On Changes and Looking Forward

Over the course of the semester, as we’ve explored and reflected on Information and Library Science education, we’ve voiced criticisms, questions, anxieties, lessons learned, and ideas for the future. Preparing for any profession comes with uncertainty: am I learning what I need to know? Am I going to actually want to work in this profession? Am I as qualified to work in the profession as my peers? Am I going to be able to find a job? Have I made the right choice? Sometimes the ILS educational experience brings answers to these questions and sometimes it brings doubt and more questions.

Now, we have the added uncertainty of life under the upcoming Trump administration, an administration which the American Library Association may or may not be willing to work with (depending on the day and who you ask), an administration which seems to be against the Core Values of Librarianship stated and adopted by the American Library Association, an administration that will be comprised of people who have made threats to many of the communities libraries serve and seek to empower by providing them with access to information and resources. For example: Jeff Sessions, the Trump nominee for Attorney General, who “has made tougher immigration policies a central priority” (Lichtblau par.12) and who has said he is open to a ban on Muslim immigration (Lichtblau par.13). Then there’s the perceived threat to public education. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, has, over the past 30 years “pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, pressed to expand publicly funded but privately run charter schools, and tried to strip teacher unions of their influence” (Zernike par.2). With the strong tie between public education and libraries, what could this mean for libraries and librarians, especially those involved directly with public schools?

We’re still in the early stages of the upcoming administration, so there’s no way to know for sure what will happen in the next few months or in the next four to eight years. But all the policy proposals, talking points, and views of nominees seem to make one message very clear: if the wealthiest Americans can’t make money off of you, you are expendable. And if you get in the way of the wealthiest Americans and their money, they will try to remove you and whatever law allowed you to get in the way in the first place. I find this concerning and alarming for a number of reasons, not least of which being that libraries, as they currently exist, do not produce the sort of profit that the wealthiest Americans seem so invested in. Perhaps the services libraries provide as well as the people who depend on those services will be seen as expendable.

Libraries, however, as a whole, have managed to survive difficult times. During the last recession, for example, libraries experienced increased use and provided important and meaningful services to their communities (Beck 2009). And in the climate of the upcoming administration, I think libraries will be just as important, if not more so.

I’ve experienced a lot of emotions since Trump’s election: disbelief, betrayal, despair, fear, horror, but also: determination. I don’t know what will happen to me or to libraries, which is terrifying, but I know that libraries are needed and that libraries are the place where I can do the most good and a space from which I can try to effect change, which I am determined to do. If there’s a course offered to teach the sort of skills I’ll need to do this, that will help me as a future librarian to survive the coming changes, I don’t know what that course looks like. I think we’re going to have to rely on each other and teach each other, which is an area where I think librarians excel.

-Kristin McWilliams

References:

American Library Association. “Core Values of Librarianship.” Accessed online at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/statementspols/corevalues

Beck, S. J. (2009). This is Our Time to Shine: Opportunities in a Recession. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 49(1), 8-17.

Lichtblau, E. (11/18/16). Jeff Sessions, As Attorney General, Could Overhaul Department He’s Skewered. The New York Times. Accessed online at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/19/us/politics/jeff-sessions-donald-trump-attorney-general.html

Smith, D. (12/2/2016). Trump’s Billionaire Cabinet Could Be the Wealthiest Administration Ever. The Guardian. Accessed online at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/02/trumps-rich-pickings-president-elects-team-could-be-wealthiest-ever

Zernike, K. (11/23/16). Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Pick, Has Steered Money from Public Schools. The New York Times. Accessed online at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/betsy-devos-trumps-education-pick-has-steered-money-from-public-schools.html

On Choices

Upon entering library school last year, I had few goals. I wanted a degree that would allow me to work as a librarian within a certain geographic region. My first semester was broad coursework, that was labelled as largely applicable to most library settings. It was around mid-semester, when it was time to choose spring classes, that I began to question my goals for the program.

