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Leighton Christiansen – Profiles in Awesome

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What do digital poetry and truck driving have in common? How about union organizing and digital preservation? All are things my friend Leighton Christiansen could tell you a lot about. Leighton is one of my colleagues at GSLIS, a skilled tech-tamer, and the story of his path to library-land seems to span nearly the million miles he logged as a trucker. AND his initials are LC…coincidence? You decide.

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

LC

The Other LC

Leighton Christiansen: I grew up in Iowa, graduating from Betttendorf High in 1986, and starting my BA in English at the University of Iowa that Fall. I graduated with a BA English major and Informatics minor in May 2009. In the 23 years in between, I did some carpentry, delivered pizza and newspapers, drove a school bus, wrote radical journalism, learned newspaper and magazine layout, worked as a household goods mover, drove a truck, worked in campus IT at Iowa, organized and participated in hundreds of rallies and pickets, and was a member of three labor unions: the Chicago Truck Drivers’ Union, The National Writers’ Union, and the Teamsters. I started my MLIS at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in August 2009. I hold a Graduate Assistantship in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS’) Instructional Technology and Design area, working to keep our 40 to 50 distance LIS classes on the air every day. And after serving as the GSLIS steward for the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) and on the GEO strike committee in November, I have been recently elected as a GEO Officer-at-Large.

NF: How did you get from being a truck driver, carpenter, et al, to library school?

LC: 
In 2002, after truck driving for 9 years, I realized that was not going to be a good long-term career choice. I moved back to Iowa with the idea of picking up my unfinished BA. I had always been a big library user and had thought about being a librarian at various times. I was not actually able to restart my education until 2006. I took 20 asynchronous distance-education hours at Kirkwood Community College in 2006 & 2007, often doing my homework in the cab, or sleep, of the truck while I was waiting to be loaded or unloaded. I took a poetry survey class with Marianne Taylor. Marianne introduced us to digital poetry, especially the work at poemsthatgo.com. I had finally, after starting my English major 20 years earlier, found the kind of poetry I was most interested in.

While studying digital poetry and coming across dead links and obsolete players and software, I began to worry about who and how these poems and art objects were being preserved for future study. I graduated with my AA in Spring 2007, knowing that when I started at Iowa in the fall, I was going to study new media poetry and go on to library school, with the goal of preserving digital poetry. I continued to drive truck full time through the end of my junior year, when I got a job in campus IT. And after three attempts to retire from truck driving, I was finally successful. 

Fortunately, I was able to pair my course work with my IT job. I picked up an Informatics minor at Iowa, because I needed to learn a whole new technology. At Iowa I was part of the SITA (Student Instructional Technology Assistants) program. Our job was to help instructors introduce new technologies into their teaching. This included web site publishing, podcasting, blogging, building wikis, and integrating and exploring virtual worlds, just to name a few. I got to work with faculty one on one or in small groups, and was often asked to come into classrooms to introduce the new technology to the students. The final three years of my 23-year-BA odyssey were fabulous, and I think made me attractive to the LIS schools I applied to, including UW Seattle, UNC Chapel-Hill, and UIUC.

NF: What do you want to be when you grow up and how do you see an MLIS getting you there?

LC: My current area of study at GSLIS is a Masters in Data Curation, with my intention to stay and pursue a Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) in Digital Preservation. Once I get out of school and back to the work world (and I am in no hurry), I see myself working at a digital archive or at a museum that preserves new media poetry and cyber-fiction. Hopefully, the day job will allow me to continue my own content creation that I began while at Iowa. The MLIS and CAS are key to attaining the technical skills and theoretical background I need to become a serious humanities preservationist. I have a lot of technology to learn, and many specialized data standards to learn. I think the MLIS is the best way for me to start exploring and attaining the many new skills I will need.

NF: You do a lot of work with helping online education at GSLIS go smoothly. What are some of the benefits and limitations of online ed, as far as you can see?

