classes and the four IST cores, I will only be able to take two or three electives. 

Lesson Five

The way around these limitations is to be a generalist, which tempted me for about ten minutes of my bus ride to New Hampshire... but then I remembered why I chose the Information Science and Technology concentration. The limits that I place on myself in these two years will ultimately open more doors for me, because in addition to being a passionate and informed librarian, I will also have a unique and applicable skill set. Besides, of course I can still take amazing courses like Radical Librarianship. Empowering people through my progressive librarianship, in a field where women are often underrepresented (IT) is exactly why I chose Simmons.

Source: Hypable
*Leslie Knope would never endorse anyone's decision to become a librarian.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Technology Orientation Requirement

Before or during their first semester, Simmons SLIS students must complete a pass/fail course called LIS-400, the Technology Orientation Requirement (abbreviated as the TOR). The TOR consists of activities and quizzes that are designed to familiarize us with the technology we'll be using at Simmons, primarily the Moodle - basically a homepage for our classes - and the library's catalog. There are TOR companion pages that we study in order to complete the activities, and I thought that they were very well put-together.

One of the TOR Companion pages
One of our assignments was to post and respond in the forum section of our TOR. We were asked to introduce ourselves and then respond to others' introductions. I wrote:
Hello! My name is Amy, and I am looking forward to starting my masters degree after a year away from school. I graduated from Saint Michael's College in 2010 and moved to Boston last summer, where I now work at a law firm. I plan to work through school and attend classes at night - anyone else in this boat?
I live in Somerville and in my free time, I like crafting, doing small projects around my house, and rock climbing. My current projects include: brewing kombucha, sewing a quilt, and developing my 3-D printing experience.
Many people said that they were also working full or part-time while going to school, which was a great relief. I haven't worried so much about making this work, but I have gotten surprised responses when I tell people that I'm not quitting my job, and those responses have made me a little stressed. I also got a lot of feedback on the rock-climbing part of my post, and in the comments we chatted about a rock-climbing librarians club. I imagine it would look like this:


Another assignment that I really enjoyed was creating a Wiki-style page on a topic of our choice. I wanted to choose a topic that wouldn't already have its own Wikipedia page, so I wrote about a vintage red suitcase that I refurbished a few months ago. Our pages had to include things like bold text, multiple links, headings, photos, and a link to a .pdf. Here are a few snippets of my page:

The most challenging TOR assignment was to create a web-page that we had to code in HTML. It had the same requirements as the Wiki page but was a little more complicated. I know that this is really simple stuff but I had never done anything like it. Completing the project on my own, using just the TOR Companion pages, made me feel very confident and accomplished. Simmons SLIS did a great job of providing us with the information we needed, and then letting us figure it out through trial and error. This is my preferred learning style, but they also run workshops and have e-mail contacts if you need more assistance. This part of the HTML page I built:


The deadline to complete the TOR is October 19, so you have plenty of time to complete the course. Since I'm not sure what my work/school balance will be like, I wanted to complete everything before the semester began (and I was very excited).

So far I have been really impressed with the internal/course pages of the SLIS program - they are significantly more user-friendly than the system at my undergrad program. I guess this is the benefit of a program designed by librarians!

Monday, August 24, 2015

This blog

This blog is the sequel to a WordPress site that I started last year, when I had first moved to Boston. I wanted to move forward with the idea, but with 7 months between posts, it also felt necessary to have a fresh start. The original description is, I think, still a good summary of what I hope this will be.
In these past few months leading up to my graduation from Saint Michael's College, I developed a sort-of standard answer to the question, what are you doing after school? I came up with it while crafting my contributor's note for the Onion River Review and thought it was a clever response that could prevent people from giving me too much grief for graduating with a B.A. in English and Religious Studies. So, the very last written line of the 2014 ORR reads, "Amy Wilson is a senior with plans for post-graduate studies in joy."
In the past year and a half, my life has changed in many ways. My original blog began during June 2014 in my "room" (a corner of the living room that had been curtained off to serve as my bedroom) in a Jamaica Plain apartment. By the end of that summer, I had moved a few blocks over to a new fully-enclosed room in an apartment that I shared with three other girls. Now, a year later, I find myself in Union Square, Somerville. Last month I moved in with my boyfriend Rob. His apartment has become ours, customized and cozy.

Soon after my final blog post last winter, I very hastily applied to Simmons School of Library and Information Science. This is not to say that my decision was hasty, only that the process went very quickly. I had been sitting on the decision for a long time, and realized in the middle of January that if I applied by February 1, I would qualify for a scholarship. I had told people all along that I was thinking about it, but honestly, I wasn't. I was enjoying my life as a non-student and didn't feel any rush; however I also realized that if I didn't make up my mind, another year could slip away. I knew that my deposit wouldn't be due until May, and there was no harm in applying while I thought a little longer. I also had a steady job and a manager who I knew would support my decision to be a part-time student. Getting my ducks in a row in two weeks was a challenging process, and I remain so appreciative of my former professor and supervisors for writing my recommendations in record time. Simmons was the only school I applied to and I knew that it was the right fit.

By March, I knew that I had been accepted, and when my partial scholarship came in, I made my decision. I hadn't let myself feel excited until I knew that it was financially possible, and that feeling of joy was unexpected. Now I can't believe I ever doubted myself - but I also know that this year away from school has helped me grow in countless ways.

My intention for this blog is to hopefully keep family and friends involved in my life as I begin these next two years as a full-time employee and part-time student. I also hope that other post-grads who are contemplating a MLIS degree will find my writing helpful and informative.

Orientation is this Friday, and my first day of class is September 3rd, so I will be sure to update this in the coming days and weeks, and provide more specifics on my library background and current courses. Thanks for visiting!