Category Archives: Library School

Keep Hope Alive!

I am normally not one to circulate news about fundraising, but I really want to get the word out about my colleague and friend Deborah. Despite suffering for years from an auto-immune disease that has attacked her lungs, Deborah has always been an encouraging and positive influence during my studies at UNT and beyond. She is an inspiring and intelligent librarian and mother. Her catchphrase “Keep Hope Alive” has kept me sane during grad school and the ensuing months of job searching, and is something to be remembered for whatever trials I go through.

Deborah is currently raising funds for a lung transplant. In getting a transplant, she will not be dependent on oxygen and will have a better quality of life. The Georgia Transplant Foundation will match a $10,000 donation raised prior to receiving the transplant, which will cover medical expenses and treatment she will need during her recovery.

Her story and journey is captured in her blog at, and there is a PayPal link for sending donations. No amount is too small. And if  you are unable to make a financial contribution, please keep Deborah and her family in your prayers.

What courses should / shouldn’t I take in my MLS program? My experience…

I realize it has been a while since I have posted to this blog, but since it has been a little over a year since I finished library school and have been working in the field for a while, I wanted to reflect on my decisions to take certain courses while getting my MLIS.

If any current or prospective students are reading this, I am sure you are experiencing an overwhelming array of tempting course options. However, not all classes are created equal, and you might find there are better (and cheaper) alternatives. The goal is to maximize your coursework and your tuition money so that you are in the best position to get hired :).

Please note that what I will state below is my subjective experience, and that the classes I took at my MLIS program might be different from the curricula at other programs.  However, I will be listing some general course categories that I took (whether I felt they were useful or not), or classes that I wished I had taken.

I also point out that my focus in library science (digital content management), will be different from others, so my response will be somewhat tailored to this area. However, in talking to people in the field, and my experience on the job, proficiency with new tech is vital to getting hired, as Laura Krier bluntly puts it. She also lists some course ideas that are beneficial to digital content management.

Classes I did not regret taking:

1) Relational Databases and Data Modeling

Despite the fact that my course had less than 15 people enroll, which is pretty sad for a school that spits out the 2nd most MLIS’s per year, this was one of the most informative classes I ever took. Relational databases serve as the backbone to nearly all applications that librarians use, no matter what area of the field, so knowing how they work provides a huge understanding to troubleshooting application issues, finding information in databases, and even providing the foundational knowledge for writing your own programs. Since we librarians are always designing with the user in mind, being able to model and implement our own database applications is a real asset as the field becomes more technological.

2) Metadata / Electronic Information Retrieval

In addition to the mandatory cataloging class, knowing how to apply metadata fields in the right circumstances is  key to managing content (more of which will become electronic as time goes on). While cataloging classes often reiterated the importance of standard entry rules and validation rules for standard schemas like MARC, it does not really discuss issues such as how to export your data, how to incorporate your data in another system, and how to create metadata that will help preserve your data.

Since the growth of technology is not getting any slower, this is key knowledge if we want to be stewards of tomorrows information. After all, don’t forget that only 10 years ago, we were storing data on floppy disks. Now the only thing a floppy disk is good for is a coaster….those 1.44 MBs relics  cannot even hold one iTunes song, but they certainly keep my Coke Zero from sweating  ;).

3) A subject area reference course, preferably  in the sciences or business

Any library job you take will require the keen skill of extracting the information from your user and translating it into something you can use to find the answer, you don’t want to leave library school without having this down pat. Every library school on the planet offers some variant of Reference 101, but it won’t provide the opportunity to delve into a subject, and to really learn how to utilize the various databases and tackle more challenging questions.

Science/technology reference class are in higher demand, especially in medical libraries, pharmaceutical companies. Business research skills are also highly in demand, especially if you want to work for a law firm, corporation, or other special library. As the private sector picks up, these places are likely to hire  (hint, hint), assuming we don’t have a double-dip recession. And academic and public libraries will find this reference skill set useful as well.