LC: I am a huge fan distance and online education. Over my undergrad career I attended three different community colleges and universities. More than half my AA credits at Kirkwood were from distance ed classes. In the early 1990s, these classes where synchronous distributed courses, with an instructor and camera at one site, and with students at up to seven remote sites, with cameras and mics of their own. The asynchronous credits I took in 2006 and 2007 were Internet-based courses, using the Blackboard course management tool. Online ed meant I was able to complete my AA while still working a very irregular truck-driving schedule.

My current work at GSLIS ITD is in support of other students who are working full time in other cities, in other states, on other continents. The difference for GSLIS LEEP (the distance education scheduling option) classes is that we use Elluminate software, which creates virtual synchronous classrooms, allowing students to interact with instructors and other students without having to be in the same physical location. 

The main benefits of distance ed are the freedom and access students have. Students can learn from great instructors, and collaborate with excellent students, based in universities and colleges all over the world. Students with crazy schedules and family lives, or other restrictions, can gain life-changing education. For students, I don’t really see a downside.

Some are concerned that maybe that there is not enough interaction with instructors or students. Students do need to be pro-active about contacting instructors and staying on track. But I can tell you, in the GSLIS LEEP program, which requires students in the program to spend a few days each year on campus, that students can create a tight group identity. GSLIS LEEP students tend to use our course management chat and discussion tools more than on-campus students. GSLIS LEEP students also graduate at the same rate as our on-campus students. 

The limitations on on-line ed come mostly from the institutional side. Institutions with the attitude that Internet-based classes will just bring in the money, and they don’t have to do anything, will soon find the program will fail from lack of interest. Colleges and universities have to understand that distance students have different needs and you have to dedicate the resources these students need. Having been on both sides of distance ed now, I am excited to be registered for the course E-learning at GSLIS in Fall 2010. It will add some depth to conclusions I have drawn from my experiences.

NF: What are some of the issues in LIS right now that you’re most passionate about? If you could proffer advice to the field on these issues, what would it be?

LC: The biggest issue in LIS right now is the big issue in higher public education everywhere: the corporatization of education. Over the past 30 years more and more tax dollars that are supposed to go to education have been diverted into the bank accounts of private companies. Jobs have been privatized and given to private bidders. More and more administrators are from the corporate realm, not academia. The ideology they bring to the job requires that university departments show a profit, or bring in more grant money, or garner publicity for research that is then given away to businesses for free. Many LIS schools have responded to this cultural change by de-emphasizing library education and emphasizing information science, especially in the area of organizing information for private corporations.

Education should not be about the bottom line. And it does not have to be.

We in LIS, and across the academy, need to fight back against the education-for-profit model that is sucking the life out of education– that is trying to tailor education to the needs of corporations rather than the needs of people. Of course this would have an impact on jobs after MLIS. Public librarian jobs should be highly-paid State jobs. These jobs should not be cut just at the time when more people need access to information and service that libraries provide. Library utilization increases in times of recession and depression. Academic librarians and institutional archivists aid life-saving research and preserve culture. They cannot be cut without negative impacts on science and humanities: benefits will go undiscovered; culture will be lost. Some services have intrinsic value that cannot be measured on a spreadsheet.

If you are in a LIS school, fight back against budget cuts. If you are faculty, organize or join a union. Are you a working librarian? Organize and fight cuts that affect your patrons; get them involved. Societies and cultures change all the time — we can affect that change. And we must affect that change if we are to have the greater say, as library and information professionals, in what information and services are available in the future. If we don’t, everything will only be measured by how it benefits some business’ bottom line.

NF: Anything else you’d like to say to library-land?

LC: We go to LIS schools to learn how to shepherd and preserve information and entertainment in its many forms. The thing we have to remember is that besides living on our shelves and in our computers, information lives in a larger environment that surrounds our libraries and archives. Just as we try to control the internal library environment–adjusting temperature, humidity, and light–we need to try to shape the cultural and economic environment that information lives in; to shape the cultural and economic environment that we study and work in. We want to create an environment more hospitable to information and culture, to the people we serve, to the people with whom we work. Some of that work must take place in our schools and libraries; some of it must take place outside.