The current program requires 36 credit hours. Most classes provide 3 credit hours. This meant roughly 12 classes. 3 are predetermined. 3 provide some choice. 6 – providing no specializations – are free to choice. The impact of my potential choices was paralyzing. I started planning out when I would take what for the rest of my time at IU. I was frustrated I couldn’t fit everything I wanted to do in. I was beyond terrified that I’d miss something essential and it would cost me down the line.

It was also around this time that I began contemplating a dual degree (something I’m still contemplating), which would pair my library science degree with an information science degree. I felt it would give me more time and allow me a broader skillset.

I chose my spring semester classes. By near miracle, I landed a fantastic internship over the summer that allowed me to expand my work experience to a public library setting. It allowed me to work at a variety of service desks and with a variety of librarians who were beyond helpful with my questions and concerns about the profession. By the end of the summer I knew that if I was given a choice, I’d work in a public library.

Fall semester appeared for a second time, and I’m currently taking classes that I would have never chosen for myself last fall – some information science classes and a materials for youth class. These classes have reminded me that I’ll never get as much experience as I want before graduating. That there are computer programs I’ll walk away from while only barely understanding them. That there are books I will never, ever have the time to read.

It’s been a process. I’ve had to step away many times to remind myself to look at how much I am learning within the program, not how much I’m missing out on. I can create a survey and implement it. I can design and complete code for websites. I can find information within the congressional record or extract information from US Census data.

I chose spring classes a few weeks ago, and while the classes aren’t as technology or information science-based as this semester, they’re still on topics I have little experience with. I’m excited to start them.

-Malissa Renno

No Such Trickery

Being in library school has been a whirlwind of so many different learning experiences. Once in a while life in graduate school leads to moments of burnout, as Tessa described in her post. I believe imposter syndrome as a student also relates to this fatigue.

Placing too much pressure on myself, I often feel dissatisfied with my performance in courses and at work. It is exceptionally easy to compare myself to other library science students who seem to have it all together, while I feel incapable with my abilities. One overwhelmingly dismal week this semester, I had a poor experience struggling during my part of co-teaching an instruction session and also becoming totally lost when learning JavaScript in one of my MLS courses. When the student next to me had already finished all five exercises, I still was stumbling through the first one, of course. And to top that off, I went to edit my resume at the end of the week and found myself completely frustrated with my perceived lack of experience. I became discouraged when looking at my resume and seeing that I needed more accomplishments, like another volunteer experience or more technology skills. Last year, I learned Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator through IT Tutorial workshops and Lynda, but I wished I knew more. Although I probably am not the only one who has periods of major self-doubt, that’s how it felt.

This article from Hack Library School first introduced me to the concept of imposter syndrome, a phrase that describes what I was feeling as a student. I wanted to have more skills and experience with all things relating to libraries. I thought maybe I should help with more projects to feel more satisfied. I continually criticized my answers in an online discussion post because there were so many responses that seemed superior to mine. Working with the SLA Student Group was going well, but maybe I needed to be involved with other student groups. I kept seeing what other students were working on at different libraries and their thoughtful answers during class time and wishing I could be as talented as them. Everything I had accomplished seemed like a deception, and I questioned whether or not I deserved the scholarship or travel award that was offered to me.

I’m a sucker for quotes and my dad always enjoys using the phrase, “Everyone has their own map,” which is something I remind myself of recently. Our individual journeys are valuable and growth is a necessary process. I continue to learn that each individual path is important, including my own. Instead of wishing I was as intelligent or successful as my peers, I’m learning to embrace my achievements and focus on my interests. I’ve learned information from different courses about creating surveys, collection development, and information literacy and applied them to work experience. It’s especially exciting to select a new material and see it added to the collection at one of my library jobs. The library science program certainly has provided many educational opportunities for students, and I’m grateful for these courses and work experiences!

While I have had my fair share of what feels like tremendous failure and mistakes these past semesters, I keep reminding myself to take these moments of discomfort and learn from them. Celebrate progress and not perfection. Although I’ll never be an “all-knowing librarian,” I can accept the skills I have to offer and bring my strengths to the library profession.

