a room full of ideas by sciencesque CC-BY-NC-SA

i’ve just wrapped up the first semester of my mlis at sjsu (yes, that sjsu), and since i’ve outed myself for going to grad school i have been approached by colleagues and coworkers asking about my school choice, the how and the why of going to do my graduate degree. i reached out a lot last year while i was deciding on which path to take back to uni, and i thought i would post a brief hack library school of my own edition.

the facts: i have a library job, fully loaded with both resume-building challenges and the benefits of a permanent position. i wanted to keep this job while studying, so my options were all limited to part-time studies. my assets heading in included a bachelor’s degree with some research experience, generous academic references, and a strong professional network.

the options: i really only considered three universities: the university of alberta’s new online mlis (since 2013), the university of british columbia’s in-person mlis (part-time), and san jose state university’s all online mlis. there are other schools, and i have a couple of friends who have done the one-year accelerated at western, but moving was not for me so long as there were other options available.

the arguments.
my choice to study at san jose was part practicality and part gut feeling.

for practicality, ubc’s big con was the time it would take me to commute all the way out to point grey. these were hours that could instead be logged doing coursework (or not), and it factored into the overall cost of the program. i’ve done long commutes— they really suck.

u of a’s con was the limited scope of their online program: it could only be done over three years, and because it was just launching there would be few to no course choices. i’ve heard great things about faculty at u of a, and their hci dual-masters looks amazing, but it became obvious to me that their online program was going to be a whole different game. this might be a great choice in a few years, or for someone completely new to librarianship, but for me it was very limited offerings with a program still in its beta launch.

sjsu’s program offered a lot more flexibility of pace and variety of course offerings than u of a. it also came with a much higher price tag than ubc. ultimately, i did some speculative math and determined that while ubc’s tuition was lower (half the cost!), i would have to leave my permanent job for auxiliary work (no benefits, certainly fewer hours per week) and also pay the higher cost of commuting (fuel, maintenance, parking) making it probably a lot closer to even.

the gut feeling i had was that sjsu as an online-only program would give me a much higher quality of education than u of a. ubc also clarifies on their website that part-time students are heavily discouraged, so i wasn’t clear whether that would weigh against me. on this count i’m confident in my decision— i feel like sjsu’s content is pretty airtight for online students, and i never feel like a fringe audience (even as a canadian!).

the recommendations.
i absolutely feel that i made the best decision for me in pursuing my mlis with sjsu. i’ve been so privileged with the faculty i have connected with so far, i love that so many of my coursemates are also already working in libraries, the school is very communicative and organised, the available content is so vast that i’m having a hard time narrowing it to only 43 credits, and the online format is engaging and smart.

that all said, i don’t think it’s the best choice for everyone. an mlis is not a ticket into a sure fire career, and professional networks play a huge part. i would definitely recommend an in-person program close to home (or stay and make a new home) for folks just entering the field. for anyone able to take a sabbatical, the university of western ontario offers a 12 month accelerated program— but again, those who did well with this had a network or employer to come back to.

the concerns.
when i tell folks i am doing my degree online i still get people who think i’m mailing away for stamps circa 1987. i’ve had people worry that i was being scammed by a school that didn’t actually exist (fact: sjsu exists, and is mostly on-campus degrees). and i’ve had colleagues laugh and tell me that they “made fun of san jose” at their school.

i’ve been reading a lot of hiring librarians interviews, and i’ve read testimonials by hiring managers who say they would never hire a student with an online degree (i’ve also read plenty of successful alumni profiles from sjsu, so clearly someone is hiring). if the hiring librarians blog has taught me anything, it’s that there is definitely no pleasing most people. some won’t hire me because i studied virtually, or because i didn’t attend their alma matter, or because i have six years of experience as a technician (read: the untouchables of libraries). in short, people can be ignorant snobs sometimes and i’m not going to make my career decisions based on this kind of bs.

so, yes— i’m going to that sjsu. it’s awesome. thanks for asking.

and for those of you genuinely interested, i’m happy to chat anytime.


this was written for and originally posted at michael stephen’s tame the web. i’ve been trying to act cool, but i am so very flattered and delighted to have been invited to guest post at TTW! see the original post at michael’s blog, or read on…

The LIS blogosphere is what brought me into librarianship. I was travelling in Tasmania more than a decade ago when I happened upon Jessamyn West’s librarian.net (still going strong!), and started the discovery process for my own career in libraries. I began spending part of my daily hour at the public terminals reading up on the issues of profession, reflections from practitioners, and linking around within a community of library bloggers. Enter the biblioblogosphere.