Courses I wished I did not take

1) HTML/CSS (or any programming language)

Unless you have been living under a rock before considering library school, you know that knowing at least a little HTML is basically a requirement to get a job in this field. However, I would not recommend taking this course through your MLIS program. Not that the course is not useful, but that there are several other alternatives that are much cheaper and much better. Ed2Go offers an HTML class for less than $200,  and offers unlimited tech tutorials for only $25 a month. not only offers HTML courses, but programming courses, software application courses, etc. as well (which will probably be more current than what you would take in class anyway).  The tuition cost for an HTML class in grad school is the same as 5 years or more of a membership to And you can learn a lot in 5 years…. ;). Plus, don’t forget all the free stuff like MIT’s Open Courseware and Google Code University! 🙂

2) Library Management

In my experience, I felt that these classes were a waste of tuition dollars, even though they required very little work. While they are great for an easy “A’, you don’t really need an easy “A” in library school…since most of your classes are not particularly challenging (strongly depending on where you get your degree, of course). Any manager will tell you that management and leadership are learned on the job, and many of the theories you will learn in these classes fall apart in the real world. Becoming an advocate for your profession and your staff has to come from within;  no excessive knowledge or theory is going to magically give you the resolve to be a good leader.

For what is is worth, I took 2 management classes, and I found neither of them to be very beneficial…

Classes I wished I took

1) Collection Development / Acquisitions

I deal a lot with vendors in my job, and I deal a lot with questions regarding how much subscriptions cost, license agreements, etc. A lot of people do not realize that the acquisitions budget of a large company or university is likely in the 7-figure range (though many are getting slashed…). That’s some serious cash money!

License agreements are convoluted, and publishers can be ruthless about price increases. While I would say that, like the management courses, much of what is learned in acquisitions is learned on the job, I wished that I had at least had some background knowledge before being thrown in with the sharks without a life jacket.  If you know how to be economical with an acquisitions budget and to negotiate sweet deals, that skill is better than sweet liquid gold and a titanium cherry on top :).

I hope that this information is helpful. Again, please realize that this reflects my experience, but I wanted to share my knowledge. I read a lot of people’s perspectives on what people should / should not take in library school, and I hope that this provides some unique information, especially for those interested in pursuing the digital track.

Finally finished!

There were times when I was not sure I was going to make it, but here I am, a newly minted information professional. Graduation was last weekend, and I was so excited to see my family come all the way out from Houston to see me. I really enjoyed spending time with them. Honestly, I could not have done it with out the support of friends, family, and mentors.


My advisor, Dr. Chandler, and I.


I now continue my quest to find my first professional position as a library/info professional, and am able to put more force into it now that classes are over. I am excited about the LITA National Forum that is coming up, right here in Atlanta. I will be attending and look forward to meeting and networking with some great people, and learning about new technological developments.

It is ironic that I really got into library science not for the “conventional” reasons, such as loving to read. Not that I don’t love to read, but I have always been interested in the technological side of things…creating websites and applications, programming databases, digital imaging, and electronic resources. I hope to supplement my coursework with some certifications in web programming. I found a school that offers continuing education in these areas, but I need to do further research on programs before I plop down the money. There are always sites like too.

Anyway, I am excited about the labor day weekend. I have worked very hard at school, at my job, and everything else in between. I will be going on a Caribbean cruise over the weekend, and I really cannot wait to take some time off and relax.

User-Centered Spaces: Part 1

This blog post is part of an assignment I am doing for my Reference Course for the Sciences disciplines. The purpose of the assignment is for us to pick a science-oriented library that has recently undergone a renovation to meet the needs of the users. So, I decided to discuss the recent learning commons renovations at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where I just completed my Spring practicum. In this post, I will introduce the learning commons at Georgia Tech and describe some of the highlights.

2 West Commons
2 West Commons

While I was interning, I met with Charlie Bennett, who is the Commons Coordinator at the library. Charlie is responsible for monitoring the commons, ensuring that it is functionally designed for user tasks (i.e. independent studying, group collaborations, etc.). He also gave me a tour of the Georgia Tech library commons area. The Commons actually consists of 3 areas: the east and west commons on the first floor (LEC and LWC respectively), and the newly renovated 2 West area on the second floor.


