HLS/ACRLog: First Generation College Students and the Job Search with an MLIS

Today we welcome a post by Chloe Waryan as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School . Chloe Waryan is a MLIS candidate at the University of Iowa. She entered into the library field by way of urban public libraries, as a patron, a volunteer, and eventually an employee. She now works as a technical editor for an academic journal. Chloe’s professional interests include access, preservation, and outreach.

I am not sure if any time is “the best time” to choose to go to graduate school for library and information science, but 2016 was definitely an interesting choice. Growing up, I knew very few professionals with college degrees, so I was not prepared for the relative poverty that most graduate students live in today. Like many of my classmates, paying for library school is constantly on my mind, as it is the biggest purchase I’ve ever made. There is an immense privilege attached to going to college, yet it comes with an extreme price tag. Despite our oversharing culture, high tuition has become the new normal and it is hardly ever discussed. It’s a confusing time. Is it hypocritical for academics to complain about high tuition? Can students be against degree inflation while still being supportive of the education we are receiving? The hardest part of starting library school last year wasn’t the coursework or the final exams. It was attempting to wrestle with the value and the values of my soon-to-be-obtained MLIS.

 

We’ve all heard the phrase: “the college degree is becoming the new high school diploma!” This means that despite the high tuition, the college students today are not the elite. Students from all economic classes are awarded the great opportunity to attend college, with help from scholarships and loans. According to the 2010 study from the Department of Education, an estimated 50% of all college students currently enrolled are first generation college students (including myself), who are statistically at a greater risk for dropping out due to many factors, one being imposter syndrome.

 

Have you ever hesitated to apply for a job because you think you’re not qualified? That is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome has the potential to follow students not only through their bachelor’s programs, but their graduate programs and job search.  According to many postings on the ALAJoblist, one must have an MLIS to become an academic librarian. Often time, a second master’s degree or Ph.D. is preferred. Amidst the ever-changing environment of higher education, we are no longer advocating towards lifelong learning as “a key to longer, healthier, more satisfying and productive lives,” (Education and Continuous Learning, ALA) but rather, pushing “lifelong learning to stay employed,” (Kim, 2). If degree inflation continues in this rate, a Ph.D. will be required to hold a librarian position. If that becomes the case, who will we be excluding?

 

I admire librarians who have decades of library experience but no college degree. When I graduate, they will still be far more experienced than I. They are the toughest, smartest, kindest professionals, and I consider them pioneers in their field. My hero librarians have gained their expertise by working in a professional environment, taking classes as non-degree seeking students, critically thinking on their own, and of course, through reading books. They do not see gaining a library job as an endgame, but rather as an opportunity to potentially learn what they were not afforded to learn in college. If they applied for another job either laterally or higher up, they would not get the position because of their lack of formal education. Potential employers would be missing out on their creativity, productivity, and entrepreneurial spirit. I have also known librarians who have Ph.D.s who have seem to forgotten the core values of librarianship. We are working with two different sets of standards: one set is formal education and one set is experience. Hiring committees should be able to reflect in their postings that both sets have merit. If anyone can compromise between two different sets of standards, a librarian can.

 

By putting a college degree on a pedestal, we exclude others who have chosen not to get or who are barred from getting the education with which we are privileged. If degree inflation continues, I predict that the LIS field will include those who feel comfortable in an academic setting, thus excluding the first generation college students currently enrolled in America (which, as a reminder, is half of everyone currently enrolled in college). Why are we not hiring people who accurately represent the demographics of our school? I will add that this is not necessarily all our fault, as much of this comes from administration and union restraints, from the competitive job market and from our fear-driven economy. The anxiety and fear we face as library professionals in America right now is overwhelming. We can only try to be more welcoming to those who offer unique perspectives.

 

To be clear, I do not think that the MLIS isn’t valuable. It is a huge accomplishment. Aside from luck, convenience and privilege, I work towards a master’s degree because I want a job that I enjoy, and I want to prepare myself for that job through a combination of schooling and work. However, I must admit that the thought of applying for a job as an academic library is incredibly intimidating. I have heard stories about the all-day interviews. I have been told to save a few thousand dollars to travel to interviews. I have also been told to brush up on my dining etiquette because the casual lunch “counts.” Even after overcoming the struggles of a first generation college student, I fear that I am unemployable. As academic librarians, you have a responsibility to your students and your applicants. It is your responsibility to show these new faces that they have unique perspectives needed in their respective fields, their institution is proud to be represented by them, continuing education is something to be admired and it is never a burden to ask for help. You also have a responsibility to yourself. Show that the journey doesn’t end with the completion of the degree. Welcome and learn from your coworkers. Despite the larger issues in America, patience and compassion towards everyone, no matter what socioeconomic background, can create a new era in which everyone will want to become librarians.

