Why an MLIS?

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 began work as a massage therapist and his final words sum up why I have chosen this program:

“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.
Dale G. Alexander PhD, MA, BSEd, LMT”

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.

After a couple of years of working as a personal fitness trainer and looking into various new options for graduate school, I moved back to Gainesville, Florida with the plan to go to law school and a vague notion of helping people. I took the LSAT and picked a few schools to apply to in addition to UF but by January 1 I had only gotten one application sent out to the University of Miami. I had gone ‘home’ to Marathon (the middle Florida Keys) for the holidays and to get my cat Casey (he got the dog, I the cat). The day I was headed back to Gainesville, I was visiting a friend for her birthday and started rubbing her shoulders. She told me I needed to go to massage school. Later that day, another friend said I was crazy for thinking about law school. I thought for a beat and told him he was absolutely right, I was going to massage school! The next day, back in Gainesville, I visited the Florida School of Massage and made plans to start the program in May. To be clear it was something I had thought about and then dismissed for years, yet, at the time and for years afterwards I thought I had found the perfect work for me. I believed I would work as a massage therapist for the rest of my life. When the University of Miami law School called me to interview me for a scholarship I proudly told her, “no, I am going to massage school!” She was a bit shocked and offered to defer my application for next year. No, I had found my calling and I didn’t look back for many years…

The problem was I had always wanted to go back to graduate school too. Leaving a program as I had left me feeling incomplete in someway and as Dale’s quote above reflects I also felt incomplete in my ability to develop and use all of my skills and interests. I also had this vague idea of retiring to a university town and while supporting myself with massage work, finally achieving that graduate degree. Every few years I would start looking into programs, take the GRE and then realize I didn’t want it enough to uproot my life (my really great and easy life) to leave the Keys.

A place that is hard to leave…

Then I woke up that day and realized how much time had gone by and decided it was time to begin working towards something new. It isn’t that I no longer like my work, I just couldn’t see myself working for another twenty years as I had been-there is an obvious physical demand in the work but there is also an emotional toll. And so I began looking at what types of jobs were available in my area when I noticed the public library seemed to be doing a lot of hiring. I thought a Master’s in Library and Information Science made sense and it appealed to my mercurial mind. I started researching the field and programs available. When I discovered I could do it all online it seemed perfect.

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.

Through some of my coursework, I have also become intrigued with working in archives and records management, especially digitization, data management and digital curation. I have a lot of technical skills to develop and am taking free online courses whenever I get the chance. I am plan to deepen my understanding of, and skills in, topics such as Systematic Reviews/Meta-analyses, Statistics, Research Methods and Understanding Clinical Research through these types of courses as well.

The MLIS coursework I have chosen reflects my diverse interests: Health Information Resources and Health Librarianship, Digital Curation, Visualization of Big Data, Archives and Records Management, Teaching Information Literacy, as well as the program required courses. If all goes well, I will graduate in August, 2017.

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