-April

Creating My Own Experience

When I graduated from Indiana University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Culture and Telecommunications from the College of Arts and Science, I thought my education was done. I was excited to enter the workforce and put my degree to use. I was shocked to learn that it turned out to be a lot harder to find a job in the field I wanted to go into, television and film production, and I quickly learned that it was an extremely competitive market in Bloomington, Indiana and unless I was willing to uproot my life to either New York City or Los Angeles, it was going to be hard to find a job that put my degree to use. I did what a lot of people coming out college have to do, find a job outside of my field so that I could support myself. Long story short, I was unhappy in the work force, doing a job that I never saw myself in. It was time to go back to school.

The first question I had to answer was, what did I want to go back for? What was my passion besides movies? What could put me in the best position to make sure I found a career right out of school? I originally thought I’d go back for computer science. I’ve always had a passion for computers and consider myself a pretty technology savvy person, but after looking into this, I quickly learned that my lack of code background would severely hinder my chances of success in this field. As cliche as it sounds, I love to read, so that is where I went next. How could I apply this passion to a career that I could love? Library school was the answer.

I am so excited to be back in school. I was skeptical at first about going back, but I am so happy that I finally am back. I was out of school for 4 years, and I can honestly say that I don’t miss working 40 hours in a job that had nothing to do with what I wanted to do at all. Best of all, I can take my passion for computers and technology and create my own experience with my degree. I think that was one of the major drawing factors of going back to school for library sciences. I get all the skills required to become a successful librarian but I can also acquire technology skills and get hands on experience with computers without having a heavy background in computer science.

The first thing after I decided to go back to school for library sciences was trying to decide how I was going to use my love for computers and technology and incorporate it into this degree. Luckily for me, someone had already had that idea and it was comforting and great to learn about the Digital Library specialization. As I looked through the courses in this specialization, I got more and more excited that this was exactly what I was looking for: a specialization that focuses solely on how computers and libraries interact. I am so excited after finding this specialization to take some of the courses. This semester I’m taking Database Design and it has fulfilled every expectation I could expect from it. In this course I get hands on experience learning SQL, a database language, and I get hands on experience with Access in order to create a database project of my group’s choosing. My group decided to create a database for a library. Already, in my first semester, I am getting hands on experience with computers coupled with library experience.

As I go forward with this program, I look forward to getting even more technical experience because as technology progresses, there is going to be a bigger demand for people with these skills, especially in the field of library sciences. The idea of libraries is changing and I am excited to be part of that change and hope by creating my own experience while I’m in school, I can find a career that is challenging, exciting, and combines both of my passions.

-Matt Malher

On Exploring Possibilities

When I came to Indiana University for library school, I thought I knew exactly what sort of career in librarianship I wanted. For two years during high school I had been a student intern in my school system’s fantastic elementary school library. Then for three years after high school I worked off and on with children in my rural town’s tiny public library, conducting storytimes, crafts, summer reading program events, and more. Early on I discovered my passion for rural public communities, children, and teens, so when I started grad school I was excited to take as many classes as possible about public libraries and youth services.

I was very quickly disappointed when I learned that there were so few courses at IU for youth services, and even fewer for public librarians in general. The majority of our courses have little relevance to public libraries, are almost entirely theoretical and geared toward academia, and few professors are practicing librarians, especially public librarians. Many specific courses that seem to be obviously important courses for public libraries, such as Public Library Services, Advanced Cataloging, Reader’s Advisory, Grant Writing, Genealogy and Local History, and (before this semester) Collection Development and Management, etc. either have not been offered in several years or are simply not offered at IU at all. As such, if a student is interested in these important public library courses, he or she will have to register with IUPUI to take the courses online and have the credits transferred. We are actually really lucky that we are able to do this, but I have not taken advantage of this opportunity as much as I could have. I learned in undergrad that I do much better in a classroom setting than online, which is why I chose a school like IU-Bloomington rather than an entirely online program through another university.

