Library School: A Look Back, Or Why You Should Do A Lot of Research on the MLS Program You Are Interested In

I started my MLS program at Emporia State University in January of 2013. I had just moved to a new State, started a new job, and ended a ten (10) year relationship. It was a time of extraordinary change for me and I was tentatively excited for what was to come.

One of the reasons I was originally interested in the program was due in part to the fact that they had electives that aligned with my interest in health science/medical librarianship. Even though it was part of Emporia’s nursing program, the courses were as close to medical librarianship as one could get (at least in the Midwest). It wasn’t until after I had been accepted to the program that I found out you had to physically be on the Emporia campus to take the courses. I had been lead to believe that the courses could be integrated into the hybrid face-to-face/online format the program had instituted, which was one of the main reasons I chose Emporia over The University of Missouri-Columbia. This left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was excited to start my program and as I progressed through the curriculum, I focused most of my research on aspects of librarianship that affected medical libraries.

The MLS program at Emporia follows a pretty standard format. The first two semesters are devoted to “Core Courses” and as you move further into the program, you are allowed more freedom when it comes to taking electives. In the first semester you are required to take Foundations of Library and Information Science and Information Seeking Behavior and User-centered Services and you have the option of taking Technology Skills for Graduate Students. I opted out of the technology skills class, and found the Foundations course to be very dry. Some of the history majors in my cohort said that they enjoyed the course, but overall I did not feel that the course was very challenging or interesting. While I understood the reasoning behind the course, studying the ALA Code of Ethics and learning about the history of libraries was not really my “cup of tea.”

Group Projects

It was also in this course that I had my first graduate school group experience and let me just say this…it was very unsatisfactory. My group mates did very little work and did not understand how to collaborate online. Further, one seemed to have a very difficult time coming to terms with the workload of a graduate program, and the other went on vacation halfway through the project without letting anyone know. In fact, we showed up at class to present and she wasn’t there. When we told our professor she said, “Oh, she didn’t tell you?” No…she didn’t tell us, but thanks. Needless to say, the experience was painful and I prayed I would never have assigned groups again.

In case you don’t want to read about my full experience…

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TL;DR

1. When considering a MLS program, make sure you really do some thorough research into the programs you are interested in. Email faculty, talk to recent graduates and don’t take the program directors word as law (i.e., make sure a course that they say is online is actually online and does not require you to be at a particular campus).

2. Do some general research into what type of librarianship you may be interested in and use the ALA’s Directory of ALA-Accredited Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies to help inform your decision.

3. Once you have been accepted to your program, don’t be afraid to speak up when you find the experience less than satisfactory! During my program, I emailed the director of our program to let her know that I was disappointed by the decision to dismiss one of our professors, and I also made full use of the professor/course evaluations at the end of each semester. Make sure that you help shape the future of MLS/MLIS programs by voicing your informed opinion!

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The second (2) course, Information Seeking Behavior and User-centered Services was team-taught by two very different professors. One had a very laissez-faire attitude about the course and interlaced a lot of personal experiences into her lectures. I really enjoyed when she taught and looked forward to class when she was the main presenter. The second professor was incredibly dry and I found it difficult to pay attention when she was lecturing. However, when the course was split into two groups, I was in the group with the second professor and was pretty bummed out for the rest of the course. Overall, the course was actually interesting and I still utilize a lot of what I learned in the course when helping students/faculty.

Semester two (2) was also dedicated to core classes: Organization of Information and Research in Library and Information Science. This was by far my least favorite semester in the program. While the Organization of Information course had interesting content, the professor was the same dry professor from my previous semester and lectures were painful. Thankfully I had an amazing group for the group project and we ended up creating a Prezi about organizing shoes. This was also the first semester we were really introduced to literature reviews, and even though I had done a few in my undergraduate work, they were never as in-depth as the first two reviews we were assigned in grad school. I chose to continue my research into health science librarianship by focusing my literature review on Medical Information Retrieval SystemsEven though the review was drawn out over multiple weeks, I thoroughly enjoyed the research experience and was proud of the finished product.

