Library School – Dissertationing

I have officially finished library school! I posted my Masters dissertation off to Newcastle on September 5th in an embarrassingly large padded envelope, drawing a line under formal academic study for the time being. It’s a huge relief to be done and I’ve now had a few weeks to take stock and reflect on the whole process.

My initial thought is how much I have learned since starting the dissertation in January, both theory and practice. There’s nothing like an assignment to force you to read around the literature and see what other people are doing. I can now tell you all about hybrid and digital libraries, collection development, user studies, music library user studies and user format preference studies. I can tell you a little about mixed methods research methodologies and data analysis. This process has also greatly boosted my confidence in undertaking workplace research and was (I think) a successful first foray for me into quantitative and qualitative research. This type of research is becoming more and more important for librarians, especially in the academic sector, so having completed a meaty research study already is great.

My next thought is, I’ve now (well almost) got the piece of paper, was it worth it? And, possibly more importantly, will it help advance my career? This is an ongoing debate in librarianship, and now having done the course I think the piece of paper is valuable. As a seasoned library professional recently told me, work experience is crucial but librarians need to at some point study the theory of librarianship and information science. I tend to agree but on the other hand, it was very expensive and I feel this is a major barrier, especially when you can learn so many aspects of the work on the job. As far as career advancement goes, nearly every professional library job requires this degree so it’s great to be able to meet this criteria now. However this debate will continue to rage I’m sure.

A few random tips I jotted down along the way:

  • Plan, plan, plan. A multi-pronged study like mine involving various partners and institutions only worked because of good planning and project management. Of course the plan went out the window after I had collected all my data but my Gantt chart was crucial up to that point.
  • Listen to your supervisor, mine gave good advice and also was marking it so I had to swallow my pride at some points and take the suggestions on board.
  • Take good notes and record citations as you go, it might be relevant later. I found this out when facing a major research challenge and re-read my notes out of desperation only to find a potential solution in a paper I’d read during my lit review.

New, very useful apps:

  • Zotero – Absolute life saver this! It’s a reference management app, similar to EndNote but it’s free and more user friendly and doesn’t require logging into a Desktop Anywhere-type thing (a real hassle on Mac). You can download extensions for your browser and Word and save citations online with one click and then cite in your document. It even formats your bibliography for you!
  • Picktochart – I used this when I couldn’t get Excel to do charts how I wanted. It’s an infographic website, very easy to use and helps to makes your data more visually appealing through its in-built design, colour schemes, icons, etc.
  • I never found a good app solution for organising my research notes. Twitter friends suggested Scrivener and Evernote, but I stuck with my epic-ly long Word doc in the end because it would have taken to long to convert the notes retrospectively. Scrivener looked really good but was a bit pricey. I already use Evernote for my blog and other things.

The dissertation journey is not quite done as I’ll be presenting my research at the upcoming LISDIS (Library and Information Science Dissertations) conference in November and the IAML (UK & Irl) conference next April. Last but not least I graduate in December with my MA Information and Library Management – assuming I pass!

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Library School – Cataloguing and Classification

I took this module last autumn, one of the last two of the PG Dip. For my general post about the course, go here.

This module was highly practical as you might imagine and I found it very difficult. Cataloguing and classification are generally considered core skills for information professionals, although their relevancy has been hotly debated (see references).

Cataloguing is the practice of recording standardized information about an item so that it can be searchable and findable. The field has recently undergone a big change with the introduction of a new international cataloguing standard, Resource, Description and Access, or RDA. Classification is the logical system for organising knowledge. A famous example of a classification scheme is the Dewey Decimal System. In short, cataloguing describes the items in a collection, while classification is concerned with the physical arrangement of the items.

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Remember these?  Photo credit: Card catalogue by Book Finch (Flickr CC-BY 2.0).

So this module was some history and theory, but mainly was very task focused on actually cataloguing and classifying stuff. Cataloguing felt very much, for me at least, like referencing on steroids. I had to get to grips with MARC fields (coding that makes a catalogue record machine readable) but otherwise it made sense. I do feel that lots of catalogers doing unique cataloguing of the same objects in libraries all over the world is duplicated effort and a bit obsolete when collaboration is made so easy by the internet. The solution ‘cooperative cataloguing’ is becoming more widespread.

Learning about RDA was brilliant if a bit brain teasing at times (what’s the difference between expressions and manifestations again??). RDA was intended to move cataloguing into the digital world, where print formats are not dominant. It’s supposed to be a flexible framework that can cover all the new media and objects that we have now and the ones yet to be invented. One half of the module assessment was an essay with the set title ‘Resource Description and Access: Evolution, revolution or dead end?’ My opinion ended up mid-way between the first two and it was interesting to read around the subject because a lot of people have gotten up in arms about it – passionate commentators are always more riveting don’t you think? Though I still get confused with the relevant technical aspects like the semantic web and linked data, I came to the conclusion that generally RDA is a positive step forward.