Thank you to ACRLog and Hack Library School for this opportunity.  

 

References:

 

Cardoza, Kavitha. “First-Generation College Students Are Not Succeeding in College, and

Money Isn’t the Problem.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Jan. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/01/20/first-generation-college-students-are-not-succeeding-in-college-and-money-isnt-the-problem/?utm_term=.d26f3ac65369.

 

“Education and Continuous Learning.” About ALA, American Library Association, 13 May 2013, www.ala.org/aboutala/missionhistory/keyactionareas/educationaction/educationcontinuing.

 

“Home.” First Generation Foundation, First Generation Foundation, 2013, www.firstgenerationfoundation.org/.

 

Kim, Bohyun. “Higher ‘Professional’ Ed, Lifelong Learning to Stay Employed, Quantified Self, and Libraries.” ACRLog, ACRL, 1 Apr. 2014, acrlog.org/2014/04/01/higher-professional-ed-lifelong-learning-to-stay-employed-quantified-self-and-libraries/.

HLS/ACRLog: Academic Librarianship: alt-ac and plan A, all in one

Today we welcome a post by Ian Harmon as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School . Ian Harmon is an MSLIS student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Graduate Assistant in the Scholarly Commons, the University Library’s digital scholarship center. Prior to entering library school, he earned a PhD in Philosophy at Illinois and taught philosophy at Rice University. Ian is interested in digital humanities and scholarly communication, specifically the ways in which technology impacts research and the dissemination of scholarship. He enjoys teaching, and hopes to work in an academic setting that will allow him to work directly with students and other researchers. Ian is also passionate about the role that libraries serve as central institutions of the public sphere and supporters of the common good.

 

The easy way to describe my pursuit of a career in academic librarianship would be as a Plan B. Nevertheless, I avoid describing it as such because the expression suggests that it’s my second choice, or that I’m settling for something less. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As I begin the second year of my LIS program, I’m more confident that I’m on the right path than I ever was while following my “Plan A.” And when I find myself thinking that I should have considered a career in libraries earlier on, I remind myself that, had I not taken my long path to librarianship, I might never have gotten on the path at all.

 

My Plan A was to be a philosophy professor. I became a philosophy major my sophomore year of college, after having taken a couple of electives in the field during my freshman year. As a 20 year old, I wasn’t concerned with things like making money, finding a job, or learning “practical skills.” Rather, I was interested in doing something I enjoyed, and I assumed that everything else would take care of itself. But even though I was a philosophy major for the majority of my college career, I never really thought about what I was going to do after graduation. By the time I was a senior, I supposed that I should probably go to graduate school (what else was I going to do with a philosophy degree?), and then become a professor.

 

I didn’t have a clue what I was doing as I applied to grad school, but I was fortunate enough to wind up at a strong MA program at the University of Wyoming. There, I really began to learn about philosophy the profession, as opposed to the field of study. While I wouldn’t admit it at the time, the more I learned about the philosophy profession, the less sure I felt that I was pursuing a path that would lead me to a career that I would enjoy. The warnings about the competitive nature of the field had been too abstract for me to take seriously as an undergrad. But things became more concrete during my Master’s, as I applied to PhD programs and received rejection after rejection.

 

Looking back, it stands out that I never once considered exploring other careers. I felt too far invested in philosophy to make a change, and the thought of doing so seemed like it would be an admission of failure. So I pushed on, completed my thesis and was eventually accepted to the PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where I am now an MSLIS student). It felt like I had made it past an important milestone, but this would only serve to foster the development of some major imposter syndrome as I began my new program. My insecurities aside, I continued to do well, and started to think that maybe I was doing the right thing after all. Moreover, I started thinking I would be one of the fortunate few who would actually get a tenure-track job after graduation.

 

Despite my success within the PhD program, the job market proved to be the nightmare that had always been promised to me. But as fate would have it, I was able to put off considerations of an alternative to philosophy for a bit longer, as in April of my final year I was offered a one year position in the Philosophy Department at Rice University. No, it wasn’t a tenure track job, but surely, I thought, it would serve as a great springboard for more permanent opportunities.

 

I enjoyed my time at Rice, but I began to feel a sense of isolation that I hadn’t encountered as a graduate student. Outside of my teaching duties, most of my work hours were spent alone in my office, or surrounded by strangers at a coffee shop. These experiences helped me to discover that what I enjoyed the most about academia was interacting with other people, whether through teaching or conversing with colleagues or fellow grad students.