Organize Something Presentation

At the same time we were completing the review for Organization of Information, we were also assigned a literature review in Research in Library and Information Science, except this was a group review. My group was amazing, and I had the best partners in crime a library student could ask for, and we worked really well together. Even though collaborative literature reviews are horrible, we were able to pull together a great review by the end of the assignment. Originally, I was excited to take a research methods course and was hoping that we would allowed to really dive into data-driven library research. Unfortunately, our professor was less than satisfactory and we ended up learning very little about utilizing data in libraries. I supplemented the course with Research Methods: The Key Concepts and Knowledge into Action: Research and Evaluation in Library and Information Science, even though I had taken plenty of research courses during my undergraduate education. Overall the second semester was rough, but I did complete several usable work products that added depth to my portfolio.

By the third (3) semester Emporia allows you to start taking some electives.I opted to “start getting technical” and took Introduction to Metadata and Advanced Metadata Applications. Both courses were beautifully taught and I learned so many things that I have been able to apply to my jobs. The courses were both very intense and you had very little “goof off” time. I was able to work with the same individuals I had been paired with for the collaborative literature review and we aced the final project by creating BGMAP (Board Game Metadata Application Profile). If you plan on taking a metadata course, I highly suggest purchasing the book for the class and bookmarking the schemas the class is covering. I also took Collection Development and Management, with a great professor who was originally from Florida State University. During the course she allowed us to participate in a poster presentation (a sort of mini-conference) and incredibly I was assigned medical libraries as the topic of my research!

BGMAP Landing Page Markup

The fourth (4) semester is similar to the third (3) in that you can take an elective paired with a core or two electives. You still have to complete Leadership and Administration of Information Organizations, but there is some leeway on the order in which you take the rest of your courses. I decided to take the Leadership course (to get it out of the way) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though I have never desired to be in a management position (Guru track anyone?), our professor was incredibly engaging and provided us with a lot of context for why managerial roles are so vital in organizations. Unfortunately it was this particular professors last course before he was stupidly (yes I said it) dismissed from Emporia State University. This particular management course had us create a strategic plan for a library, which is apparently something LIS graduates are normally not well-versed in doing. The second course I was enrolled in during this semester was Introduction to Informatics, which–while interesting–also provided an absolutely terrible group project experience.

My last two semesters were by far my favorite in the program. I was enrolled in a total of five (5) courses over the entire two semesters. The second to last semester I took Information Technology, which I will sum up by using a tweet from a group mate…

Kat Tweet

I paired Information Technology with Information Retrieval and Customization, both of which were taught by the same professor. I found this particular professor to be horribly disorganized, and I could not for the life of me tell if she was actually technically proficient or not. Since most of the work was completed online, I didn’t have enough interactions with her to see if she was really comfortable with technology. After taking three of her classes, my ultimate vote is no.

My very last semester in the program I enrolled in Teaching in the Information Professions (wonderful course that should be required of all librarians, especially those interested in academic librarianship) and Project Management in Information Organizations, as well as my Capstone. While I would suggest taking a project management course, make sure that your professor actually understands how to teach project management and that it isn’t just a hobby of theirs.

Every semester I could I tried to take Database Design, but every semester it was dropped due to low enrollment. This was a major drawback of the program! There was not enough variation among electives to satisfy those of us not on a track. I wanted to take the following (but many were never offered during my cohort):

  • LI844: Database Design
  • LI866: Intro to Copyright and Licensing
  • LI809: Introduction to Archives
  • LI827: Preservation Strategies
  • LI835: Information Services for Academic Libraries
  • LI840: Structure and Organization of Information Technology
  • LI848: Web Design and Development
  • LI890: Advanced Research Strategies

This lead to me really only getting to choose 5 (4.5 really) electives throughout my entire program. I would have loved to “test out” of Information Technology (which was required) and taken a course where I would have actually challenged myself instead.

Overall I would give the SLIM program a C+ (B- on it’s best day). They are way behind when it comes to integrating technology into their curriculum, and are still offering concentrations in Children’s and Young Adult Librarianship. In order to stay relevant in today’s tumultuous world of library and information science, they need to start offering an MLIS, as well as concentrations that integrate informatics and computer science into the MLS curriculum track (perhaps offering a Systems Analysis and Design track, a Knowledge Management concentration, or even a Digital Information Certificate). The school currently offers a completely separate informatics degree, but the program just came into existence in 2015.

See TL;DR for a concise summary.

But…why?

That is the response I get from many librarians when I tell them I’m interested in medical librarianship. Health sciences, medical and hospital libraries are the red-headed step children of the library world, apparently.