Classifying was fun (everything in it’s place!) until it came to the other half of the module assessment which was a workbook of made-up titles to classify (and also cataloguing tasks). I was in a constant state of wondering whether what I thought was the correct classmark for “Pan-African nationalism” was actually what the tutor thought was the correct classmark. Classification really is an art more than a science. Different people can come up with different classmarks for the same item AND justify their reasoning.

So Cat and Class, the Marmite of librarianship – done!

References:

Boydston, J.M.K. & Leysen, J.M. (2014) ‘ARL Cataloger Librarian Roles and Responsibilities Now and In the Future,’ Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 52(2), pp.229–250.

Cerbo, M.A. (2011) ‘Is There a Future for Library Catalogers?’ Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 49(4), pp.323–327.

Park, J.-r., Lu, C. and Marion, L. (2009) ‘Cataloging professionals in the digital environment: A content analysis of job descriptions,’ Journal for the American Society of Information Science and Technology, 60 (4), pp. 844–857. doi: 10.1002/asi.21007

Library School – Collection Management

This is the second of two posts covering the modules I completed in Semester 2 (Spring 2015) of library school. The first was on the Organising Knowledge module. Here is my general post about the librarianship course.

Collection management is considered a core skill in the librarian toolbox and encompasses developing and maintaining collections (physical and digital), understanding your users and their needs, the actual selection, acquisition and processing of the items, and the promotion and evaluation of your collections. I enjoyed this module because it addressed the classic principles of collection management and also wrestled with tough/emerging issues in the field such as censorship, the hybrid library and preservation of electronic material.

The format of the module was similar to others where we had course workbooks to work through, discussion board posts and readings in the set textbook, Collection Development in the Digital Age (2012) edited by Maggie Fieldhouse and Audrey Marshall.

The book was on the whole very good. The chapter on outsourcing (D. Edmonds ‘Outsourcing in public libraries: placing colleciton management in the hands of a stranger’, pp. 125-136) and subsequent discussion board posts were thought provoking. The chapter addressed the growing trend of outsourcing collection development in public libraries.  Instead of library staff selecting, processing etc. new stock, this process is outsourced to save money. The arguments against outsourcing mainly centre on loss of local input in the stock selection process and homogenisation of stock across the country. In other words the concern is that outsourcing does not address local needs and that suppliers tend to choose only bestsellers with wide appeal rather than niche or local interest books. The entire chapter was very defensive, positioning itself from the vantage point of protecting a ‘core professional activity’ and described collections as the ‘heart of the library’. When collection-centric attitudes such as this continue to be held, I get seriously concerned for the future of libraries. Considering the severe cuts in public funding, perhaps it’s time to embrace some change and the chapter actually presents good evidence for the efficiencies and savings that can be made by outsourcing. Anyway off my soap box…

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Hybrid libraries = print and digital collections. Credit: ‘Kindle and a book’, by Mobil Yazilar. Flickr CC-A.

Hybrid libraries were another hot topic we discussed. ‘Hybrid library’ is the the term used to describe the middle ground we currently occupy between the print, hard copy environment of the past and the potential for library collections of the future to be totally electronic or digital. Hybrid libraries have both print and digital collections. In the music library, this is definitely the rule, as printed sheet music is still preferred by musicians over the current options for electronic music scores (e.g. digital music stands). A university library in Texas made headlines a few years ago as one of the first libraries with no physical collections (it’s all online). This however is still by and large the exception rather than the rule. The module underlined the conclusion that collection management is undergoing many changes as libraries shift their focus from being places to access stuff to places to learn. It will be interesting to revisit this topic in even 10 years’ time.

A quick word about the assignments. We completed a resource guide (bibliography) and report that addressed all aspects of collection management. I also included a Pinterest board as part of my resource guide, as it’s a good virtual browsing tool if you also include links back to your catalogue. We also had to submit a PowerPoint presentation that basically summarised the report, with the idea of it being something you’d use to persuade managers to develop your collection.

Library School – Organising Knowledge

I’ll be writing two posts continuing in the library school module recap vein. They will cover the modules I completed in Semester 2 (Spring 2015). Here is my general post about the librarianship course.

Organising Knowledge is the first module in the lineup. This was not one of my favourites, but it was redeemed by the assignments as usual. They were well thought out and offered a lot of latitude in pursuing a topic that was of interest to me or relevant for work.