 

Meanwhile I wasn’t having any luck on the tenure-track job market, and early in the Spring semester of my year in Houston I decided it was time to make a change. I started exploring alternative careers, but initially, I just needed some way to pay the bills. Unfortunately, nothing really jumped out at me. Libraries finally entered the picture when my aunt, a public librarian, suggested that I consider pursuing an MSLIS. The idea of working at a library appealed to me, but I was hesitant to go back to school, having spent less than a year of my adult life as a non-student. But my aunt had planted the seed of an idea in my head that would continue to grow.

 

After finishing the year at Rice, I moved back to Champaign, Illinois, where I had a support network of friends (and a fiancee who is now my wife), and began looking for work. I spent the summer as a meat clerk at a grocery store, when my mom mentioned a position she’d seen at the University Library that she thought I should apply for. This would prove to be the break I needed, as I was fortunate enough to land the job and become the Office Manager of the Scholarly Commons, the U of I Library’s digital scholarship center. Needless to say, I loved the job. I loved the collegiality throughout the library and the collaborative nature of the work. I loved the fact that I was learning new things everyday, and most importantly, that the main purpose of my job was to help other people.

 

Long story short, I’m finally on the career path that’s right for me. I have to admit that, at times, it feels like I wasted a lot of time during my short lived philosophy career. But ultimately, I have no regrets. I won’t be a philosophy professor, and that’s okay because I don’t want to be a philosophy professor. Contrary to what someone once told me, if I was offered such a job, I wouldn’t take it, because that’s not my Plan A.

 

Academic librarianship is my Plan A. It’s not what I thought my Plan A was for a long time, and it’s a lengthier plan that I realized. But it’s mine, and I stand by it.

Love for Houston, Love for Texas

The August 29th issue of American Libraries (AL) Direct included a notice about the relief efforts in Houston, Rockport, and Corpus Christi in the wake of devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Because it’s AL Direct, the announcement focused on libraries that sustained damage and ways in which the library community can help libraries. This is, of course, important, but more pressing at this moment is the need to help the thousands of people in emergency shelters, those who’ve lost their homes, possessions, and loved ones.

I am a Texan, born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. I spent almost 10 years in Houston before moving to the mid-Atlantic in 2009. Rice University is my alma mater, and my first library job was at the University of Houston. Houston is where I learned to be a librarian, and really, an adult. I love that city so much that my family and I decided to spend our sabbatical year in town. Our place, our things, our family is fine. But others cannot say the same. So I want to spend this post sharing all the ways in which you can help Houston, Rockport, Dickinson, Corpus Christi, Port Arthur, Beaumont, and all the small Texas towns that felt the brunt of Harvey’s destruction.

NPR has an excellent round-up of local charities in both Houston and the smaller coastal Texas towns, but I prefer the list from Texas Monthly, which also includes phone numbers for organizations in case you want to call to volunteer or donate items instead of money. The University of Houston Libraries have created a Harvey aftermath resource guide which includes a list of charitable organizations. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Ed Emmet established the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Local businesses and designers are also contributing portions or all profits to Harvey relief efforts, like Sew Bonita or the Stand Bayou project.

I understand we are not all in a position to give financially, nor are we all in close enough proximity to lend a pair of hands or a hammer, so I would just ask for your emotional support for folks suffering in Harvey’s wake. Chances are you wouldn’t read that national article bad-mouthing Houston to a group of evacuees sheltering at the George R. Brown Convention Center, so don’t post it on Facebook or Twitter.

Show love for Houston. Show love for Texas.

 

Tales of the Undead… Learning Theories: Learning Styles

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Candice Benjes-Small, Head of Information Literacy and Outreach, and Alyssa Archer, Instruction Librarian at Radford University.

“I need to drop this class because I’m a visual learner and my professor doesn’t use PowerPoint.” – A student, overheard by one of the co-authors

What do we mean when we say learning styles?

Learning style theories propose that there are certain methods that will enable students to improve their learning. Individual students have innate learning styles that can be discovered and categorized, and when these styles are properly matched with specific pedagogical techniques, academic achievement will increase. For example, a visual learner will benefit most when images are used in class, while an audio learner will achieve more if the same content is provided aurally.

Unlike the Learning Pyramid myth that we addressed in a previous post, where all variations in the theory of the pyramid can be traced back to one common point, there are many learning style theories that have developed independently of each other. You are probably familiar with at least a few. One of the most popular learning styles theories is the VARK: Visual, Auditory, Reading, and Kinesthetic, put forward by Neil Fleming (Fleming & Mills, 1992), adapted from Stirling’s VAK. Others include Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory; Dunn, Dunn & Price’s Learning Style Inventory Honey & Mumford’s LS theory with the categories of Activists, Pragmatists, Theorists, and Reflectors.

