Monthly Archives: October 2013

#HLSDITL Round 2 Week Overview

 I had a lot of fun participating in round two of #HLSDITL project. It’s been a crazy week, but most of my weeks are simply by nature of my life. I currently work two-part time jobs while going to school online. The part-time job cobbling will be ending soon since I’ll be starting a very cool new full-time spot soon. The online craziness, however, won’t end. I’ve seen a lot of discussion recently about online programs and how some people don’t think they’re as good as on-site programs, some employers don’t want to hire graduates from there, so on and so forth. So to wrap up this week I thought I might pontificate a little on my online program experience and probably ramble a bit about my general life experience.

So, here’s the deal. My MLIS is actually my second masters degree. I did an on-site MA in English Literature at UNCG between 2006 and 2008. I had the luxury at that time of being close enough to a university that I could easily attend night classes with fairly affordable tuition while still teaching high school full-time. I won’t lie, it was tough. I spent a lot of hours in the library and in a local coffee shop trying to juggle graduate work and a full-time job. One of the university librarians at one point jokingly asked me if I just wanted to set up a cot because I was there so often. Working full-time(either one job or two) and finding time to be in class and in the library required some special finagling but I’m glad I was able to do it. I loved the courses I took. Many of them were small(one class only had four of us, it was awesome) and the discussions were always lively. Especially the early modern ones. Oh man, are there some hilarious and ridiculously inappropriate stories I could tell you. I benefited greatly from being able to swing by campus and harass my advisor(Catherine Loomis was one of the best professors I have ever known). So yes, as an academic who loves to run my mouth, I adore on-site classes. As a teacher, I adore on-site classes. I think they’re awesome and can result in a lot of great opportunities for students to form connections with instructors and other students.

So, you’re probably thinking, “If you’re such a fangirl of on-site programs, why are you doing taking classes online?” Because I have to. Which, from what I’ve seen, is the reason a lot of students do online programs. For the last three years I’ve worked part-time at a public library and taught residentially/online. This means for the last three years I’ve had a schedule that tends to flex every few months and often includes working nights. The only ALA Accredited MLIS program near me is Dominican. I couldn’t afford to move and I couldn’t afford Dominican. So it was online or nothing. I got into all the schools I applied to, but I chose UW-Milwaukee because it’s close enough that I can still go to campus if I wanted to for a special occasion, like orientation or the Student Research Day. I like the idea of being able to go to campus, even if it’s only a couple of times during my program.

The complaint that I’ve seen about online programs recently is that people seem to think they aren’t rigorous enough, that online students somehow aren’t getting as good of an education as on-site students. That is, to be perfectly frank, a load of crap. Going to school online is more convenient and flexible than on-site, but it’s not what I would consider easier. It takes an incredible amount of self-dedication and motivation to keep up with online classes when it is oh so easy to get distracted by a million different things. Do I find my MLIS as intellectually stimulating as my MA? No. But that’s because my MLIS is a practical degree that is significantly more concerned with practice than theory. Which is good, because the practical is what I need to be better at my job. If you’re talking to someone and they say they got nothing out of their online program, I think that says a lot more about the student than the program. Education is not a passive experience. A lot of what you get out of it is what you put into it. If you think your degree is worthless, then in my opinion, you’re probably kind of a crappy student(Let the hate mail commence). You don’t feel you’re being challenged in your courses, take on my challenging topics. Do more independent research. Ask more questions. Engage in more discussion. There are, in fact, things that we can do as students to make our programs better. Do I have issues with UWM’s program and some of its instructors? Yes.  Quite frankly, there are a couple of instructors that I think shouldn’t be allowed to teach. EVER. I say that more as an instructor than a student. But I’m still trying to take something away from those courses because it’s MY education.

I think the deeper issue that we need to look at isn’t whether on-site or online is better. We need to look at making the entire MLIS program(every one of them across the country) into better programs. Yes, schools have ALA-Accreditation. But what does that really mean? And when was the last time those standards were reviewed and updated? I’m tired of listening to everyone kvetch about their programs without offering any solutions for improvement. Let’s brainstorm instead of bitch. Let’s be the action that pushes for change. If we aren’t satisfied with what programs are offering, then let’s work to make sure that the system is better for future students.  

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REVIEW: Rags & Bones edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

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Title: Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

Editors: Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

Publisher/Publication Date: Little, Brown and Company; pub. date Oct. 22, 2013

I absolutely love short story anthologies. I lead a fairly hectic and busy life and I have a tendency to get sucked into books. This means I often stay up all night to read just one more page. And then one more. Then just one more. Until it’s 3 AM and I have to be up in 3 hours. It’s not pretty. So short story anthologies are my preferred before bed reading because I can finish a story and almost always pry myself away at a decent hour since I’ve reached the end of something. So between that, the absolutely gorgeous cover, and the amazing author line up, I was sold on Rags & Bones before I even cracked the first page. I was not disappointed.

Marr and Pratt have put together a collection of re-tellings of some great classic tales. When one hears classic tales, fairy tales are probably what first spring to mind. And there are a plethora of fairy tale re-tellings out in the world. These timeless tales are a little bit less of the traditional classic, but still classic in their own right. With re-tellings of tales like Chopin’s The Awakening and Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the anthology has a slightly more off-beat feel to it than the more traditional re-telling anthologies.