I began to notice a trend during the first semester of library school. When I would tell the other MLS students what I was interested in pursuing, they all seemed so surprised. It made me wonder what it was about medical librarianship that caused such a strong reaction. Maybe it’s the science and technology that is off-putting. I know that it’s hard to get a lot of English majors excited about data analysis, informatics, and databases.

While working in the public library, my basic work week included: cutting out a million + 1 construction paper stars for a preschool story time craft, perusing Pinterest for teen program ideas, creating interactive displays for my public patrons and general collection management/public services duties. I excelled in whatever I worked on, but it wasn’t necessarily challenging. Even if I had planned for 25 kids and 75 showed up, or someone challenged a YA book because of content, I never felt particularly overwhelmed. Even though by all standards, I was swamped with work, it was “fun” work.

The work that I do now is immensely more challenging and I actually go home at the end of the day with questions to be answered by Google (or more specialized databases). I no longer make crafts, rarely do I get to make a display, and the “advisory” lists I create are now literature reviews for clinicians.  Instead of reading books entitled ttyl, I’m picking up Health Informatics for Medical Librarians.

While a good majority of my classmates are taking “Designing and Implementing Programs for Children and Young Adults,” or “Resources and Services for Early Learners,” I decided to delve into the more technical world of library science. There are a few brave people who are following the same path, but when I talk to the vast majority of my classmates they appear to be interested in public libraries or just general “academic libraries.” Few are interested in health science libraries, and even fewer want to work in a medical/clinical environment.

So, to get to the point, why not medical librarianship? Because for most, it’s not seen as “fun.” Unless you already have an interest in the health sciences, it’s not an easy transition from children’s programming to literature searches.

I should know, I did it.

Thankfully, my background in the health sciences and my passion for medicine gave me a leg-up. However, for many would-be-librarians, the prospect of searching for the effects of ivermectin on geohelminth frequency, or using PubChem to resource bioactivity data for 2-tert0butylhydroquinone is not only daunting, but down right uninteresting.

What can we do to change the way future librarians look at medical librarianship? Marketing! Many of the library students I talked to didn’t actually know what my job entailed. When I started to explain to them that I was able to utilize emerging technologies in instructional sessions, interface with clinicians through electronic media, research elusive zebra diseases, and even create some dynamic displays that promote subsets of medical literature they became increasingly interested in medical librarianship as a potential field.

“But Aroundthestacks, why do you want more competition for those already coveted positions?!”, you may ask.

Because I want to see information professionals working with health professionals to provide the best possible care! I don’t want medical librarianship to be a last resort for unemployed MLS grads. Instead I want courses taught within MLS/MLIS programs that prepare students for work in healthcare. Without the proper preparation, new grads will be faced with unfamiliar medical terminology, over complicated scientific databases, and a dim view of the role librarians have in healthcare as a whole.

I want LIS students to be excited about medical librarianship! I want them to see how valuable they can be to medical professionals, researchers, and medical students. I want a new generation of physicians who are comfortable searching the literature and utilizing evidence-based medicine in their practices. Librarians can complement physicians, especially when helping them to navigate the murky waters of medical literature and they have to be able to see that this partnership can work, but that has to start in graduate school…

 

Medical Librarians and Coursera

Courses through the Medical Library Association are expensive. The American Library Association workshops are not only expensive, but are also rarely relevant to medical libraries. When it comes down to it, professional development courses for medical librarians can be difficult to come by (especially when you’re on a budget). While browsing Coursera the other day, I happened upon several courses that I thought might be useful to those of us in the academic health science and medical library field. I created a list of the courses “for future reference” and to have a curated list in one place. As more courses are added, I will try to update this list!

Coursera Courses:

Libraries and User Experience

The gap between the number of people who think the library is important and the number of people who have actually used the library is huge. Comparing a Pew Research study conducted in 2013 and an American Library Association survey done in 2012 showed that, while 95% of people think libraries are important to society, only 52% have actually used their library in the past six months (Roskill, 2014). So why does this divide exist? Poor user experience and the ever increasing digital divide.

Libraries do many things well, but providing easy access to digital resources is not one of them. As the use of mobile devices continues to skyrocket, libraries will fall behind if they cannot create user experiences similar to “big box” brands like Amazon. As librarians, we are constantly promoting the eServices available through our respective libraries, but these services are severely lagging behind in the usability department. For example, take blogger Peter Rukavina’s (2013) experience when he tried to check out an eBook from his local public library (Figure 1).

