I love my work as a massage therapist but I have also always thought I would go back to graduate school, when I found the right program, when the time was right…Then I woke one day and realized that it had been over twenty years since I walked away from a fully funded program and ended up as a massage therapist living the easy life back in the Florida Keys, where I have (mostly) lived since 1985.
I originally thought I just wanted to stay in the Florida Keys and eventually work at our local Monroe County Public Library. However, once I started the program, I fell in love with all the possibilities. Perhaps I could still fulfill that dream of living in a college town and working in a university/academic library setting. Although my location limits my ability to get practical experience in an academic or special library setting, that is still my ultimate goal. Now that I am almost finished with the program, I realize it was everything I had been looking for and more. My perception of the LIS field is one of professionals at the crossroads of knowledge, information and technology dedicated to helping others succeed. My perception of the Health and Medical LIS field is the same, only adding the important aspects of working to improve human health and the provision of healthcare. Deepening my understanding of the possibilities in Health/Medical and Special librarianship through my coursework has convinced me that it is where I want to focus my work. To me, the LIS field generally and specifically working in Health Librarianship is the perfect blend of working with “data, people and things.”
With twenty+ years in a ‘fringe’ health care role, I have been painfully aware of the limitations in health and research information literacy among my massage therapy colleagues (myself included) not to mention the health information needs of the general public. I am currently developing a research proposal to evaluate Information and Research Literacy needs among massage therapists and massage therapy students. As the project can be carried out through an email survey and I have a contact list of all Florida Licensed Massage Therapists (LMTs), I plan to conduct the survey after the first of the year and publish the results. I will also use this information to develop a course in IRL skills to compliment current offerings that promote understanding research for LMTs, continuing the research of IRL skills in the population to continue to improve the course over time.
How Did I Get Here?
My journey to this MLIS program began as a twenty-year old high school drop-out who decided to get her GED and go to college. As a troubled teen, I found myself unable to cope with school (the school I was attending that final year was my eleventh) and felt as though it was pointless, the only classes I liked were Math and foreign language. These seemed to be of no use in the world I knew at the time. When my classmates began discussing options for college I realized it was unlikely I would be going to any college. My family did not have the resources theirs had. So, I quit school and worked at a variety of jobs until, at twenty, I enrolled in my first semester at Marshall University. I took Algebra and Trigonometry because of my love of Math, but I was confused when my white male classmates kept asking me if I were going to be an engineer. Why would I want to run trains? You see, no one in my family had completed college at that time, and the only engineer I knew of was the retired railroad man who had lived next door to my grandmother. Well, I finally discovered the different types of engineering and began focusing on computer science/engineering. Unfortunately, I didn’t stick with that either. I decided to take a break from school and join my family in the Florida Keys. When I finally returned to school, I switched to Anthropology because I had developed a love for Latin American culture after my time in South Florida. My plan was to go on to graduate school and to teach. After graduating, I applied to the PhD program in the Social Relations department at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). I chose this program because some people in the department were working on a new computer based tool for social science research, Social Network Analysis. Perhaps I could bridge my prior course work in Computer Science and my current work in Social Science. When I received the Chancellor’s Fellowship in Social Relations to attend UCI, it was truly a dream come true, until it wasn’t. I discovered that while I had the grades and the scores to achieve such an honor, something was missing. I left after the first year with the plan to find another program but after a couple of years found myself working as a massage therapist back in the Florida Keys with an easy life that was too comfortable to leave and return to school.
Then, many years later, I chose to try again. Even though I had no library work experience, I decided the Master’s in Library and Information Science would be both a practical and fascinating degree. I can continue in my current work, attend school on-line and eventually make the transition to something new. I also appreciated the role of librarianship in education and thought it was a great way to be involved in education and not be restricted to one topic or type. I began the program in August of 2015 by attending the Graduate Student Orientation. At this orientation, the USF library provided break out classes in reference management and writing skills. There was also a reception with representatives from all the subject areas, special collections and health sciences as well as cookies and lemonade. When I saw all the library offered, I was hooked. As an academic librarian, one has the opportunity to assist students from the beginning of their college studies (and possibly before) through their future work as faculty and researchers. The library has a role to play in all areas of education and of knowledge creation. Perhaps, as a librarian, I could one day catch a student who, like the young inexperienced girl I once was, is in danger of falling through the cracks and assist her in accessing and using the tools she needs to be successful.