While learning style theories do not have one central root like the Pyramid theory, they do have similarities. Hyman and Rosoff (1984), identified four common traits in learning style theories: 1) they try to find out what an individual’s learning style is, 2) categorize it using broad categories 3) match it with a teacher versed in that category, and 4) educate teachers to conduct steps 1-3, thereby repeating the cycle and ensuring the theory’s longevity. In Coffield et al.’s systematic review (2004), they categorized over fifty learning style theories by their key concepts, as shown below.

Fig. 1 Learning style theory categories (Coffield et al., 2004 p. 19)

While there are many different theories behind learning styles, we will use the general phrase “learning styles,” meaning students benefit most when the teaching mode aligns with their particular style.

Higher education literature is full of articles and books about learning styles, and how instructors should tailor their classes to suit different styles in order to support student learning. A quick search in the Library, Informations Science, and Technology Abstracts database showed over 100 articles about learning styles published in just the last 5 years. Many educational articles and websites suggest librarians incorporate different modes of teaching into their learning in order to appeal to the different learning styles.

Another sign that learning styles have gained wide acceptance is its inclusion in Google Snippets, which provides excerpts at the top of a Google search results page. While Google has had issues with offering incorrect information for many different searches, it is feasible that a casual searcher would see this image and assume it to be factual.

Fig. 2 Screenshot of a Google search results page for learning styles

Why are learning styles theories false?

Quite bluntly, despite many studies, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that meshing the learning style with teaching mode improves student learning. The absence of positive evidence has left the door open for supporters of various theories argue that their favored theory works for them, falling into the trap of confirmation bias. In an excellent article from 2015 discussing why these theories persist, Willingham, Hughes, and Dobolyi explain that learning style theories will not die, because “it is impossible to prove something does not exist.” The authors go on to critique two core components of any of these theories. One, the assumption that despite different environments, an attributed individual learning style is consistent. Two, that regardless of that environment or what is being taught, if the individual’s learning style is matched, their learning will improve.  There have been systematic reviews, some including meta-analysis, with rigorous methodologies that have come up empty-handed.

There is a dearth of foundational, scholarly, peer-reviewed literature underpinning learning style theories. Stahl (1999) provides an excellent critique of the lack of peer-reviewed foundational references in Carbo’s Reading Styles Inventory theory, Fleming’s 1992 article on VARK references an article published in a current affairs magazine the New Zealand Listener, and the list goes on. In the (very interesting!) book “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, ” authors note that decades of research has failed to provide reliable ways to assess people’s styles, evidence as to whether you can train teachers to adapt their teaching to such styles, or even what constitutes a learning style (pp. 95-96).

Several years ago, Willingham increased his longstanding reward for a researcher proving a learning style theory produces meaningful learning benefits from $1,000 to $5,000. There has as yet been no winner, with a design proving such theories are sound, but not for lack of trying. But why should this be a surprise? Learning style theories ultimately fall apart due to their own processes. By creating categories through cherry picking key attributes, then trying to fit individuals to these labels to elicit positive learning outcomes, they ignore the many other factors that influence learning.

The lure of learning styles

Despite many publications and presentations debunking learning styles, the myth continues to endure.  Pashler et al. argue that we are instinctively drawn to tests that group people into different categories, like the Myers-Briggs test, despite little proof that such tests are valid. We like to group others, and we like to take quizzes about ourselves. A quick Google search brings up many free versions of the Learning Styles Inventory. We can see the pop culture version of this fascination in Buzzfeed quizzes like “Which Harry Potter character are you?” or “What kind of natural disaster are you?

Librarians may be drawn to learning styles as a way to connect to students we only see once or twice. We don’t have the opportunity to get to know students in our library sessions very well, limiting our ability to tailor the workshop to those students’ particular strengths and interests. But if we design our classes to appeal to all different learning styles, then we could say we are being responsive to different students’ needs.

The commercialization of learning styles has also kept them alive. Some publishers include learning style surveys as activities within textbooks, especially texts aimed at “first year experience”-type classes. In these works, identifying one’s learning style is presented as a strategy to become a better student. This situation is a bit of a chicken-or-egg one: do textbooks include learning styles because instructors demand them, or do instructors teach learning styles because the textbooks include them? Either way, their inclusion understandably leads to the students’ and instructors’ assumption that learning styles are accepted and uncontroversial.

What’s the harm?

