library school check-in: the final stretch (part 4 of 4)

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

It’s hard to believe that I’ve finished my MLIS adventure. I wrote most of this post at the Halifax Central Library, one of my favourite libraries, and I figured it was as good a space as any to reflect on my final term at FIMS. 

I did complete a co-op placement at a federal government library last fall which I’m not blogging about for obvious confidentiality reasons, but in a nutshell: it was a great intro to government librarianship and a path that I had never considered before. I also got to live with my mum for four months and that was an unexpected and great bonding experience.

Like my previous terms I took a full course load of five classes: Information Ethics, Legal Information, Children’s Material (Birth to 7 Years), Collection Management, and Web Design & Architecture. And again, like other terms, I had specific reasons for taking certain courses. Collection management is a skillset that wasn’t really covered in-depth in my library technician program, and I see it included in plenty of librarian job postings, so I felt that it was something I wanted/needed to have professionally.

As it turned out, I had more on-the-job (and personal irl) experience with collection management than I thought and the course ended up being pretty boring for me. For those without professional experience, it would be a good intro to the process, but I felt like I didn’t get a lot of new knowledge out of the course. Our assignments were all based around a collection of our choosing–I did mine on Halifax Central Library’s offerings on textile production: yarn spinning and dyeing, weaving, fabric printing, etc.–and picking a favourite subject really helped with my focus.

paper flowers after a Children’s Materials class

My other courses were all great experiences. My enrollment in Children’s Materials with Lynne McKechnie was a last-minute decision; I had (badly, so badly) wanted to take Information Behaviour. I had actually opted to take this course in lieu of doing an independent study (I beg of you, potential future FIMS students, don’t ever do this. Just do your own thing!) and then enrollment filled and no seats were available. My pal Nicole convinced me to take Children’s Materials with her. Her exact words were “It’s Friday morning! What a great end to the week!” and, of course, she was right and it was my favourite course of the term. I even ended up doing a self-designed assignment on how public libraries collect, store, and use children’s materials on ‘sensitive topics’ like divorce, loss, grief, abuse, and other traumatic childhood experiences (see my list of recommended resources here). Lynne is an incredible professor–her passion and love for children’s librarianship is so obvious and contagious. A major part of her research is highlighting the autonomy of children and respecting their decisions and interpretations of reading and ‘what counts’, and that had a BIG impact on me throughout the course.

On my other courses:

  • Legal Info with Stephen Coulstring was very practical and hands-on. Coulstring is friendly and professional. His feedback was robust and super helpful. I learned about commercial and open legal databases (LexisNexis, CanLii, international equivalents). Each student completed a report and presentation on a unique legal topic chosen from a big list. I did hunting offenses (#farmlife)
  • Web Design and Architecture was an in-person course taught by Mark Rayner, different from the usual online platform. I liked being taught IRL minus using Dreamweaver (least fave program) and I ended up coding my final assignment from scratch because I like to make things harder for myself (aka making my website dreams come true). It all worked out: I made a site that I love, I learned a lot about HTML5 and CSS, and I got a great grade! Rayner is a great instructor, approachable, friendly, and patient with explaining the nitty gritty of coding. I’ve also heard great things about Gord Nickerson, the long standing instructor of this course who teaches solely online.
  • Info Ethics with Alissa Centivany was a way for me to continue studying and talking about professional ethics after taking a very political version of LIS9005 and Info Policy in previous terms. My final group assignment was an analysis of profit-based consumer health misinformation and focused on Dr. Oz, David “Avocado” Wolfe, and Vani Hari/The Food Babe. We presented a summary of our work in the final class and had some really engaging feedback on how our work could be interpreted/applied to ‘traditional’/‘alternative’ practices and health information (meaning that a classmate challenged us to use a framework that recognizes these practices as legitimate and valid) which was, to be honest, something that we hadn’t thought of. Info Ethics classes were guaranteed to be interesting with opinionated classmates and topics we could really dig into.
a page from a zine made with PLG London // a class visit to the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library

Alongside my course work I held two part-time jobs, one IT-based and the other on research, and I worked on several personal projects. The first one to come to fruition was a poster presentation at the OLA Super Conference in Toronto in February. I was super nervous and it all went well. I later presented this poster again at the FIMULAW Conference, co-presented by the faculties of FIMS, Music, and Law at Western University. I was also emailing book chapter edits back and forth with my co-author and our editor and preparing the same material for a conference.

With my friend V., we designed and presented an introductory workshop on graphic design for the FIMS Graduate Library Presents… lunchtime talk series. I was also active with our local PLG chapter, running social media, organizing and chairing meetings, and planning a Wiki edit-a-thon that we ultimately cancelled (for reasons in the next paragraph).

If all that sounds like I was a busy bee, that’s exactly what I was. I was stressed out a lot, more than I would like to be ever again. I had 15/16-hour days most of the time, running on little more than coffee and a few hours of sleep, and I regret that my last term was like that. In the final six weeks of the term (and in the program) I wished that I had structured my experience in library school in a way that was calmer and healthier. I prioritized completing the degree quickly over doing it in the best way for me, although FIMS/Western contributes to forcing students’ hands by charging blanket tuition for part-time and full-time students rather than per course. I won’t speak for my classmates, but I was financing myself through grad school, just as I did for my undergrad degree: with loans, grants, scholarships, and part-time jobs. It made more sense financially to have fewer loans to pay back and I did the program by doing five courses per term, but it also cost me health-wise in ways that I never wanted to compromise or could have anticipated.

My takeaway for potential grad students reading this? You know your limits and yourself best and you’ll do best by honouring those. Of course, life isn’t black and white and sometimes decisions are made that favour financial freedom over other things. Just do the best you can with what you have right now.

After that bummer of a paragraph, I do have some final overall thoughts on my time in library school. The first one is that, of all the things I could name, the absolute best part of it all were my classmates. I made such good friends at FIMS, people who are passionate about librarianship and ethics and busting glass ceilings, and I’m excited that these are people who I’ll get to work with, plan conferences with, and do research with!
In some ways, I thought that I wouldn’t be learning much after a decade of working as a library technician, and I was both wrong and right. I did learn a lot, from my profs and classmates and readings, but I’m also ahead of the game on some things. I have a lot of work experience to draw from, and practical on-the-ground knowledge from working the library front lines from shelving to supervising. I feel good about moving (back) into the working life and applying what I’ve learned.

my niece and I at my graduation, June 2017

And what now? I’m headed back to Ottawa for a temporary gig in a government library and looking forward to re-establishing the life-work balance I had before going to grad school. Library school was a trip, a great one!, but I’m glad it’s over.

As always, if you’re thinking about going to library school, feel free to contact me! You can find me on Twitter at @AlexHanam or through email.



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