My Journey So Far
My decision to undertake the Library and Information Science graduate program at USF was an enormous and daunting one. In fact, I was admitted for May 2015 but was still unsure and decided to wait until the Fall semester. At every step along the way of this process, I have had to examine my motivations and what I am getting from the program as well as where I hope it will take me. In fact, I was quite chagrined recently when delving into the AASL Standards for 21st the Century Learner for the Teaching Information Literacy course (AASL, 2007). Over the past five semesters, I have been so proud of the skills I have been developing. From collaborating in Google applications to producing presentations and data visualizations, in the process of working through this MLIS program, I feel I have learned so much in addition to the skills necessary for the LIS field. While I am not a master of any one tool, I know where to turn for more information in using such tools. So, what disappointed me in the AASL Standards for 21st the Century Learner? In learning about these standards, I discovered these skills I am so proud of building are simply basic skills for K-12 students! I realize now my future success in LIS will depend more on my ability to use these tools efficiently and effectively in my daily work, rather than simply being proficient in them.
Getting Started. As someone who chose to pursue the MLIS with the goal of making a career change, was not currently working in any type of library, has been out of formal education for over twenty-three years and is a distance learner, I felt I had some major difficulties to overcome in the program. The first, mastering the technology involved, was the easiest. I was a bit nervous about relying on digital resources so during that first semester I tended to print a lot of things. However, by the second semester, I was more comfortable with digital formats. I discovered Adobe has a free cloud based account where I can organize and keep PDFs of articles and documents such as course syllabi. I love the freedom of taking reference articles and other readings with me. Being able to make notes as well as highlight, copy and paste and save it all to the cloud allows me to work on projects wherever I am and whenever I have time. I initially used the Refworks service quite a bit and I also tried the free version of Mendeley; however, I have found that I prefer to keep a running document of references for individual projects and/or course modules and organize the folders of the documents I save in the Adobe service similarly. It makes citation a bit more tedious but working with Microsoft Office on a Mac OS has its drawbacks, I was never able to get the Refworks plug in to work in Word and so have settled on this for now. While doing a course observation for Teaching Information Literacy, I learned that Google Documents has a citation/bibliography add-on tool and I look forward to learning more about it in the future as I transition away from Microsoft Office and into Google. In my current position at the University of St Augustine, I am expected to assist students and support using Mendeley, Zotero and EndNote and I am still working on learning them. it is a challenge to become familiar with three different citation management tools at one time!
The second major difficulty I encountered was understanding what was expected of me. Because of being out of school for so long, not having practical experience in the field and not being in a classroom in face to face contact with professors, I felt quite lost in the beginning of the MLIS program and made some major mistakes. Fortunately, I feel I have recovered from this initial struggle. While each initial interaction with a new professor and a new course can be a bit disconcerting, I became comfortable and confident in navigating the program.
Nevertheless, overcoming my initial fear of digital resources and learning to better understand what is expected has not really solved the problem of feeling isolated by distance as well as by my lack of practical experience. I have tried various strategies to feel more connected to the program, the LIS field and my fellow students. Last summer I decided to present on my experience at the 2016 Science Boot Camp for Librarians, at the September SOLIS meeting and I signed on to be the SOLIS Secretary, doing what I can to assist the other board members virtually if not in person. I recently attended the SOLIS LIS career day which was tremendously helpful as well. I also wish more classes allowed us to work in groups, learning to navigate collaboration online was an excellent experience and I look forward to more collaboration in current and future courses.
Courses. In Foundations of Library and Information Science, taken in my first semester, I learned the possibilities in terms of focus and thus began my interest in health and medical librarianship. Also in my first semester, I developed an interest in cataloguing and other technical aspects of knowledge representation as well as how this relates to access in Organization of Knowledge 1. In my second semester, because of my many years away from formal education, I decided to take the classes Preparing Instructional Media, LIS 6303 and IT Concepts for Information Professional, LIS 5268 to improve my knowledge of available tools and technologies in the LIS field. In LIS 6303, I gained experience using presentation tools such as PowerPoint; on-line publishing tools such as Smore.com; video and audio recording tools; as well as an introduction to concepts of instructional design. In LIS 5268, I reviewed the basics of information technology, file formats, and much more. For my final research paper in this class, I decided to report on the concept and technology of the Internet of Things (IoT) and its relationship to LIS: https://1drv.ms/w/s!Ap6gMKkB15dDk1jSTREqyYmLyOvJ. This was an excellent aid for furthering my knowledge of technology in LIS today.
It was in this semester that I also decided to further explore my interest in health librarianship and knowledge organization/representation by taking two additional courses: Health Information Sources and Services and Introduction to Archives and Records Management. Health Information Sources and Services opened my eyes to the many roles librarians can have in health care in addition to medical librarianship. Introduction to Archives piqued my interest in the importance of preserving our cultural and institutional records as well as the importance of standards for the description and organization of these records. I believe access to collections is as valuable as preservation. Following standards in description as well as using tools for making collections available for search and digital access improves preservation and increases the relevance of our collections.