***

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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April 15, 2010 at 6:54 am

Caroline Nappo – Profiles in Awesome

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Building on my last Profile in Awesome on Miriam Sweeney, this week I’m sharing the joy that is Caroline Nappo, a fellow GSLISer who is pursuing her PhD at Illinois. I also met Caroline during “Boot Camp,” where she was the TA in charge of my discussion section. Caroline introduced me to the works of Jesse Shera, the radical cataloging of Sanford Berman, and is always willing to share information and advice. Caroline is also co-president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Illinois, and she mentions below her passion for workers rights and the need for public funding of essential services.

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

Caroline Nappo

Caroline Nappo

Caroine Nappo: I am currently a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  Before that I was a master’s student at GSLIS, and before that I was an indexer with the Alternative Press Index (http://www.altpress.org/).  As an undergraduate I worked at the campus library, which is where I first experienced the vocational epiphany that propelled me on the path to library school.

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

CN: I had always enjoyed research, reading, and writing (not necessarily in that order).  As a child I made regular use of both public and school libraries; however, it was not until I went to college that I learned what librarians were about.   After working at Antioch College’s Olive Kettering Library for a few semesters, I realized that professional librarianship was a perfect fit for me.  Suddenly, it was apparent to me that one could make a career out of organizing information and helping others find it.  I vowed to go to library school someday.

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

CN: Most recently, I used it to bulk up my application to the doctoral program – the GSLIS doctoral program prefers the master’s degree as a prerequisite.  So, with my MLIS plus the PhD I am hoping to teach in a library school.  At the same time, I have not yet ruled out professional librarianship entirely.  I still love connecting people with information.  Even though I am not working as a librarian right now, I feel like I apply my MLIS skills on a regular basis.  At its core, librarianship is about compassionate facilitation between humans and information.

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?

CN: The privatization of information is a major issue for LIS.  The tradition of American librarianship has relied so much upon free access to information.  In the digital age, libraries increasingly trade access for ownership.  Libraries spend extraordinary amounts of money to lease databases.  Digitized materials can be incredibly useful, but we must ask on whose terms digital information is made available.

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

CN: Not sure – this sounds like a vague synonym for librarianship.

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

CN: I am a member of the American Library Association and the Illinois Library Association.  I’m also a member of several affiliated ALA groups such as the GLBT Round Table, the Social Responsibilities Round Table, the Library History Round Table.  I read various mailing lists and attend conferences.  I subscribe to magazines and talk to my friends and colleagues.  All of these activities help keep me in the loop.

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

CN: Library workers need to see their work as political.  It is a political act to provide diverse and authoritative information on a free basis.  Toward that end, librarians need to fight for public funding.  Cuts to social services such as libraries, education, and health care are only going to get worse unless we start raising more of a ruckus.

***

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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February 28, 2010 at 8:31 pm

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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February 21, 2010 at 8:00 am

Beth Andrews – Profiles in Awesome

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Confession: I have not always thought inter-library loan (ILL, in industry speak) seemed all that exciting. In fact, the few times I had dealings with the back-end of the processes of ILL, I was mostly just worried to mess up what seemed a really complicated system with a lot of moving parts. And then I met Beth Andrews, who not only loves ILL, but has an infectious positive attitude about this part of the LIS field. Beth and I are colleagues in the University of Illinois’ GSLIS program. She has changed my mind about being afraid of ILL and so it is my pleasure to introduce her to you:

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

Elizabeth (Beth) Andrews

Beth Andrews: I currently work in the Interlibrary Loan department at Loyola University Chicago; specifically, I run the lending side of things, which means responding to requests from other institutions that want to borrow our materials. I really, really love ILL — I run across awesome books every day, I get to communicate with libraries around the globe, and I like that I’m helping people with their research. I’m also lucky enough to work at a library that gives me lots of professional development opportunities; I’ve sat on two job search committees, worked on a Strategic Planning task force, and currently serve on the Public Relations and Outreach committee. I highly recommend working somewhere that lets you see and contribute to the big picture, because you learn a lot and get a break from your daily routine.