I have just wrapped up the first semester of my MLIS, and had the amazing opportunity to delve more deeply into the biblioblogosphere in Dr. Michael Stephens’ LIBR200 course. The past few months have been spent constructing some preliminary research into the tumblarians, and considering their place within the existing research on LIS bloggers and information communities.

It might be safe to assume that many of TTW’s readers are familiar with the biblioblogosphere since this is an area of special prominence in Michael’s research and many of his past posts. For those who aren’t familiar, I’ll share here the world’s shortest review on the topic:

Beginning in around the early-mid 2000s, LIS bloggers formed an informal online community of practitioners and researchers who shared personal-professional information. This community has been compared to a new form of grey literature for the profession (Powers, 2008), and bloggers themselves identified meaningful benefits from participating in these online conversations (Stephens, 2008). I’ll keep the citations brief, and just sum up the biblioblogosphere as comprising librarians who shared information and reflection on the profession, and who interlinked between one another’s blogs through conversation (e.g., commenting) and endorsement (e.g., blogrolls).

But back to the tumblarians. Who are the tumblarians, what are they doing, and are they an actual community?

If the term isn’t new to you, then perhaps you’ve read Tkacik’s piece in The Digital Shift, or Power’s round-up in the Journal of Access Services— or perhaps you yourself are a tumblarian. For myself, I’m lucky enough to know a couple of tumblarians IRL, and was able to supplement this dearth of academic research on the topic by direct conversation. Let me tell you about what I found*.

A combination of tumblr (the platform) and librarian, the tumblarians are defined mainly by their use of the hashtag of the same name. Tumblarians share information on diverse topics, but library-related information does take prominence.

I found that the tumblarians bear striking resemblance to LIS bloggers, and may be candidates for inclusion in the same grouping (while the platform is distinct, it shares many similarities with more traditional blogging formats). Like the LIS blogosphere documented in the research, there is a mix of personal and professional information, a community of inter-linking, and topics relevant to the profession are discussed. That said, there are also a lot of quirky animated gifs and pop-culture references. It’s a real mix of social and information.

What I find most interesting is the way that this virtual community which is embedded in tumblr and centred around libraries and librarianship, is just that— a community. My semester long project took place within the context and conversation of Fisher and Durrance’s (2003) information communities, which stressed the ways in which communities form around information needs. Yet it seems there is more than just an information need which leads tumblarians to engage with the blogosphere.

Librarianship is deeply rooted in information, and our profession centres on concepts of informational authority, balance, and accuracy. Previous LIS bloggers have described themselves as LIS citizen-journalists who discuss and engage with the issues of the profession. Yet there is editorialising too, and also a lot of irreverent and playful content. The tumblarians especially seem to embrace the social aspects of a blogging community, mixing fandom and research side by side, separated only by their use of hashtags.

A blog post (even a long one) is too short a space to get deeply into the issues and themes worthy of real examination. My hope is that I will have more time to follow up with the LIS blogosphere, the tumblarians, and the ways in which librarians and library workers are engaging in discourse about our profession. We spend so much time with information, but I’m particularly interested in how we’re communicating.



Fischer, K. E., & Durrance, J. C. (2003). Information communities. In K. Christensen & D. Levinson (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Community: From the Village to the Virtual World. http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412952583.n248

Powers, A. C. (2008). Social networking as ethical discourse: Blogging a practical and normative library ethic. Journal of Library Administration, 47(3-4), 191-209. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01930820802186522

Stephens, M. (2008). The pragmatic biblioblogger: Examining the motivations and observations of early adopter librarian bloggers. Internet Reference Services Quarterly 13(4), 311–345. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10875300802326475.


*By “what I found”, I need to clarify that this was not actual research but findings through informal conversation buttressed by conceptual frameworks. Hence my using the term “preliminary” to characterise my research project. See also, http://www.sjsu.edu/research/irb/index.html

**a small note that i made a rookie mistake when i sent my post over to michael, and copied the html out of my wordpress copy… which erases all paragraph tags. sighs. so formatting here is a little different, but as intended.

Open letter to the ALS Section Executive and membership,

I’m writing in response to points made in the naming email sent on May 13 (Re, “[ALPS-List] Naming survey results”).

I recognise the consideration that went into the executive’s decision, and I appreciate that the issue was addressed directly. This decision is unfortunately not inclusive, and I urge the executive to reconsider some of the arguments made.

First, an important note about LTAS as a part of BCLA. The Library Technicians’ & Assistants’ section exists to provide an entrance and springboard into the association for our non-MLIS library colleagues. LTAS does not really provide continuing education or professional development. We do supply listings of opportunities, and we direct membership (i.e., BCLA members who are also LTAS members) to opportunities available from both within and external to BCLA.

