Library On/Library Off

Nicolibrarian explores the secret life of information

Miriam Sweeney – Profiles in Awesome

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My first experience in grad school was the two-week-long LEEP “Boot Camp” –  an intensive course for all the first year MLIS students at Illinois’ GSLIS. In addition to bonding with my cohort of peers over things like way-too-cold dorm rooms, I got to meet a host of interesting PhD students, among them Miriam Sweeney. Miriam is interested in online identity, and attended the University of Iowa for her MLIS – so we had a little bond as I had just moved to Iowa City. In the interview below, Miriam talks about her path to PhD-land and issues of the day.

Nicole Forsythe: Tell me about your background and current work.

Miriam Sweeney

Miriam Sweeney

Miriam Sweeney: I started working for the Monroe County Public Library in Bloomington, IN, when I was 14 years old as a shelver.  I had no idea at the time that I had stumbled into some kind of life-path that involved librarianship.  From there, I accumulated about ten years of experience working for public libraries (I worked at the Waterloo Public Library in Waterloo, IA for several years as well) and a brief stint at an academic library.  During that time I tried on lots of library hats with positions in circulation, reference, cataloging and billing.  Along the way I assisted with young adult and adult programming as well as participated in a homework help center- such rewarding experiences!  Intermingled with my time in library-land, I volunteered and worked at several small museums largely helping with programming for children.  I admit that this even went as far as me teaching hour-long classroom lessons in character as an old-fashioned one-room school marm.

Currently, I am a second-year Ph.D student in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  I take classes and teach and love it. I also serve as the editor of the Library Student Journal.

NF: What made you want to go to library school?

MS: Well, initially I went back to get my MLIS as a way to expand my job possibilities at the library where I was working.  I had my eye on salaried, full-time work after years of part-time jobs- I know a lot of my fellow MLIS students will know what I am talking about!  As soon as I got back in school, I felt like I had returned home and realized I wasn’t in a hurry to go back to the reference desk.  I became interested in the idea that I could contribute to our profession by teaching library students and advocating for librarians within academia.  So, when I finished the MLIS, I headed off to Ph.D.-land to explore that prospect further.

NF: What do you hope to do with an MLIS?

Rule the world?  I was on the bus the other day and a history professor, upon hearing that I was in GSLIS, told me quite seriously, “Librarians are the right hand of God.”  What a moment!

Seriously though, I hope to get a faculty job in a library school and teach library and information science students.  My current research is not focused exclusively on libraries, rather it is geared more towards identity and race/gender/class and technology more generally.  Still, my roots are in the library and I feel jazzed up when I work with LIS students and get to geek out on librarianship.  It is all interconnected.

NF: What do you see as a big issue in the world relating to LIS – challenges for the field itself, info challenges for the rest of the world, or challenges for individuals?

MS: That is a great question.  I have been thinking about this question as it applies to librarianship, but also to democracy and to the individual.  I really think that we all need to collectively keep an eye on increasing commodification and privatization in the current information environment.  It seems that individuals are all too willing to relinquish control to corporations and industry, to the detriment of equal access, privacy, quality and preservation of information.  I want to encourage individuals, particularly librarians, to think proactively about solutions to these complicated problems and not automatically fall into a reactive position.

NF: What might “information leadership” mean to you?

MS: I think information leadership is partly about what I described above.  It is about stepping forward and having difficult conversations about information issues and daring to propose radical alternatives and solutions.  If we (librarians and information professionals) don’t do this, who will and what will that mean?

NF: Where do you get information to stay on top of LIS issues, or issues in a sub-field you’re into?

MS: Well, I am terrible at staying on top of blogs and other Internet sources… I have a case of information overload like everyone else!  Honestly, the most satisfying way for me to stay on top of issues is by talking to friends and colleagues.  Nothing is more rejuvenating than being active in your professional or academic community.  I find conferences very helpful in this regard as well.  We have a lot of knowledge distributed among us- turn to your neighbor and tap into their expertise.

NF: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

MS: Librarians are amazing people.  No one makes me laugh harder or feel more socially responsible than they do.

***

You can keep up with Miriam at the Library Student Journal’s Editor’s blog.

Are you interested in being profiled in “Profiles in Awesome” or know someone you’d like to see here? Have a good idea for a question to ask? Email me at nicolibrarian{at} gmail {dot}com.

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Written by nicolibrarian

February 21, 2010 at 8:00 am

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