Despite my disappointment in the lack of youth and teen services courses, this also has forced me to choose some classes and talk to some professors that I otherwise may not have. I tried out an introductory cataloging course and absolutely loved it, which is apparently a weird thing to love, but I really did. Next semester I plan to take a class focusing on developing websites in the hopes that the rudimentary website skills I grow from this experience will help make me look a little more desirable to prospective employers. I am also currently considering taking an instructional course about teaching information literacy. And while this course is geared toward instruction in college and research libraries and school libraries, public libraries often offer instructional workshops or help students learn how to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.

I honestly never expected to enjoy the technical aspects of libraries, such as cataloging, creating and maintaining websites, or instruction, but I believe that these skills can be particularly beneficial in rural public libraries, where there are very few full-time staff members, each of whom must wear many different hats and complete a wide range of “other duties as assigned” that do not directly fall under their immediate job title. While I have been disappointed in the course offerings at IU, it has allowed me to try new things and has opened my mind to think about how I can tailor courses that are not obviously relevant in order to fit my needs and interests. I think I might still want to work with children and teens, but this process has given me new insights to other possible areas that I did not previously know I was interested in. It can be uncomfortable and intimidating to explore a topic, skill, or class that you know absolutely nothing about, but it can also be rewarding and even surprising if you are able to think about it in terms of exploring new possibilities.

-Kelsey Shanabarger

Learning to Teach Yourself

One reason I was drawn to librarianship is the profession’s potential for being  pedagogical in an empowering way: connecting people to the resources they seek in order to educate, delight, or otherwise inform themselves fills me with lots of excitement. Of course, as Catherine wrote so well in her blog post, the corporate, capitalistic, job-prep mindset of major universities today is impossible to ignore. Few and far between are the patrons who come to the reference desk looking for a geometry book purely out of personal passion, or for a stack of books on queer performativity just “for my own reading.” That being said, I’ve had both of these rare Pokemon reference interactions stumble across my path; interactions such as these keep me going. As I read Tessa’s post lifting up, with such laudable honesty, her experience with burn-out, I found myself both nodding along and thinking–how can we get out of this? What steps might I take to keep myself believing in everything that drew me toward librarianship in the first place? What steps am I taking already?

First things first, I’ve been trying to walk my talk. I became really unsettled realizing how eager I am to leave the library. What’s this all about? For someone who used to linger in the library for hours, strolling through the stacks and riffling through luxurious mountains of books, a sudden aversion to being in the library should bode some serious ill. But when I’m only here for work or class, the associative box that gets drawn around “being at the library” is not a super positive one. I’ve started stacks-strolling again. I’ve started going up to the PS3000s and tracing my fingertips along the spines of poetry books until one catches my eye/skin/heart.

I found this poem:

Blue Dress

Her blue dress is a silk train is a river

is water seeps into the cobblestone streets of my sleep, is still raining

is monsoon brocade, is winter stars stitched into puddles

is good-bye in a flooded, antique room, is good-bye in a room of crystal bowls

and crystal cups, is the ring-ting-ting of water dripping from the mouths

of crystal bowls and crystal cups, is the Mississippi River is a hallway, is leaks

like tears from windowsills of a drowned house, is windows open to waterfalls

is a bed is a small boat is a ship, is a current come to carry me in its arms

through the streets, is me floating in her dress through the streets

is only the moon sees me floating through the streets, is me in a blue dress

out to sea, is my mother is a moon out to sea.

–Saeed Jones

and this one (both of these included here for pure inspiration, but also for their tie-in with the beauty theme this semester):

Beauty

What is beauty? Ask my soul–

beauty is every extravagance, every gleam,

every flood of abundance

and every great poverty.

Beauty is being faithful and going naked to the fall.

Beauty is a parrot’s plumage or the sunset predicting a storm,

beauty is a stern expression and its tone of voice. It’s me!