I’d be happy to talk in depth at another time about why LTAS doesn’t offer a lot of PD, but my point is: If other sections exclude technicians and assistants, they are limiting the opportunities of these members. So the question becomes—why are our non-MLIS library colleagues being actively excluded?

The ALS executive claimed that “matters discussed tend to be of interest to librarians rather than all library staff”, but has the executive considered that they are perhaps not the best placed to determine what is or is not relevant to non-MLIS library staff? There are library technicians and assistants involved with a variety of roles in academic libraries, and more importantly—as working professionals, our associations provide some of our only opportunities for professional development. BCLA has provided some amazing opportunities for all of us to learn beyond our job roles, and I would urge ALS not to exclude interested library professionals based on whether the section executive deems the content relevant to the work experience or credential of their non-MLIS colleagues.

So what’s in a name? Language is highly charged in library land, and we can’t claim that librarians is meant inclusively just when convenient. We know it isn’t inclusive; it differentiates between those with the MLIS and the rest of the library rabble. We can’t have this both ways, and the truly inclusive solution is to move away from specifying librarians whenever possible or relevant. Assuming of course that inclusivity is in fact desired and welcome?

We’re going to be exploring these topics in a timely discussion of librarians’ and library technicians’ working relationships this Thursday at the BCLA Conference. Please join us for session T12 at 1:30pm.: “Both Sides Now: a Podcast and Panel Discussion About the Intersection of Librarians and Library Technicians” It’s a genuine invite– this kind of misunderstanding and difference is a part of the reason we’ve initiated this session, and we’ll have librarians and technicians on the panel to share their views.

I don’t believe that these types of decisions are done malevolently, but they do have rancorous effects that ripple through our libraries, through our services, and ultimately negatively impact what we do and what we offer.

Breakfast At Tiffanys Party

since the spring, i have been working on a research project to finish off my undergrad, and so have been reading a heck of a lot of peer-reviewed literature. not only is reading material unusual, but the volume is pretty atypical. (maybe i have mentioned here before that i am a really a slow reader. this personal information nugget is something i like to share with kids during summer reading club in case they feel intimidated by the idea of filling out an entire booklet with books they’ve read this summer. i’m always like, listen kid. if this was my reading record not even the first page would be full. just read whatever you want, as little or as much as you want. as long as read everyday, you are totally getting a medal out of this. booyah.)

anyhow, the research project i just finished necessitated a heck of a lot of academic reading. in addition to some really interesting reports on computer and internet usage,  library usageadult digital literacy learning, and digital competencies, i read a lot of peer-reviewed literature (insert broken link to paid-subscription database here). i am generally a plain language enthusiast, so all the citing and denseness of academic writing tends to put me off. this semester, my faculty advisor gave me an amazing analogy which made peer-reviewed academic literature make sense for me and i am dying to share this with you. this might sound hilarious, but it has deeply shifted my understanding of peer-reviewed lit and academia in general.

here’s the magic: peer-reviewed academic literature is a party.

it helps to think about the state of knowledge in a given area (like libraries, or even digital literacy) like a crazy party that has been in full swing for decades without pause. there are a lot of people who have been having really interesting and in depth conversations, and though folks come and go, the party has been continuing non-stop. conversations build on conversations, and things get seriously in depth (hey, we are building knowledge here!).

out of this deep and confluent conversation, you notice there are the folks whom everyone else is referring to. these are the seminal authors, and the cannon of the literature. this also kind of explains citation – it’s like a lot of courtesy name dropping that builds connections. finding the conversation heavyweights (the heavily-cited researchers) takes a lot of mingling. every conversation comes with a bibliography, each suggesting where to look next.

so, i roll up to the party with my sequined dress, interests, experiences, and beliefs. the party is packed, and there is a serious crush at the door. it is going to take some time for me to dig in and find out where i really need to be, who i really need to talk to, in order to make sense of my own research. over the past six months i think i read enough to make it past the foyer and maybe into the living room. i am honestly pretty happy with this. it takes a lot of time and some degree of whatever angela lansbury had to make it out to the pool where the party bigwigs are. i’ll get there eventually.

and in case you are interested: my digging came across some amazing and inspiring academics like s.c. herringj.c. bertot & p.t. jaeger, p. dimaggio. i also found out that i am amazingly excited about genre theory (though i still have a hard time using genre to reference something other than the scifi section) thanks in part to an intriguing piece from s. kjellberg. i actually felt kind of sad when the semester ended. which is strange, ’cause usually i’m the first to leave the party.

