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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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February 14, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Libraries without Walls

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I was reading tonight in About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design, by Cooper, Reimann and Cronin about interaction design principles and patterns, and they quote (of all people), Antoine St. Exupery: “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” Cooper, et al, are using it to support their notion that “one of the classic elements of good design is economy of form: using less to accomplish more.”

This struck a chord as I’ve been mulling over a conversation with a new friend about library school and the field of Library and Information Science (LIS), of which we are both students. She was voicing some discontent about whether the field of public librarianship needs a lot of the theory taught now in the MLIS programs in the U.S., when so little of it seems to be applicable to the actual practice of serving the wide array of public needs on desk in a traditional public library. I was mulling over my place in library school: while I have library experience, love the institution of the library, and would be happy to land in one, I’m primarily attending school to further my knowledge of the organization of information, information architecture, and information design. Needless to say, it’s hard to explain to my peers why I’m there, and even harder to explain to folks outside of the LIS community why library school, and what I hope to do.

The St. Exupery quote above made me realize that, far from fighting the information changes happening in my world, I love them. I like the change; I like the act of reduction, of boiling things down to their essence. I adore that now *everyone* has many capabilities to search and retrieve information, where once upon a time it was only librarians and a handful of other professional knowledge workers who could access information rapidly and across a wide variety of fields. And I realized that part of what I love about library school, this blog, and thinking/learning/studying information is that I like not that libraries are changing so drastically, but that in many ways, the walls have come down. We’re all living in a library – one without walls.

An example: Clay Shirky, a thinker of note, writes a lot about how technology and the Internet is changing the world. He writes about scale of technologies and economic shifts and, although neither he nor his critics might say this, I think he writes about the ideas the underpin LIS. In this post on Weblogs and the Mass Amateurization of Publishing, Clay says:

“Travelocity doesn’t make everyone a travel agent. It undermines the value of being travel agent at all, by fixing the inefficiencies travel agents are paid to overcome one booking at a time. Weblogs fix the inefficiencies traditional publishers are paid to overcome one book at a time, and in a world where publishing is that efficient, it is no longer an activity worth paying for.”

Although I am an ardent supporters of libraries, a LIS graduate student, and I certainly recognize there are things libraries do beyond serve as a search engines, I can’t help but wonder if the paragraph could read – with apologies to Clay for the change:

The Internet doesn’t make everyone a librarian. It undermines the value of being a librarian at all, by fixing the inefficiencies librarians are paid to overcome finding things one at a time. Search engines fix the inefficiencies traditional information workers are paid to overcome, and in a world where information retrieval is that efficient, it is no longer an activity worth paying for.

Inherent in my edits above are some blind spots: libraries and their staff also serve as collectors, selectors, marketers, conveners, institutions of democracy/social justice/equality. And information workers – broadly writ – are needed more now than ever to sift through information, analyze it, and make sense of it.

So what? I’m not sure yet. I love my field because, largely, I feel it is embracing the massive changes and blending of disciplines that are happening. I love the kind of people attracted to LIS for their diverse backgrounds, and I love the ideas I’m exposed to in school. So in the spirit of these thoughts, I’ve renamed my blog, and look forward to continuing to explore this library without walls with you.

Written by nicolibrarian

November 9, 2009 at 5:10 am