Beauty is a great loss and a silent procession of mourners,

beauty is the light touch of a fan that wakens the breath of fate,

beauty is being as sensual as the rose,

or to forgive everything because the sun is shining,

beauty is the cross the monk has chosen

or the necklace of pearl a woman was given by a lover.

Beauty is not the thin sauce poets serve up as themselves,

beauty is making war and seeking your fortune,

beauty is always to serve a higher power!

–Edith Södergran

translated by Samuel Charters

Beyond returning to the library for inspiration and renewal, I’ve also tried to seriously educate myself through the library’s resources this semester. Registering for fall classes last spring, I realized that there was information I wanted that the classes offered by SOIC-ILS were not going to provide: I wanted to learn everything I could about library services in correctional facilities, with a particular focus on library services in juvenile detention centers. There just aren’t classes on these topics (yet?). As a good wannabe librarian, I would have to seek out the information myself.

I registered for a directed reading/independent study and started making myself a curriculum, Almost immediately, I had that feeling, familiar to all who have faced an arcane question at the reference desk, of despair: there aren’t many resources at hand for the serious study of correctional center libraries. But after a few deep breaths and some dedicated search time, I cobbled together a respectable curriculum drawn not only from IU’s stacks and resources, but also from the network of librarians I’ve come to know in the course of getting my MLS, who recommended texts for reading and connected me with librarians facilitating a juvenile detention center’s book group in Johnson County. All of this served to turn my initial despair on its head. Satisfaction fills me when I realize that, between the library, the internet, and some persistence, I truly can learn about anything I want.

Bringing us back to earth from that dewy-eyed (Dewey-eyed? sorry) moment, I’ve got one last self-care suggestion drawn straight from personal experience: picture books. They’re everything a stressed out student/worker/trying-to-be-well-rounded person could possibly want in that they’re short, colorful, inspiring, comforting, funny, and heart-warming. IU has a collection that is equal parts marvelous and alarming, modern and antiquated, housed over at the Education Library, and Monroe County Public Library’s picture book collection is a force to be reckoned with. Need general ideas or particular suggestions? Here’s a few titles I’ve enjoyed lately, but also feel free to ask me in person or friend me on Goodreads (this probably also goes for any other youth librarianship folks, but I’ll just speak for myself).

Promising Picture Books:

The Storyteller by Evan Turk (MCPL)

Pool by JiHyeon Lee (Education Library; MCPL)

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle (Education Library; MCPL)

Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill (Can request from Indianapolis; MCPL)

-Avery Smith

Citations

Jones, Saeed. Prelude to Bruise. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2014.

Södergran, Edith. We Women. Translated by Samuel Charters. Portland: Tavern Books, 2015.

School & Work

I had no prior experience working in a library when I came to Indiana University. However, my goal in getting an MLS degree (or now MIS degree) is clear: to get a job in a library working with information retrieval systems. So naturally, my expectation from ILS courses is to get practical knowledge that I can apply to my future job. However, since my first semester, I realized that most of the lecturers lack field experience; they have spent their career life only in the academic field writing papers. They are supposed to be teachers, but they do not learn to teach. Unless I am interested in getting a Ph.D. in Library Science, I do not see how the courses would help me in getting a job. Hence, I started utilizing my student status to apply to many jobs that I’m interested in.

I was terrified too at first, of overwhelming unnecessary assignments and insufficient time to learn many terms that I have never heard before, such as PHP, PKP, open source, java, XML, Dublin core, Darwin core, Fedora, Sufia (no, it’s not a person’s name) and etc. I was worried I would not be able to understand the systems and terms in such a short period of time. However, as time passed, I adapted well to the environment due to my jobs in the library. Compared to courses, having a real life working experience in the library or collection is a more efficient method of learning what it needs to become a librarian. I’m saying this not because “everyone else is doing it,” but for the following reasons that one will not get in a class:
a) emotional involvement on the job
b) repetitive process of utilizing particular technical skills set
c) on the job training