My background: I have a BA in both French and SCMC (Studies in Cinema & Media Culture) from the University of Minnesota, and I also completed the University of Chicago’s Master of Arts Program in the Humanities with a concentration in Cinema & Media Studies.  Clearly, I love film, but also television, literature, dance, music — any mode of self-expression that inspires and brings people together. My original plan was to get a PhD in film studies, but I think library science is a much better fit for me. I love that I’m constantly surrounded by books and ideas, but also get to do practical, tangible work that helps people. Librarianship is very much a helping profession and I’m very interested in that aspect of the job.

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

BA: My mom has worked in a public library since I was a kid, so I spent a lot of time there in the summers and have always loved the environment. I worked at various university libraries for six years as a student employee and truly enjoyed it, but I never thought of becoming a librarian because I was so focused on becoming an academic. Working full time at Loyola exposed me to librarianship as a career — I never realized how many different kinds of librarians there were, and how many different things you could do with the degree.  Getting the MLIS seems like a natural next step, as I want to move forward, have more responsibility, and be involved in decision making processes.

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

BA: Broadly, I want to work with people and improve ease of access.  The specifics of that will vary depending on the setting, but the impulse behind it is this: we are currently surrounded by an astonishing amount of constantly shifting information, and if we’re overwhelmed by this as information professionals, how must the patrons feel?  I think libraries can provide a lot of solutions to problems of organization and access, and I’d like to be part of that discussion.  (I’m not tech-savvy, though, so don’t expect me to design the Great American OPAC or anything.)  Though I’ve been an introvert all my life, I’ve found that I genuinely like working with people, including patrons, co-workers, or colleagues from other libraries.  I have a great respect for knowledge and education, and love to see what students are working on and help them get the resources they need.  If I stay in the academic environment, I’d love to work in a film or performing arts library.

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?

BA: There are way too many answers to this question, so I’ll go with a topic that doesn’t get enough attention: marketing.  Libraries don’t always know how to market themselves, which is a shame, because we have so much to offer our communities.  Libraries worry about how to compete with Amazon and Google, but I think we’ve got an automatic advantage: the ability to forge personal connections.  I don’t necessarily mean that in a warm-and-fuzzy way, though many patrons do like that.  Google is very easy to search, but it can’t help you interpret the results, or teach you how to choose the best search terms, or remember that you’re writing a paper on André Bazin and e-mail you a week later with a list of potentially helpful resources.  Our patrons love technology, but they don’t always know how to harness it to their best advantage, and they don’t realize that we’re here to help alleviate their frustrations.  Hence the need for good marketing!

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

BA: In regard to our patrons, we need to step in and teach them not only how to find and use information, but how to evaluate its veracity, relevance, and credibility. As a whole, we need to remind our non-library colleagues that as we all adapt to the new information environment, librarians have been tackling issues of organization and access for over a hundred years, and we will continue to make our voice heard and work as hard as we can to provide solutions and meet our patrons’ needs.   We don’t need to be defensive or proprietary, but we also shouldn’t take a back seat and let other information providers make all the decisions.  The idea of partnering with these companies to problem-solve and create new information technologies is pretty exciting.

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

BA: ALA’s weekly American Libraries Direct e-mail is a good for general news items.  Otherwise, I’m a big fan of blogs (like this one!) because RSS feeds make keeping up on them outlandishly easy, and I enjoy the mix of news, opinion, and discussion.  In terms of Interlibrary Loan, there are actually a couple of old school listservs that are massively helpful (and often quite entertaining). I also find that my fellow GSLIS students are really good about sharing information via Twitter, Facebook, or class forums.  Hopefully we can maintain these connections after graduation, because we’ve got a good network going!

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

I’m super flattered that you wanted to interview me!  It will be really interesting to read this in a year or two and see how my thinking has changed.  I’m totally overwhelmed (in a good way) by everything I’m learning in school and excited to see where my career takes me.

