Thursday, 15 April 2010

"When I started, I was but the learner. Now I have the Masters. Almost"


My Masters course is almost over. Formal teaching has ended and when term starts again, we hand in our last four pieces of assessed coursework – a presentation about adult reading; a report on national policy affecting academic libraries; a Greenstone digital library; and a research proposal for the Masters dissertation due in at the end of September.
On balance, I’d rate the course as resoundingly positive. If anything, it was enhanced by the fact that I decided to do it on a whim: deciding law school was a sucky choice and rearranging my whole career path only a month before the course started. It meant that I felt lucky to be there – after applying and being accepted so late – and so was able to appreciate every moment. I know some people had worked in libraries before and were accordingly more cynical than me about the Masters. What is gained in experience is lost in enthusiasm: a fair compromise?
An important benefit is the knowledge and skills I’ve learnt particularly since I had very little experience in the information world. I’ve gained some practical professional skills – cataloguing, coding, communicating – , some theoretical knowledge of librarianship’s foundations, and knowledge of the resources open to librarians and information professionals – CILIP, JISC, MLA Council, e-resources like UlrichsWeb, etc. This knowledge and by extension the course opens the door to various professional opportunities including the numerous part-time jobs that I’ve now taken on.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the last seven months have been perfect: there’s no perfection to be found in this world. We often spent time in the pub griping about the teaching, the resources, the faculty, and the organisation. As Course Rep, I heard every problem everyone had with the course and then sheepishly presented those concerns at faculty meetings. Major issues included the mismatched standards of teaching, structure of certain modules, and a general lack of communication from the department which meant that proactive students gained an unfair information advantage over long-distance students or students lacking confidence/enthusiasm.
For me, these gripes are outweighed by the biggest benefit of the course: the people. It was a running joke that the lecturers kept telling us to ‘network’ as if we were supposed to socialise out of some cynical motive for self-advantage. But it’s true that the people I’ve met over the past few months will probably end up having a larger effect on me than all the resources the university could muster. I’ve discovered people more akin to me than any other group of people I’ve ever met: people who like reading, who engage in writing, who compulsively organise and classify, who drop obscure references into conversation, who embrace Web 2.0. This includes faculty, professional librarians, work colleagues, visiting speakers, and most importantly my student colleagues. As I’ve mentioned before, the library community is one of the most accepting and interesting communities I’ve been part of – the information community play a large role in my recent conversion to Twitter after lambasting it for so long.
If anyone is unsure about taking a vocational Masters course or otherwise advancing their career in librarianship, I would advise them to jump off that fence and go for it. CILIP Library and Information Update had a supplement in the Jan-Feb issue giving details of Masters courses in information science across the country and there are literally hundreds of library blogs for moral support and guidance. In my experience, you get out of higher education what you put into it. So start applying and then throw yourself into the course with everything you have.

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