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.