Library West Commons terminals

The LWC contains a wide space of desktop computers provided by the library. Whenever I was at the library, this area was always packed, and it was very difficult to get a computer.  There is a screen upon entering the library that shows which computers are in use (in red). Users can also go to the library website and see available terminals. Now, of course, since it is the summer and it is almost 11:30 PM (up late as usual!), many computers are green (but this is not the norm!).


The East Commons is a very interesting area of the library, and has a lot of innovative aspects. The area has a more modern and “hip” feel. It contains a cafe and vending machines (including ones that sell coffee), so users can get that extra bit of fuel to get through the school’s intense curriculum.  This space is also used for the campus film society to host events, as well as other campus-related exhibits.

This area is very focused on collaborative group work. It also contains computer stations with large monitors so multiple students can share a workspace, as well as a small DVD library.

Library East Commons

A key theme that Charlie wanted to focus on in this area is flexibility – to give the user control of how he/she utilizes the space. Thus, furniture is lightweight and easily movable.  One feature that the commons has serendipitously acquired was movable extension plugs that hang from the ceiling.  These were actually left by the electricians during the renovation, but Charlie decided to keep them so that laptop users were not restricted to areas where there was an outlet. I cannot tell you how many times I have been frustrated going into a Starbucks , bookstore, or other WiFi hotspot and not be able to use my laptop because all the seats near an outlet were taken. During long study hours, a laptop battery usually will not last.

Students even have flexibility over the lighting.  Charlie implemented RBG overhead lighting (similar to what is used in stage lighting), instead of fluorescent lighting. Students can customize the amounts of red, green, and blue in the lighting to something that is easier on their eyes.

2 West Commons

This area is located on the second floor. It is a very open workspace for collaborative projects. It contains large, restaurant-size booths and tables for study groups to meet, or for individual studiers to spread out (especially for the architecture students).  Collaborative work areas are partitioned by translucent screens to give the study groups a sense of solidarity without making the area seem too claustrophobic.  I have also seen students here utilize whiteboards to work on complex  math problems or tutor others.

What’s next?

In the next post, I will discuss my thoughts about the renovation and how these improvements have affected users.

MLIS Program Tips From a Classmate

My super organized, intelligent classmate and fellow INTJ Adelle Frank has provided several useful tips on how to successfully get through an MLIS program without wanting to rip your hair out or kick the cat.  In her post Secrets and Tips: How to Survive Library School in 5 Simple Steps, Adelle provides useful information for anyone considering going into grad school while working full-time. My personal favorite nugget of wisdom is reposted below:

“IV. Keep it relevant

Relevance is another key to surviving and thriving in your library program. If you don’t care, your work will show it and you won’t get much out of it. And what fun would that be?!
“Leave aside for a moment the fact that you will have at least one required course that just rubs you the wrong way and focus on what you want to get out of this degree, other than letters at the end of your name.

In required classes, try to find the parts that could be useful to your current or future career.

In choosing classes and projects, pick with an eye to those that interest you or fit into your current/proposed career path.”

However, I am inspired to share my own perspective:

First off…don’t let some of the stuff about the reading scare you…an MLIS program is not really super-hard or challenging (except when you are left to your own devices to figure out certain kinds of technology). In fact, I struggled more with grades in my undergrad than I did in Library School. I will be honest…I maybe did half of the listed readings (80% of which were out of date anyway), and have not made less than an A on anything in my program. It’s what I like to call “slacking smart.” And I am not really all that smart. A lot of the work is tedious busywork (especially in your core classes), and just something that you have to plow your way through. Any veteran librarian will tell you…library school is just something you “get through.”

This is why I cited the paragraph above…what you learn in library school is so different from what librarians actually do, and some of the work is boring, so you want to make it relevant to your interests. Plus, library positions are pretty adamant about your experience with certain software, metadata schemas, etc. Library school is the time to go out of your comfort zone and develop these skills, and if you don’t do something perfectly, it’s OK, you’re a student.  In other words, to get a good challenge out of your program, don’t be afraid to take on things that are novel. After all, you are paying good money for that degree, make something of it!