Although I knew I should be completing the required courses, I decided to put them off one more semester so that I could take Digital Curation and Libraries as Cultural Heritage Institutions in the summer. Libraries as Cultural Heritage Institutions was a fascinating look at how different community institutions provide preservation and access of culture and knowledge as well as how libraries and archives contribute. Digital Curation was a look at the technology and standards of preserving our digital record. While these two courses were very different in terms of scope and content, it was an interesting experience to have them both at the same time.
In my Fall 2017 semester, I wanted to strengthen my knowledge of statistics and data tools so I enrolled in Visualization of Big Data as well as the required course, Research Methods, and following my interest in health care and medical librarianship, I also took Health Librarianship. I completed the required course, Collection Development and Maintenance as well as Teaching Information Literacy in the Spring 2017 semester. I have taken more than the required number of electives but I feel that teaching information literacy as well as developing education skills in general will be important to almost any aspect of my future work in the library field.
In the summer of 2017, I completed my final required course, LIS 6409, Introduction to Library Administration and Management as well as Biostatistics 1 for Public Health (PHC 6050). Again, although I had more than met the number of elective courses required, I feel that deepening my understanding of statistics in general as well as in terms of Public Health and Healthcare, will be an asset in the health librarianship field.
LIS Competency. The University of South Florida School of Information lists four primary goals or learning outcomes for the MLIS graduate. My accomplishments in each area are presented in the Program Outcomes section organized within these four program goals:
- Goal I: Leadership and Innovation
- Goal II: Systems and Services
- Goal III: Knowledge Representation
- Goal IV: Theory and Praxis
Leadership and innovation. In this skill area students demonstrate the ability to be “…innovative, ethical, problem-solvers able to lead and manage through communication, collaboration, and reflection.” While I have not had a lot of practical experience in libraries, I feel my work and life experiences demonstrate my accomplishments in this area. From my role as the chapter president and newsletter editor for our small chapter of the Florida State Massage Therapy Association to my current role with SOLIS and my future role with the Florida Health Sciences Library Association (FHSLA) as Newsletter Editor, I am developing skills in collaboration, communication and problem solving.
In terms of my work in the MLIS program I have taken several steps to acquire and improve these skills in addition to participating in group assignments in my courses. These steps include attending conferences such as the Summer Boot Camp for Librarians Southeast, the Society of American Archivists (SAA), PLAN Digitization 101, the FHSLA Annual Meeting and the Florida Library Association Annual Conference. Through my experiences at these events and in the program, I have become even more impressed with the variety and scope of the field as well as the supportive and welcoming nature of those in the field.
I unexpectedly enjoyed the work in the required course, Introduction to Library Administration and Management, LIS 6409. The professor assigned us to teams in which we collaborated on weekly discussion posts. Members of my team decided to collaborate on some of the assignments as well. This was an opportunity to both learn from and work with my fellow students and future colleagues as well as to develop my own leadership skills in this small and nurturing setting.
After graduating, in my role on the FLA Leadership Development Committee, I collaborated with a colleague on an in-person presentation on leadership based on my final paper in LIS 6409 at a joint FLA and NEFLIN meet-up in January. We also presented it as an FLA webinar. Link to webinar recording: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Mw1NJ3mirA7SLmOtIqH5SWWy8sxvRUD3/view?usp=sharing
Systems and Services. Developing the skills needed to understand and use library systems and technologies to manage information resources and assist diverse users is difficult without working in the field. However, I do feel that my course work has prepared me with entry-level skills in this area and I feel comfortable in my ability to further develop the specific skills I will need in future employment. From the first semester I attended, I have found the use of libguides an excellent resource for bringing together many different types of resources to meet users’ information needs. I also find using screencast technology combined with chat or email platforms a great way to provide information services. I have used various databases and technologies in providing information services for assignments as well. Since, in most job descriptions for medical/health librarian positions, experience with Systematic Reviews is a requirement, I plan to register for a Systematic Review course offered by the University of Michigan in the Fall.
Knowledge Representation. While my primary interest is in academic/health librarianship in terms of education, information literacy and access, I truly enjoyed the study of knowledge representation and management in courses such as Organization of Knowledge 1, Introduction to Archives and Records Management, and Digital Curation. Through the work I have done in these courses, I am able to demonstrate proficiency in the theory and application of the technologies and standards currently in use as well as what is developing for the future.
In Organization of Knowledge 1, I gained experience using Machine Readable Catalogue (MARC) and Resource Description and Access (RDA) in describing and organizing information objects as well as Dewey Decimal (DDC) and Library of Congress (LCC) cataloguing. I also successfully described an information object using Dublin Core.