Because learning styles are not supported by research, you run the risk of diminishing your credibility by including them in conversations with other teaching faculty or other knowledgeable colleagues. Candice recently attended a pedagogy conference; in one session, the presenter mentioned “learning styles” in passing and the whole crowd groaned. (Conversely, because people can become very invested in learning myths, we recommend you respond tactfully if an administrator or professor speaks positively about learning styles.)

The learning styles myth can also be harmful to people’s perceptions of their own or others’ abilities. Carol Dweck’s research on mindset found that many people believe that personality, intelligence, and talent are things people are either born with–or not. As Dweck puts it, “They have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that.” Teachers and students who have a fixed mindset will view learning styles as natural limitations. You simply can’t expect someone–or yourself–to learn something if it’s not in the correct learning style. As Professor Frank Coffield said in an interview, “We do students a serious disservice by implying they have only one learning style, rather than a flexible repertoire from which to choose, depending on the context.” We see this self-limiting viewpoint expressed in the opening quote, and believe it is an unhelpful concept.

Grains of truth

Can we salvage anything from the idea of learning styles? Although we hope our debunking has successfully removed “learning style” from your pedagogical teaching statement, we leave you with this advice:

  1. Accept that learners do have preferences and strengths. Some people read quickly; some love mechanical tasks. (Interestingly, at least one study showed a very weak correlation between learning styles and learning preferences.) It is important to understand that no one teaching method will work for everyone. As Pashler et al. state, “it is undoubtedly the case that a particular student will sometimes benefit from having a particular kind of course content presented in one way versus another. One suspects that educators’ attraction to the idea of learning styles partly reflects their (correctly) noticing how often one student may achieve enlightenment from an approach that seems useless for another student” (p. 116).
  2. Flip learning styles to teaching modes. The different modes (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.) need to change as your subject matter does. If you are teaching someone how to drive a car, we really, really hope you are giving your student a kinesthetic experience and not simply verbally explaining how to drive. On a more library-specific topic: when we teach about incorporating sources into your paper, we use the analogy of music sampling. This is most effective when we play the songs we discuss. Consider which mode might be most effective to what you’re teaching (while also considering student accommodations, of course).
  3. Think multimodal. There is evidence that learners benefit when instructors mix the modes up: a little lecture followed by a pair-and-share, a visual demonstration and then some hands-on practice. Changing up the modes will appeal to different students’ strengths and preferences, and will increase attention in the class.

Final words

Hopefully, you now consider yourself armed with the tools to help put an end to the myth of learning style theories. And what about the next time you hear a student or colleague voicing an opinion about learning styles, similar to the one we quoted in the beginning of our post? You will have solid, research-based arguments to counter their beliefs, and well-founded pedagogical teaching methods with which to replace their misguided learning style theory.

Professionalism in the Workplace

What does professionalism mean to you? It might be that I was not paying attention, but I remember my professors in library school only touching on professionalism a couple of times. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person”

This could be understood in a different manner of ways. However, I always thought that to have professionalism was to have common sense. Don’t be mean, don’t make crude jokes, and don’t do anything that you would not want someone to do to you. But we do live in a time where politicians use social media as their main way of communicating with their constituents, where we use social media as a way to network, and where we make our opinions known to hundreds and hundreds of people. While maintaining a professional social media appearance, we must also remember our everyday interactions with our colleagues. Over the past two years, I have gained more institutional knowledge and have learned when to stay out of office politics or how to navigate through them. While I am not an expert and recognize that everyone is at different institutions or work places, here are some tips on how to grow and learn from your own professionalism. 

  • Observe and learn from the successes and mistakes of other colleagues. I personally learn best from observing others. How did they handle tough situations? What did they say? What was their body language like?
  • Pick your battles. This is a tough one. Sometimes you feel so frustrated at certain things, but stop and think about it. Is this worth all the effort? Is it worth your time? Will this get resolved? And realistically, what will probably happen?
  • What is the root of the problem? This might be a tough one, because a lot times, the root of the problem is a much bigger problem of the institution as a whole. This is not something you can take on on your own, but might be worth bringing up.
  • Know your strengths. How can these strengths help you contribute to problem solving or group work?
  • Recognize your weaknesses. What do you need to work on and how can you improve?
  • Who is your support system at work? Sometimes, you might get frustrated with either people or situations at work. Who has your trust and who can you turn to in these times?
  • What are your personal rules? While every institution has their issues, ultimately, you’re the one that has to look out for you. What are your own rules in terms of getting involved in office politics? You don’t have to write them down, but it’s a good idea to have a mental list

I have only been an academic librarian for the past 2 years. While I have learned and observed a lot, I also feel like it’s only the tip of the iceberg. For those middle-career and more seasoned librarians, what lessons have you learned? What tips do you have?