TIP:  professional association dues are a LOT cheaper for students so you want to get involved in those as well. It is hard to juggle that and your full-time workload and classes, but committee  participation is more long-term-oriented and only requires maybe 1-2 extra hours a week, depending.

That being said, however, I must take heed to Adelle’s advice and GET SOME SLEEP. It’s after 1 AM already! O_O

One Step Closer

Last Friday, I completed yet another milestone in my journey to graduation. Last week, we had our comprehensive exams: “The Capstone Experience” (or the Crapstone Experience as one classmate lovingly put it). Basically, we were given one week to write 3 mini-term papers. On Friday, June 11, the exam opened up online, and we were asked to choose 3 topics in library and information science from a list of 10, and we were to write a 10 page paper on each. Including references, I wrote approximately 8,000 words…in one week. Yes, that’s right. A week! The first paper was pretty easy to get through, but by the third, I was ready to give up, as the glow of the lovely summer day, and the hypnotic glow of the  TV during the night, continued to seduce me.

To prepare, I did some serious spring cleaning, since I knew I had to devote the entire week to paper writing (when I was not working). I stocked up on food and snacks to keep me caffeinated.

Capstone nest

Then, I camped out on my bed with Leslie (my laptop) and began the furious process of researching and writing.  The kitties were right there beside me for moral support. Due to my keenness in librarianship, I discovered the lovely method of federated searching in the EBSCO databases, as well as Google Scholar, so I could find everything online.  In thick of it all, to the left was what “the nest” looked like…(note, there were more papers on the floor, and those two black blobs are actually my kitties. Of course, I totally had to have my I-Tunes.

When the trials and tribulations were over, I treated myself to a massage. I had a gift card I got for Christmas that I never used, and I am so glad I waited to save it! When the semester is truly over,  I should host a bonfire and invite all my classmates to bring their journal articles and throw them into the fire.  By the time Capstone rolled around, I had about 3 bins worth of crap. And you know what’s funny? For a degree in Library Science, only about half of my classes required books. In fact, I don’t think I spent more than $500 on books the entire term. But don’t get me wrong, I had to read a LOT of articles.

Going to DC tomorrow!

So, the big conference has already started.  I will be flying out first thing bright and early tomorrow, and last night I packed up all my clothes. I still have several more things I need to do to get ready, like clean the house. I have already made my schedule of the sessions I plan on attending. I have gotten in touch with my friends and family in DC, and will spend some time with them. My mentor and advisor will be there as well.

I have also volunteered to contribute a blog post to the LITA blog. It’s my first time, but it’s a great volunteer opportunity. My spring internship supervisor is a LITA member, and loves it, so I am going to check them out while I am there.  I will be attending several of their events.  Specifically, the one I am most interested in is the Developing a Sustainable Digital workflow, and plan on covering that event. Too bad I will have to miss the LITA Open Source CMS playroom (I really hope someone blogs about that!). This is my first time as a contributing blogger, but it will hopefully help me get some librarian street cred :p.

So are you done yet?

That seems to be the question everyone is asking me after I told them I was completing my graduate exams. And the answer is NO! I have one pesky 5 week class left that I start in July. Though it looks like a very interesting course: Reference and Access in the Sciences. Plus, another cool think about the course is that is taught by an actual reference librarian – someone who knows the work day-in and day-out.  She was actually a guest speaker in my academic libraries class, and did a great job giving advice about what it’s like to work in an academic library, and (most important : p ) how to get a job in an academic library.

I decided I needed to take more reference classes. Good reference knowledge is so important for any type of library. It not only helps with communication skills (something my shy self has always been diligently working on), but librarians in all types of libraries must know how to utilize mad reference skills. This dawned on me during my fall internship last year, which was in a small library. ALL librarians were responsible for covering the reference desk, even the cataloger and systems librarian. I even helped out a little bit. My courses have given me a wealth of library technical knowledge,  but I need a refresher in reference because at some point in my career, I will probably need to use it.