****

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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February 14, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Leigh Estabrook – Profiles in Awesome

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When I started library school last summer, my first class was with Professor (and Dean Emerita) Leigh Estabrook. The class, LIS 502 Libraries, Information, and Society, is taught over two weeks and known as “boot camp” for the distance education (or LEEP) students. Far from being a grueling chore, it was a stimulating class and it was clear that Leigh was a woman deeply committed to fostering the development of emerging LIS leaders. Leigh sent in the following text about social justice, her life as a mother and part-time student who faced obstacles in going back to school, and her path in the LIS field. Definitely interesting to read in 2010, as a young(ish) woman pursuing information work.

***

Professor Estabrook

Leigh Estabrook

In 1968, after 3 years of marriage and one child I was desperate to go back to school.  Initially I wanted to go to law school or the Harvard Education School; but neither would accept me part time.  Since my husband and I were house parents at a Radcliffe College Dorm, I wasn’t permitted (by the Dean) to go to school full time.  So the upshot was I went to Simmons College in Library Science because they would take me part time.

When we went to Notre Dame for my husband’s job in 1969, I found a job as a bibliographer; but it was deadly.  The South Bend Public Library turned me down because I had children.  So in the end I founded what I call on my resume a “community information center.”  I created a draft-counseling center for people concerned about being drafted to fight in the Viet Nam war.

My husband was fired for anti-war activities, so in 1971 we went back to Boston and I became a faculty member at Simmons College and began my doctoral studies in sociology at Boston University.  We began sharing housing with friends and their kids and continued that through several moves and added kids.  When I was denied tenure at Simmons I became a faculty member at Syracuse University where I stayed until 1986 when I became dean at the University of Illinois.

I have always felt that the field of LIS is critical:  people can die because they lack information—sometimes because they don’t know it exists, sometimes because it is hidden from them, sometimes because it is too hard to find or too expensive.  It is easy for us to forget how important our work can be.  It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work or the bureaucracies of our jobs and forget that we are called to act with virtue and with social justice.  [See https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/leighe/Virtuous.pdf]

So our major challenges involve fighting for access in all the different ways we work.  This includes every aspect of LIS including acquisition of information, and its preservation, organization, management and use.  No one of us can act in all areas; but each of us can make a difference in the places where we have talent and interest.

***

Leigh can be found at her personal website or you can see some of her scholarly writings through Google Scholar.

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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February 1, 2010 at 12:45 am

Profiles in Awesome – Amy Slowik

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I first met Amy Slowik when I was visiting the University of Iowa to look at their MLIS program, since I knew it was likely I’d be moving to Iowa City with my husband. At a lecture I attended, Amy introduced herself, and has since provided me with invaluable advice about library school and Iowa City. Amy has just started a new job as the Electronic Resources Librarian/Assistant Professor at Western Kentucky University, and shares information on her trajectory through academe and library school below. You can also learn more about Amy at her blog, Dark Archivist, or follow her on Twitter.

Nicole Forsythe:  Tell us about your background, current work, what made you want to go to library school, and what you hope to do with your MLIS.

The one and only Amy Slowik

Amy Slowik: In 2000, I graduated from DePauw University with a double major in art history and English Literature. Though I was considering getting a PhD in either field, I wanted a career that would allow me to work with both fields and also in publishing. In high school I served as Editor-in-Chief my school’s literary magazine for three years, and I knew that I loved editing, writing, and leading people. I continued through college to work on my publishing skills: I edited and wrote for two campus newspapers and a social justice journal, as well as publishing my own term paper in DePauw’s research journal and editing/researching my adviser’s book with an FDIC summer grant. That same adviser suggested that I become an art librarian or academic librarian.

Immediately after graduating from college, I entered the Master’s Program in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. Though admitted into the art history track, I also took literature courses. The program allowed me to gain a subject master’s in art history, which I knew to be a keen advantage (if not outright requirement now) for either the art librarian or academic librarian career paths. At that point I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a librarian, which is why I earned the subject master’s first. That same master’s allowed me to be hired as an editor in Iowa City when I followed my husband there for his PhD in Film Studies at the University of Iowa.