for the past five or so months i have been finishing off my undergraduate degree. amazingly, i have actually produced my first qualitative research paper and (unless some sneaky loophole comes up) simultaneously completed all of my upper-level credits. it is amazing to be done, but i am also not counting my lizards before they’ve hatched and the excitement is tentative. despite feeling awesome for writing a 6,800 word paper, and feeling honoured that my advisor got herself up at 4am to join us via skype for my presentation, i am perhaps most satisfied by the poetry of selling my desk on the very day i completed this final step in my degree. thanks be to the craigslist gods.

this is where my desk used to be. i’m quite pleased with how small my pile of junk looks, but of course this isn't all of it.

this is where my desk used to be. i’m quite pleased with how small my pile of junk looks, but of course this isn’t all of it.

my undergrad degree is more specifically a bachelor of general studies with a thematic option in community learning. no small mouthful, i know. usually this assertion is met with a furrowed brow and a slow nod, like do i question her, or just go with my gut feeling that this is a nonsense degree? whatevs, people. to answer this (well, and to complete a portfolio class i took during uni) i have built a whole other small website dedicated to explaining my degree. i won’t bore you with the details here, but if you don’t believe me on how awesome it is, go check out the competencies.

i spent the day down at sfu’s harbour centre for govinfo day. a first for me, but my colleague tells me this is an annual-ish event. government info was the theme, but the discussion included priorities for archiving the government of canada’s website, to freedom of information (foi) requests, to a possible “information bill of rights”.

to keep my own focus i took copious notes through the day, and after outing myself as a note taker i agreed to try and decipher my own scrawlings. what follows is (at best) partial. but take heart! adept volunteered will be reporting on the session in a future article for the bcla browser.

* for those who know better, please comment to correct inacuracies and mistakes. thanks!


9:15 am : darrell evans — executive director, canadian institute for information and privacy studies

darrell’s keynote opened by asking whether it is the duty of government to share information and ‘truth’ with citizenry. basically, do we have or deserve an information bill of rights? darrell identified that the democratic process requires easy access to complete and accurate information, and access to information is essentially the struggle for political power. while technology gives the impression that information is more freely available than in the past, government is essentially getting craftier with loopholes and non-compliance (e.g., ‘secret’ gmail accounts, and sub-contracting).

darrell also took us through a timeline of b.c.’s tangled history with foi requests since the 1990s. sometime midway through the 90s, the department of public affairs starts vetting all foi requests. glen clarke is working at this time to undermine foi through staff and budget cuts, and by implementing new fees for processing. meanwhile in liberal-ville, gordon campbell is on the scene and claiming to be a big time supporter of free access to information and open government. the liberals make great use of the foi process until taking power in 2001; then they start shutting it down. better writing on these tumultuous times is available from the tyee (2005) and of course, fipa (open government: bc liberals promise much, deliver little: fipa grades the performance of the bc government on freedom of information issues, 2001-2004 – fipa, may 2005).

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claiming ignorance of tech is no longer going to cut it. people expect that library staff, the keepers of knowledge and the latest jonathan kellerman novel, are going to help a homie out when they run into trouble with technology. this stuff happens everyday, and claiming it is not in our purview is just lameness. let me share some examples…

— scenario one: there is someone in your meeting room right now who brought a macbook for a presentation, and their screen isn’t rendering properly on the projector.

— scenario two: the printer is jammed because someone is trying to print their A4 size birth certificate on our weird north american letter size paper.

— scenario three: the at-risk teen who comes to xbox night wants to know why he can’t get the wifi to work on his portable PS3.

— scenario four: the printer is jammed again– but there is also a woman in her late 60s with an ipad trying to get overdrive ebooks to work. oh, and her settings are in korean.

this is a typical week, if not a typical day, and we are each dealing with these requests in our own ways. some folks are shrugging their shoulders and saying things like “oh, i’m not very good with technology,” or “that’s not my job.” but, hey– this is our job because we are about helping people access information (via a mobile device), get books (online), and use the space. we don’t get to pick and choose how things develop. we get to choose whether to be helpful or shrug.


in my branch, i often get to be the call-a-lifeline option. this makes me feel special and important. (ahem). secret is, i am not doing anything special. i am not doing anything out of reach for any of my bright and talented colleagues– i.e., anyone with similar education/credentials to mine. difference is that i accept being asked.

let me be clear that i am not picking on my coworkers here. where i am most startled by the duck-and-cover approach to tech questions is in the new grads. young or not, techy or not, there is really no excuse for being a recent grad with no digital literacy and tech support skills. these are now integral parts of working at the library.

i hear an awful lot of “the library is not just books,” but i don’t see a whole lot of real understanding. if we’re not just books, then what are we? we’re ebooks, we’re community meeting space, study space, get-my-government-form space, and facebook space. accept and embrace it, because this is what we are.