Working at the reference desk might not seem directly related to what I am interested in, but it is a lot more relevant than what I thought. Reference desk shifts give me a break away from the backend of archival and digital library work with the paleontology collection, IT heavy Scholarworks and the MDPI. Interactions with patrons or observations of the patrons at the front end always teach me something about the user’s perspective of the library. For instance, when patrons are willing to share their thoughts on confusion with library services and showing me how they use the library website, etc. And the fun part is that I will analyze and apply that user experience into system development for improvement. Even grumpy phone calls and rude patrons provide me a training ground to train on my EQ.

I think diversifying your work experience through different library jobs is far more important than attending courses. It’s a fortune out of misfortune that there are many library related jobs available to students.

-Wen Ng

On alienation

Honestly, I came to library school as a professional development decision, not out of any real passion to fondle decaying books or work closely with children. You see, after having spent my undergrad years in Bloomington, I had been killing some time working in service and flirting with the idea of pursuing a PhD wholesale, hoping that, at any moment, some life event would transpire and clarify what I was “supposed” to do. This three-year period of wheel-spinning and ruminating resulted in an appropriate degree of quarter-life angst, and in a moment of “I can’t take it anymore!” I considered the prospect of returning to school to pursue an MLS, and subsequently, a job as a librarian. No matter that my motivation and my goals were vague, I applied in December and enrolled a month later. The whole thing happened pretty fast: in the span of a week I went from working 45+ hours/week on my feet as a barista to taking ten hours of classes and sitting at a library service desk for eight more. It was an odd downshift in pace, and I had unwittingly brought a few too many expectations into the program: I had idealized library school, anticipating an intellectually stimulating atmosphere that would serve as a practical synthesizer for my disjointed interests and abilities. I was disappointed.

Looking back, of course, I can’t really solely blame this program for not meeting my expectation of fulfillment–that was simply displaced existential anxiety. Still, though, I can’t honestly say I’m happy with my time spent on the academic side of this program, and I don’t think I’m alone. My difficulty with it stems from a lot of what was mentioned byTessa, Dean and Catherine in their earlier blog posts: it’s an odd mixture of feeling over-burdened with minutiae, bored with redundant or irrelevant material, and maybe a sense of futility/fatality in the shadow of the university-cum-corporation. A lot of people just seem kindabummed; even some of the faculty come off as totally disinterested in their participation in the program. After a semester and a summer in classes, I’m left feeling some of that same ennui that drove me to library school in the first place. Of course, this could be a personal predilection for cyclical self-flagellation, but I still think there’s a shred of universality here: we can’t help but feel alienated from our coursework, and I mean that in both the emotional and the Marxist sense.

As Catherine notes in her post, we’re students in a program run by a corporatized university whose prime motive is capital. If we’re being really cynical (hell, let’s just go with it), the courses we take have no real “value” in the eyes of the Trustees beyond what we pay for them and the symbolic gesture towards continuing the fine field of library science. Conversely, the value I’ve gleaned from this program has mostly come from experience here at the Reference Desk (and with its librarians), critical interactions with other students (always outside of class), and small, skill-based, workshop-like classes and sessions. In order to un-alienate us from our program work, why can’t library “school” instead be more like a library “apprenticeship”? Why should a youth services librarian have to take a course on the History of the Book because it’s the only one that fits with her work schedule? Why don’t we read some critical theory and bring that to bear on our library work instead of spending two hours on an activity that just illustrates that categories are arbitrary? It depends on what kind of librarian you want to be to know what is involved in becoming one, so why are we trying to academically homogenize a heterogeneous group? What would it take for “becoming a librarian” to mean a critical, fulfilling personal engagement with reference services/cataloging/digital librarianship/etc. instead of the ticking-off of requirements on the way to a degree? Can we make that shift happen? I’m doubtful, but it’s important to frankly appraise the structures that be, is it not? And as for me, nothing has ever been quite as motivating as a healthy dose of pessimism; now that I know fulfillment won’t necessarily come from this program, it’s my responsibility to fight to seek it out wherever I find glimmers of it, be it at the desk with an affable patron or in a conversation with a like-minded colleague. If you’re feeling that, too, maybe we aren’t so alienated.