While working as an editor, I worked closely with the art/permissions librarian at my company. That combined with my former interest in librarianship and research into the field (including informational interviews) made me decide to apply for a master’s in library science. The University of Iowa had a library science program, and just happened to be admitting students for the final cohort of a Digital Library Fellowship. I knew that modern librarianship—particularly art librarianship, which is going more and more into online catalogs and galleries—more and more deeply becomes entwined with digital initiatives and that the fellowship would be both a free ride and a great idea. I won the fellowship and graduated in December of 2009.

In January of 2010, I started a job as Electronic Resources Librarian/Assistant Professor at Western Kentucky University. It’s my job to manage the electronic resources and their systems for the university. The position requires a subject master’s and a great deal of knowledge/training about library technologies and intellectual property. I serve as a subject liaison and a reference/instruction librarian. Because I am 10-month tenure track, I am required to publish in order to gain tenure.

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?

AS: It’s hard to narrow my answer down to just one issue. One big issue (and the root of many other issues) is the same issue that America faces on the whole: uneven distribution of wealth, including capitalism’s degrading influence on the country’s already dangerous economic polarization. This is a big problem for librarians on two fronts: the library’s inability to function because of an increasing lack of funds, and the vast differences in users’ abilities due to uneven educations and families of origin. But both fronts have the same cause: our country continues to pull money away from education. This is exactly the opposite of what the country needs to do to stay competitive in the global market. If America continues to do this, our power as a nation will continue to dwindle. Guns do not determine power in the 21st century, economics do. And the smarter a nation, the better its economics and therefore its influence and quality of life. That’s a proven fact.

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

I think the whole purpose of a librarian is to be an “information leader”. In the 21st century and Web 2.0, patrons are users of technology as much as librarians. More and more of our information goes through new channels to reach users. It is our job to not just gate keep but guide users in using information. We must lead them into ever-evolving ways of accessing and using information. We cannot just sit a book in front of them and tell them to read. That model does not work for the modern user. I consider us to be teachers, counselors, and enablers—all of which requires leadership. If you want to be a librarian who sits in a small room by yourself and never interacts or changes, forget it. That doesn’t happen anymore.

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

AS: I use a combination of listservs, publications, networking, and conferences to stay abreast of issues. You cannot rely on any one or two of these. Library science evolves so fast that publications cannot keep up for much of us. But listservs and networking cannot be relied upon fully as they rely upon individuals in a casual setting who are thus prone to error and bias. Conferences are also flawed: they occur only annually, so the information they present is often outdated. Also, many professionals who present at conferences do so because required, not because they actually have anything valuable to say or are experts of their fields. Thus, staying in touch with LIS requires a great deal of balance, time, and energy. But don’t do this all in your own free time: keeping updated should be just as much a part of your daily work hours as meetings or deadlines.

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Don’t forget: Keep up with Amy at her blog, Dark Archivist, or follow her on Twitter.

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.

Written by nicolibrarian

January 24, 2010 at 5:43 am

Profiles in Awesome – Lynn Yarmey

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Lynn Yarmey is a fellow distance-learning (or LEEP) student in the University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS). I first met Lynn last summer and was interested in the similar paths we seemed to be taking in school, despite the differences in her science-oriented background and my humanities-oriented background. In the email interview below, Lynn talks about why she’s pursuing an education in LIS, challenges in the larger social understanding of information issues, and how she stays on top of developments in her field.

Lynn Yarmey, LIS student

Nicole Forsythe:  Tell me about your background, and your current work (as in, job).

Lynn Yarmey: Many years ago (maybe 9th grade? 10th?), a friend and I did a History Day project on the Anasazi.  We learned about how the culture and life of the people were so intimately tied to the geography of the area. At the time I was taking physics class that I really enjoyed.  I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but I smashed geography and physics together and decided I wanted to be a ‘geophysicist’. It was terribly difficult, but I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Geophysics from Boston College in 2000.

After a stop at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, I was hired in 2001 by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (part of UC San Diego) in the Programmer/Analyst track to process and analyze ocean current data from a particular instrument (my senior ‘thesis’ at BC looked at that same instrument).  Five years ago, the funding for that project ended and I ended up as a programmer-for-hire. I was lucky enough that at the same time, there was a new data management initiative starting up in my department. Now I split my time between the data management side and programming and analysis work for other scientists who have funding and work.