Adapted from Peter Rukavina's blog post

(Figure 1) Adapted from Peter Rukavina’s blog post

In his post, Rukavina talks about “download[ing] an XML wrapper file for the audiobook, [which] in the end was simply three non-DRMed MP3 files.” Now imagine you are a 93-year old grandparent who has been given a Kindle for your birthday. You don’t have wireless in your home and you can barely send an email, even with the help of you grandchildren. You bring your Kindle into your local public library, where the librarian walks you through the “simple” twelve step process for checking out an eBook. How many times do you think you would use the library to access eBooks if this was the process each time? Amazon, on the other hand, is preloaded on the device. It stores all of your information and you can purchase a book for less than $2.99 in a single click. Amazon 2.99, libraries zero.

Libraries have been curating information for ages, yet we ourselves are not bridging the digital divide as efficiently as we should. To expect our digitally illiterate patrons to utilize our resources, we must simplify their user experience by providing easy access to the resources we promote to them. Libraries—especially public libraries—must step into the roles of content creator, provider, and curator. They must also understand that even with the majority of public libraries providing public internet access (IPAC, 2013) digital literacy cannot occur without access to digital resources and proper training. By creating user experiences that allow patrons to expand their digital literacy skills, librarians can begin to train the members of their community to become productive members of an increasingly technologically advanced society.

Information Policy and Access Center. (2012). Public libraries & digital literacy. [report]. Retrieved from http://plinternetsurvey.org/sites/default/files/publications/DigLitBrief2011.pdf

Roskill, A. (2014, May 14). Get a read on this — libraries bridging the digital divide: Andrew Roskill at TEDxCharleston. (2014). Charleston, S.C.Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J198u5HK0pY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Rukavina, P. (2013, February 5). Welcome to crazytown: public libraries confront digital objects. Ruk blog. [Personal Blog]. Retrieved from http://ruk.ca/content/welcome-crazytown-public-libraries-confront-digital-objects

Lets Play a Game!

Can you guess which category the following titles belong in?

Your choices:

  • Library School Case Study
  • Adult Film Title
  • Romance Novel

The titles:

  1. Compromising Positions
  2. The Flasher
  3. The Arrangement
  4. Yellow Fever
  5. Family Connections
  6. Dhana’s Dilemma
  7. Crisis at the WPL: Dan Has AIDS
  8. The Trustee’s Wife
  9. Log Jam
  10. Polly wants a doctor
  11. Single white male
  12. The Librarian and the Centerfold
  13. Wild in the Stacks

Continue reading

Operation: Collection Development, Medical Library Edition

This semester I am taking LI855XS: Collection Development and Management. I love this course so far, and the teacher has been particularly amazing. For our second to last assignment, we were randomly assigned a library (law library, public library, academic library, etc…) and, as my luck would have it, I was assigned a medical library!

The point of the assignment was to create a poster that highlighted the “general activities that were in involved in collection development within this particular library.” My partner had never done any research on medical libraries, so of course I was ready to assist! We threw ourselves into the assignment and began to develop some ideas for the poster. I must have been feeling especially uninspired, since it took quite awhile for the idea to form.

After I had gone through multiple drafts, we finally came up with Operation Collection Development, Medical Library Edition. I must say, I could not be anymore more proud of the final poster if I tried! In order to give our fellow students a take-away from the presentation, I created “handouts” in the form of RX pill bottles. I modeled the labels off of the CVS pharmacy label.

Here are some pictures from the presentation:

Poster session display

Our setup for the presentation. My iPad displayed the page I created for the QR code.

Close up picture of the poster.

A photo showing some of the detail in the poster.

Close up of the pill bottles.

A photo showing off the RX handouts I created. We filled them with Skittles*.

We placed in the top three and were given a tassel, certificate, and some other fun prizes. It was a lot of fun to present our poster to a group of our peers! I wish I would have taken more pictures of the session as a whole, but I was glued to my poster for the majority of the walk-around!

The poster’s new home is in the Public Services area of the A. R. Dykes Health Sciences Library. I’ve had a few comments about it so far, so I think it is being put to good use.

Poster hanging in the medical library.

The poster is now on display at the Dykes Library at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

 

 

 

*Since when did they replace the green Skittles with green apple?! What happened to lime????