Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Library School Experience @ Simmons

Checking out the future. Forget dusty book stacks. Tomorrow’s librarians are all about tech. (Boston Globe, 4/16/2011)


Library science used to be the realm of career changers. Bookish types, having put in some years in the work world, would enroll in a graduate program with dreams of one day making a living surrounded by the noble hush of book stacks, card catalogs, and shelf upon shelf of reference tomes.


Tomorrow’s librarians face a two-year graduate school curriculum freighted with technology courses that didn’t exist 10 years ago, courses that will likely be replaced by others within a year or two. The future of libraries is a constantly evolving digital landscape, and technical literacy, as it is in so many other fields, is absolutely essential to find a job in a brutal job market.

“Get as many technology skills as you can,’’ advises Jamie Cantoni, 26, of Cornwall, Conn., who’s in her final semester at GSLIS and has already been out in the job market. “What’s most shocking is when you go to apply for jobs how much they value strong technology skills. A master’s in library science is not enough to get a job anymore. You need a second master’s.’


GSLIS students can choose between two concentrations — Archives Management and the School Library Teacher Program — or remain generalists, which is what the majority of them do. They focus on careers as reference or catalog librarians, and Web masters, among other specialties.

While the core mission of librarians hasn’t changed — they are still committed to provide information to patrons who need it, wherever they are — most everything else has.


“I teach preservation, and we need to make sure we keep information in digital form into the future,’’ says veteran library science teacher Ross Harvey. “It’s a new way of thinking. Think about the kind of information that people in the future will want access to, like digital photographs in jpeg. What guarantee is there that 100 years from now people will understand that file format?’’

The emphasis on technology begins early at the GSLIS. Every student must create a website and wiki page within the first six weeks. They cannot continue their studies until they complete these projects.


One memorable event is the “PC autopsy’’ on the “corpse’’ of a dead computer that Johnson requires all of her students to complete. This means taking the machine apart. In groups of two or three, they disassemble it, taking out everything — from the hard drive to the memory card to the central processing unit.

“I want them to have the attitude they can jump right in and try a few things on their own to see if they can pinpoint where the problem is,’’ says Johnson.’’ The real challenge comes at the end where they have to put it back together again.

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