The course content covered ground that had been done in other modules, so that felt a bit same-y. However looking at information behaviour again was helpful as a prelude to studying information retrieval. Having done a postgraduate degree already, I found some of the information retrieval section old news. We covered citation styles, how to evaluate sources and completed several searches on online databases. However it was good to think critically about the systems themselves, i.e. how is the database structured? What are the search facilities available? The longest chunk of the module was on organising knowledge and covered indexes and catalogues…and I actually have yet to finish that section because I had to abandon it in order to complete the assignments!

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Database Diagram FAIL by Tony Buser. Flickr CC license.

The assignments were very helpfully spaced out with one due in the middle of the semester and the second one due at the end. The first assignment was a bibliography on a topic of our choice and also an analytical report. I did mine on jazz resources since this is relevant to my work. I found this assignment very counterintuitive because I could easily find a multitude of sources but the point of the work was to demonstrate your facility with searching strategies. The goal was not the sources themselves but rather how you got to the sources. So instead of finding material in my usual manner, I had to self consciously use various search techniques (Boolean logic, browsing, chaining, etc.) to show my capabilities which I guess was a good thing to push my boundaries. I also got to explore some new databases such as Zetoc and Times Digital Archive and I enjoyed researching the literature on searching and information behaviour to support my discussion.

The second assignment was an essay addressing a challenge facing information storage and retrieval and how this is being addressed. This was a research-driven assignment and I chose information literacy since it’s an area I’m interested in. People are doing interesting research in this area and there are many good solutions to try out when addressing challenges mainly relating to finding and using information in an academic/university context (the rest of us are apparently content to just muddle through the first few hits on Google). For example a study by OCLC (1) found that users overwhelmingly tend to start their information search on a search engine like Google rather than the library website and rely on common sense to evaluate websites. Clearly libraries can play a role here in educating users in an a university on the why and how to critically evaluate sources, not to mention how to find the results you need beyond simple keyword searching. This whole topic was fascinating, I’d recommend the research on the ‘Google Generation’ by Rowlands et. al (2008, 2011) and also Assessing information needs in the age of the digital consumer (2009) by Nicholas and Herman.

One final thing, the set textbook was Introduction to modern information retrieval (3rd edition, 2010) by G.G. Chowdhury. It was very scholarly but some of the content seemed out of date, especially considering it was updated in 2010. We covered CD-ROM databases (anybody remember Encarta??) among other things that I didn’t know were still around. Despite needing some updating, this book is a comprehensive reference book for the subject.

(1) OCLC (2011) Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community A Report to the OCLC Membership. Available at: http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED532601 (Accessed: 19 May 2015).

Library School – Management Module

A much belated two-part series on modules I completed in Semester 1 (Autumn 2014) of library school. Here is my previous post explaining generally about the course.

I really enjoyed this module, called Management in the Information Environment. I came to it having zero management experience, so I definitely had a lot to learn. The module covered topics you’d expect like managing change, project management, HR and communications, marketing and finance. I think all of these could probably be a class all on their own, so we were getting more of an overview. It was useful to learn about how to assess external influences (using a PEST analysis), create strategy and the various types of organisational structures. The set text was Managing Information Services (3rd edition) by Jo Bryson. This was good and very thorough, but the lack of real world examples or case studies in the book was a major negative, especially for someone like me who was new to the whole subject. However I was also to get a hold of another recommended book, Charles Handy’s Understanding Organisations, which was in a more readable style and included many examples.

Probably one of the most interesting aspects of the module was the discussion board posts we were encouraged to write on certain topics. Many of the other students are/were in management positions, so it was interesting to hear their take on  topics such as the pros/cons of staff appraisals. For the project management bit, we had to complete a practical exercise using Microsoft Project, which I can see being useful for the future. The marketing section covered the essentials, the Four P’s, market segmentation, etc. The assignment was an analytical report assessing the organisation where you worked or one you were familiar with. I actually really enjoyed doing this assignment because it involved a lot of research and thinking critically about your workplace. Reading the literature gave you ideas which could then possibly be applied in real life because I spent time considering my organisation and what we’re doing. So it was quite a reflective piece of work and I think I learned and will retain more from completing the assignment than from the coursework itself.

Another LIS student’s (Carla Harwood @tribigild) experience of a management class in the USA was an interesting read. I like how their lecturer was a working senior manager herself and former ALA (American Library Association) president. Part of the weekly class was talking about her work week which seems like a great way to learn about management work day to day. I also appreciated the value of one of their assignments, a ‘management consultancy project,’ where the remit was to help a manager solve a real world management problem. As Carla writes, it was good because it was about much more than submitting a piece of work for the module. You were getting some real world experience solving a real world library problem.

My next post will be on the Hypermedia module and all things techy.