In Introduction to Archives, I demonstrated understanding of archival descriptive standards using Describing Archives: a Content Standard (DACS) and creating an accession in Archivesspace. I demonstrated familiarity with web-based software tools such as Archivesspace and AtOM in a report comparing them, also demonstrating my knowledge of archival description standards including metadata and encoding standards, such as DACS, EAD, and Dublin Core metadata specifications.
While not precisely knowledge representation, Digital Curation offered an exploration of various technologies for managing digital materials and repositories. I demonstrated understanding of OAIS (Open Archival Information System) and PREMIS (Preservation Metadata: Implementation Strategies) as well as digital curation workflows in the assignments and reports for this course.
In my current position, I do some cataloging, primarily copy cataloging using National Library of Medicine Classification.
Theory and Praxis. While this is a difficult area to fully develop without practical experience, I have identified a research area and developed a proposal for a project in the Research Methods course as well as expanded my understanding of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies in LIS. In the courses Collection Development and Maintenance and Teaching Information Literacy as well as my final course, Library Administration and Management, I will have gained even more experience in using various theoretical perspectives to develop skills in the field. I am particularly excited about the theories of instructional design and developing useful and timely resources for teaching information and research literacy skills as well as other skills in knowledge management. I am impressed with the variety and complexity contained in theories of management as well as learning of the issues and work that goes into the administration of libraries both large and small. Dealing with people: colleagues, supervisors, board members, employees, students, volunteers and patrons is a complicated and important task in LIS. Knowledge of management principles in general as well as library administration issues specifically, is important to anyone in the LIS field. In Biostatistics, I am gaining proficiency with the statistical techniques and terminology used in clinical research as well as using the statistics tool, SPSS. I have found the course quite challenging, both because of the the online format and the fact I haven’t had a mathematics course in a very long time! Even though it is a struggle, I believe the experience will serve both me and my future patrons well in my future work.
The Future. As I have mentioned in discussing what I have learned in this program, I am already using much of what I have learned in work I am doing in my current situation. I am developing tutorials and workflows for the massage association in my role as chapter president. I am also planning a research project to evaluate current information and research literacy skills of practicing massage therapists and massage therapy students. I am creating lesson plans, objectives, and goals for teaching information and research literacy to this population in the hopes of adding to and improving existing work in this area. I will also be taking the position of Newsletter Editor for the Florida Health Sciences Library Association. This will provide me with an opportunity to expand on the experience I have gained with the massage association as well as to work closely with LIS professionals working in hospital and academic medical libraries.
I have thought long about simply applying to the local public library the next time a Library Assistant (non-MLIS staff) position is open so that I may at least gain some practical experience, even if it is in a small public library. However, some of the presenters at the SOLIS Career Day, stated that they often will not hire MLIS students for those positions and that it is not necessarily the type of experience that would be useful in the work I hope to do in the future. While a concrete plan for my future professional development will depend on the practical experience I hope to gain through an internship this summer as well as my future employment, I do plan to continue developing several specific skills:
- I plan to take on-line courses in Statistics as well as technology such as Databases and Data Management, to enhance skills for assisting researchers and students in academic settings.
- I will continue to develop learning goals, lesson plans, assessments, and evaluations for information and research literacy courses for the massage therapy community. By working on my own research interest and teaching others, even in this small and specific setting, I will be building transferable skills. I will also adapt the classes to the general population and offer them at our public library branches.
I recently received a copy of a letter of recommendation from someone that I have considered a mentor and a role model, as well as a colleague and friend, since I first met him as I began my massage therapy career. His final words sum up why I have chosen this program and where I hope to take it in the future:
During my Master’s training, I did an internship at the local counseling department of the Community College, there was a vocational test that perhaps summarizes Arlene’s scope of gifts and talents. The instrument was designed to reflect whether one had greater interests in data, people, or things. You have a candidate who has interests and skills in all of these arenas. She has my highest recommendation.
Respectfully, Dale G. Alexander PhD, MA, BSEd, LMT
As stated previously, my perception of the LIS field in general is one of professionals at the crossroads of knowledge, information, and technology dedicated to helping others succeed. My perception of the Health and Medical LIS field is the same, only adding the important aspects of working to improve human health and the provision of healthcare. Deepening my understanding of the possibilities in Health/Medical/Special librarianship and of the LIS field in general over the past two years has been an exciting accomplishment for me. I am looking forward to my future contributions to the LIS field as the continue to explore working with “data, people and things.”
Thank you for this opportunity to share my experience in the program.
American Association of School Librarians. (2007). Standards for the 21st century learner. Available from: http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards/learning