As with all anthologies, I tend to have mixed reviews about the stories. Some I love, some are just okay, others don’t really appeal. It happens with every anthology I’ve ever read. All the stories in the book were extremely well-written and there’s a little something for everyone, ranging from the magic and mystical to the chilling to the more sci-fiish. Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle, Marr’s Awakened, and Armstrong’s New Chicago were probably my three favorite tales. Marr’s especially since I love both Chopin’s novel as well as the Selkie myth. Gaiman’s tale has a nice kick-ass heroine who happens to be my favorite princess. Armstrong’s re-telling of The Monkey’s Paw also had a nice nod to The Lady and the Tiger that I particularly enjoyed.

Overall, the book is a great set of tales that is sure to provide something for many different readers. The author line-up is incredibly impressive and the tales are short enough to enjoy a quick read before bed or when you have some down time. The illustrations by Charles Vess add a nice air of magic to the book and remind me of the old school fairy tale books I always read as a kid. So, go read this book. Seriously. Do it.

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REVIEW: The Red Queen Dies by Frankie Y. Bailey

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Title: The Red Queen Dies

Author: Frankie Y. Bailey

Publisher/Publication Date: Minotaur Books, pub. date September 10th, 2013

The Red Queen Dies caught my eye because it involves two of my favorite things: Alice in Wonderland and crime. I do so love a good mystery novel. Overall, the book was a fairly enjoyable and quick read.

Hannah McCabe, our crime fighting detective, is a likeable character. Obviously intelligent and dedicated to her job, she still has moments of humanity throughout the book to prevent her from becoming the cold and stoic detective that seems to pop up so often in crime fiction. Her somewhat crotchety father was also a favorite of mine throughout the book and I hope to see him again in future books in the series. Character development overall is weak throughout the novel, but as it is intended to be the first book in a series and the fairly short length, this didn’t really surprise me. There is enough shown about the characters to keep the reader interested in future stories but I would have preferred a little bit more development at least about Hannah.

Something similar occurs with portions of the plot. The mystery itself I really liked. While I had an inkling of who the killer was, it was still nice to watch all the pieces fall into place. What I had some issues with was some of the secondary story lines. Portions of the book, especially some of the scenes with Ashby and then Pettigrew, seemed forced in there to serve as some sort of cliff-hanger but without the cliff(i.e. no danger, just unanswered questions). I understand the need to give readers a reason to come back, but this can also be accomplished by building a strong character that the reader becomes attached to and that’s why they come back. Stuart McBride does this with his Logan McRae series. I came back for the second book because of McRae, not because of any dangling plot threads.

I liked Bailey’s writing throughout the book. The short and to the point voice of the narrative lends an immediacy to the text that works well in a mystery novel. Portions of the book reminded me of the old time hard-boiled mysteries of Dashiell Hamett. The first book in a series often isn’t a great indication of the real writing strengths of an author or staying power of a character, so I’m going to hold off on making a final decision on the series until I can read the second book. The series and its detective have serious potential, but I’d like to see a little bit more focus in the plot or better development of the secondary storylines to make them more than throwaway scenes.

 

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A response to Joe Janes’s American Libraries article “The Toxic Middle”

I fell into the field of librarianship about three years ago when I took a part-time adult services position in a public library and I’ll finish my MLIS in May. I still consider myself a newbie in the field. As a relatively young person, new to librarianship, I hear a lot about the great things that other relatively young, new people are doing.

I also hear a lot about how resistant older librarians are to new ideas. I’ve heard about how difficult it will be to get my new ideas implemented and how much negativity I’ll be forced to deal with in the field. Janes’s wish that “If only our profession would authentically and wholeheartedly embrace the ideas and enthusiasm of our new colleagues” is one that has popped up in articles that I have read, message boards I’ve participated in, and even casual conversations at conferences.

I appreciate the concern of librarians like Janes who genuinely want to see new librarians succeed and to see them remain excited and eager to improve the field. I appreciate the support that librarians like Janes give to new librarians like myself. It’s encouraging to know that there are a lot of librarians who are as eager to me succeed as I am to be successful.

However, I firmly believe that this idea of the toxic middle that seems to be batted around on a regular basis is incredibly detrimental to new librarians. In librarianship, as with all career fields, there will always be negative people who don’t want to implement new ideas and who prefer to maintain the status quo. But by focusing on this population and constantly warning new librarians about the toxic middle, it can create a combative environment that doesn’t need to exist.

I spent a good portion of my first year working in a library assuming that because I was new and young, that my ideas wouldn’t be respected because that was what people kept telling me. I pitched ideas very aggressively because I thought it was the only way to get them accepted and implemented. And then I started to realize that while I was getting some negativity, I was mostly getting a lot of support and encouragement. My older and more experienced co-workers were offering ideas to make my ideas better. I learned that if I went to my co-workers with my ideas, they would work with me to make sure they make ideas that we could implement. And if my idea bombed, they were there to help me pick it apart to see what I could do better next time. 

Is there a toxic middle that exists in librarianship? Yes. But focusing on this isn’t helping anyone. Instead of focusing on the negativity that we may run into as new librarians, let’s focus on teaching new librarians how to have confidence in their ideas and how to stay determined. Instead of telling stories about the co-worker who hated new ideas, focus on the co-workers and managers who love new ideas. Anyone going into any field knows that there will be a certain amount of strife, conflict, and resistance; being constantly reminded of that is actually more demotivating than the actual conflict and resistance that we encounter. As a new librarian, I need to hear more stories about success and fewer stories about all the roadblocks I’m going to hit.

 

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