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). https://escholarship.org/uc/item/4nj0w1mp
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.