-William McHenry

Disappointments in the Edu-factory

In reference to Tessa’s much-appreciated post about mental fatigue and self-care, I would have to diagnose myself as nearly burnt to a crisp on the burnout scale. My burnout, however, is specific to a particular type of library setting: the Great American University. To be perfectly honest, I find myself exhausted by the increasingly corporate culture pervading campus. Just the other day at the Research Assistance desk, I was approached by a student with her intro-level history assignment in hand and upon reading the document for context, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Along with requirements and expectations, the project was prefaced with an overly utilitarian justification for assigning a research-oriented assignment.

To paraphrase, the main rationalization behind the assignment was to prepare students to meet the analytical and information-seeking expectations of the job market. Sound familiar? It shouldn’t be hard to recall instances where this type of education-as-job-prep rhetoric has appeared, whether it be in previous courses or even library instruction. And to be frank, I’m really sick of it. When did the Great American University begin to prioritize student marketability over intellectual cultivation? When did job preparedness rather than individual growth become the main goal of academic institutions? When did corporate values replace academic ideals within higher education?

The moment this existential shift emerged within the university setting can be observed if we take a brief sojourn into American history. In the early 1970’s, nearly three-fourths of college freshmen indicated college attendance was essential to them in order to develop a meaningful, more well-rounded philosophy on life while only a third indicated financial well-being as the prime motivator for admission. Since then, those fractions have dramatically swapped (Berrett). So what happened? In the wake of the Cold War, higher education underwent a major structural adjustment influenced partly by the broader socio-political shift toward free-market orthodoxy, economic strain, and an increasing linkage between university operational budget and industry-related contracts (Berrett). It is at this point that corporate culture hijacked the traditional academic values. Thus was born the edu-factory in which “students are neither ‘customers’ nor ‘consumers’. They are the ‘industry’s’ ‘inputs’ and ‘product.’ The purchasers of the products—private, corporate ‘employers’—are the customers” (Rhoades & Slaughter 14).

Thus began the desperate pitch for the continuing relevance of liberal arts education in the wake of this reorientation towards economic competitiveness of its products (i.e. students). Although corporate interests ultimately stand as the beneficiaries of university efforts, student recruitment is also important for drawing in enough raw product for the university-manufacturer to ultimately yield its finished goods. While higher education was once lauded for developing young people’s potential—to think, to question, to reason—today it is instead presented to students as vocational training, to the point that these corporate values become widely-accepted and even expected by students. As a part of this recruitment strategy, universities offer world-class amenities, among which the university library stands as a major selling point. At my most cynical (and trust me, I’ve been feeling pretty cynical these days), the academic library merely signifies a marketing hook on a university’s recruitment brochures. For the corporate consumers of the student-product, on the other hand, the library represents a reliable brand which provides a type of collateral to hiring said student-product. And Area Studies librarianship—the field I am (was?) interested in pursuing—then would allow the university to check off its “‘multiculturalism”’ box and prove its ability to form a globally competitive workforce to both potential students and corporate interests. So then, where does that leave us future librarians?

It is impossible to completely detach the work we do as librarians, even when engaged in library instruction, from the “context of contemporary labor, capital, and the corporatizing university” (Eisenhower & Dolsy 306). I do not deny that many librarians are engaged in critical pedagogies that at times serve as alternatives to this corporate narrative. But I have to ask myself if information specialists and their critical approaches to teaching and library practices are even making a dent in the prevailing corporate culture. These thoughts I have been grappling with as of late are perfectly encapsulated by Eisenhower & Dolsy’s line of questioning: “What kind of work does our defiant speech do? Is it defiant enough? Is it defiant at all, or simply the expected questioning spirit that is finally disciplined by power arbitrarily executed?” (314).