NF:  What made you want to go to library school and what do you hope to do with an MLIS?

LY: I had been putting off grad school until this year because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I couldn’t stomach learning any more programming but the thought of getting an oceanography degree wasn’t that much more appealing.  I am much more a jack-of-all-trades type, a little good at a lot of things, and I like people, which didn’t necessarily fit directly with my CS or PhD options. My job is great, though there is only funding for me to do what I love to do half-time and many of the other positions I was seeing listed an MLIS as a requirement.

I would love to work with scientific data and metadata full time in a sustainable career path, and libraries seemed like a place that have the career path and organizational placement figured out.  While I tend to agree with critics who point out that libraries are not ambitious enough in terms of staking claim to the realm of data curation, I think that libraries have at least accurately articulated the problems and worked to define the realm. I hope the rest of academia comes around!

I am hoping to be one of those (seemingly rare?) people who have a foot in the theory world and the other solidly in the practical work – a “pracademic,” as you called it. I would love to be able to do information work and write about it, to blend science, technology and social elements. I want to be able to explore the complexities on the ground and also be able to understand those actions enough to put them all back together again.  Information work brings everything together: how we learn, how we record what we know and how that gets translated to other people across time.   It means mediating across hugely diverse fields like psychology, business, communication, education, political science, computer science, and for me, environmental science.

In my own little ideal situation, working with information means I get to bring people together, help them talk to each other, and move from the big-picture goals to the nitty-gritty details as a partner, and then step back and think about what elements of that experience can be made generic, or can help other people do the same thing.  I seek to think across time, people and subject. I want to be an insider and an outsider at the same time, balancing the reality and the ideal, the theory and the practice, and all of the different tensions, demands, possibilities and limitations. For me, information work is like mental gymnastics and sounds amazingly fun.

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?

LY: I don’t think I know what the Grand Challenge issues in LIS are.   From my very limited perspective, I can see a lot of smaller issues:

  • For individuals, as far as I call tell, there is no identifiable career track in information work, even though almost every organization, business, non-profit and individual deals with similar issues at various points. Education still seems to be on a specialization track while LIS works more across domains. Information issues are being identified, but are still being dealt with by traditional organizational structures and existing expertise rather than brought together with new expertise.
  • For the field of LIS itself, I think we are playing out one aspect of globalization but again with existing paradigms. There is an amazing amount of complexity in bridging local knowledge to global standards and practices and I think it is possible that the relevant perspectives are not all at the table just yet.

Generally, I think that in many ways we need a mental and cultural shift to appropriately address information problems and to really get ourselves to the web 3.0 leaping point where ‘seamless’ integration is the norm.  I have been told that these things just take time.

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

To me, information leadership would involve getting the right people together to talk about what we value and how ownership overlaps with that value (if at all). We need to talk about what knowledge is and how we want to represent it digitally, what an information society looks like and what should be public vs. corporate. Discussions need to be had about what information should be regulated and by whom, where the balance should be between privacy and openness, or what topics individuals should consider in these discussions. I think even creating a plan to get us from our current position to the point where we as a society can start to begin to address such questions and formulate others would be a part of “information leadership” right now. In many ways, technology (and technologists) is starting to answer these questions for us and I am not sure that is the best thing, though we don’t yet have a proactive, thoughtful, fair and inclusive alternative. Decisions need to be made at the social level, though the rate of technical advance seems to be forcing early decisions.

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

LY: I’m always interested in the ways that other information professionals are keeping up on LIS issues. For me, I like picking out information articles in popular reading (I love SEED magazine, but also Wired or Newsweek, the local news outlets, etc) to keep a better grip on the big picture.  I love Dorothea Salo’s blog, I try to keep up with the Digital Curation Centre research, and follow a few of the oceanography communities of practice that seem to be emerging (QARTOD and MMI).  The Long Term Ecological Research information management community is also great.

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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.

Written by nicolibrarian

January 17, 2010 at 11:45 pm