-Catherine Fonseca

 

Works Cited

Berrett, Dan. “The Day the Purpose of College Changed: After February 28, 1967, the main reason to go was to get a job.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 61 (2015). Accessed online: http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Day-the-Purpose-of-College/151359/

Eisenhower, Cathy, and Dolsy Smith. “The library as “stuck place”: Critical pedagogy in the corporate university.” Critical library instruction: Theories and methods (2010): pp. 305-18.

Rhoades, Gary, and Sheila Slaughter. “Academic Capitalism, Managed Professionals, and Supply Side Higher Education.” Social Text 51 (1997): pp. 9-38

Baffle Library School

Over the past few months, I have been reading and enjoying a lot of The Baffler [1], a magazine that bills itself as “a journal to blunt the cutting edge.” I’ve found this magazine’s salvos to be consistently engaging, provocative, and incisive. Take, for instance, David Graeber’s essay on animal play, in which he pokes fun at evolutionary theorists’ efforts to explain animals’ fun away in rational, economic terms. Some other articles that immediately come to mind:

But what does The Baffler have to do with libraries? Well, if I had one regret regarding library school, it would be that I didn’t pursue my wish to turn my subscription to The Baffler into an independent study course. I’m mostly kidding, of course, but I daresay the magazine has influenced me as a librarian perhaps as much as library school itself. To give an example, I’m inclined to think that parts of the library school curriculum focus rather myopically on “information” as a theoretical concept, to the extent that we can easily lose sight of the ineliminably political dimensions of the regime of information capitalism within which we undertake the work of librarianship–and, by extension, the ineliminably political dimensions of that work. Reflecting on this view of mine, I find echoes of Evgeny Morozov’s excoriation of tech criticism appearing in The Baffler, especially where he writes, “The lines demarcating the technological and the political cannot be drawn by those forever confined to think within the technological paradigm; one needs to exit the paradigm to get a glimpse of both alternative explanations and the political costs of framing the issue through the lens of technology” (para. 43). Just imagine what library school could be like if it had more of The Baffler‘s verve, perspective, and spirit–and if we, the students, were the ones to make it happen!

One’s education in library school is in good part what one makes of it, however trite that may sound. At its best, library school gives us indispensable practical experience and know-how; it affords us the opportunity to become a part of a community of professionals and the space to consider the world of libraries and the issues it faces with (relatively) fresh eyes and to reflect ultimately on what we want the work of librarianship to be. These are the things that make library school worthwhile, even while library school (like any academic institution) also has its distractions, from the drudgery of writing on uninteresting topics to the pressures to accept as given certain ideas and arguments that should be controvertible. For myself, it has admittedly taken a concerted effort on my part to look past these small distractions to focus my attention on what I find interesting, engaging, pertinent, or otherwise useful. However, to have the freedom to make one’s education here one’s own: I regard the thought of this to be both reassuring and liberating, especially as a librarian who sometimes feels disaffected with the zeitgeist prevailing in Library Land today.

It is a freedom, too, that can make one’s education in library school more enriching and relevant. I’ve ventured far beyond the confines of the library school curriculum during my studies here. I’ve drawn upon my “outside” interests and research to inform my work as a student and a librarian, for instance by bringing ethical philosophy and the idea of human dignity to bear on management theory. Come to think of it, given the interdisciplinary nature of the library school curriculum, shouldn’t we feel free to baffle library school and to determine for ourselves what falls inside the scope of our studies and our librarianship?

-Dean Ericksen

[1]: IU Libraries does not appear to have a current subscription to The Baffler, although IU Libraries does provide online access to issues from 1988-2010 and to an eBook version of No Future For You, a collection of salvos from The Baffler that was published in 2014. There are also two other, older collections of essays from The Baffler that are available through IU Libraries: Commodify Your Dissent (1997) and Boob Jubilee: The Cultural Politics of the New Economy (2003).