Archive for Education

Classy — Cal Edition

[I maintain that anytime someone says “classy” to refer to a person or behavior, there is no way to make it sound unironic. Here, though, I am making an adjective about courses that are being taught, and this is not intended to be a comment on the tackiness or non-tackiness thereof.]

Here are some classes I aspire to take:

Mixing and Remixing Information at UC Berkeley’s ISchool

Oh, man, this is so beautiful, I don’t even know what to do with it. 1) The title is gorgeous! 2) Using XML and web services to make already-available information more accessible, which is exactly my aim! 3) Course description employs the word “exploiting”.

Interface Aesthetics, also at Cal’s ISchool

I think that I’ve expressed my love for aesthetics a bit already, but I want to add, also, how important this is to me, in terms of ease of use and “exploitation” of pre-existing user instincts.

Information Access — this one is at Cal’s ISchool!

Exactly! This is the reason I want to go to such an innovative program! Basically: information retrieval practices, including new practices, and their social impact.

The Politics of Piracy, an undergraduate class in the ISchool

I am not sure if I’d be allowed to take it, if I were a grad student, but it is so exciting to me! It is what it sounds like. It is student-led and pass/no-pass. Lots of discussion. I think it’s an important conversation to be having. I think I especially need to be having conversations with people about this. I like the question “Is there such a thing as ‘good’ piracy?” Another question for myself: why do I not pirate, if there is any way for me to pay for something official, while not condemning others for piracy? And why are we calling it piracy, particularly since the pirated object is still available to others? And also if we don’t want people to do it, as pirates are widely considered to be “cool”? Were they foreseeing a (very near) future when pirates are passé?

Has the moment already passed?

Has the moment already passed?


I have been a paraprofessional for years, kind of ambivalently. (And before I say anything else about schooling, I want to acknowledge that a) there is schooling for paraprofessionals; b) paraprofessionals often do the job of a librarian at c) a fraction of the pay. I left my last job because I had hit the [whatever material a library ceiling might be made of] ceiling. They told me that if I got a Masters in Library and Information Science (actually, I am certain they said either “MLS” or “MLIS,” because who talks that way except people who are trying to give you the definition of the abbreviation up front), I would be able to advance. (I found out that there wasn’t anywhere to advance to later, but that is a different story, probably outside of the scope of this blog.) (Maybe.)

At any rate, I wasn’t willing to get the degree until I’d gotten some perspective. Did I already call my adventures in animal care a palate-cleanser? Because it totally was. I went into college, like many people, ready to explore and figure out who/what I wanted to be. Unfortunately, I found myself on my own trying to make a living shortly thereafter, and day-to-day concerns were the driving force for me. (Well, my addictions were my driving force until I got into recovery. But that is really outside the scope of this blog.) (Really.) So, what I ended up doing, probably also like many people, was becoming something and then trying to figure out what to do with that.

I had already done some exploring by studying French and getting an MFA in Creative Writing, but taking the leap and leaving my stable job for a “stable job” (oh, Christ. Very sorry) gave me some serious perspective. I realized that caring for animals was what I wanted to be doing with my free time, not my paid time, that I actually needed more money to make that vision (and others) manifest, and that I don’t have to start over from scratch to create a career for myself.

Cause I was working in stables?

Cause I was working in stables?

So. School. My boss and supervisors at Mills were absolutely right. I could continue in my career as a paraprofessional and cataloger, but if I wanted something more (and it was clear I did), then I would need a library-specific degree.

Jobs tend to want the ALA-accredited MLIS, and I decided to go for that.

I applied to San Jose State’s School of Library Science. This is the nearest library school to me. (Though, apparently, that is no longer relevant.) I have several friends and acquaintances who went/go there. Good good good. I have heard nothing back from them yet.

I also considered Washington State’s program. It is a bit pricier, requires once a quarter trips up north for the first year, and it is a distance program. (So is SJSU now, of course.) It is also among the top 5 library programs in the country. It requires a GRE, and I was feeling pretty impatient to start school this coming fall, which tipped the scales against it. I have a friend who really likes the school, and I trust her judgment. This is a definite possibility.

I thought not to go to Berkeley’s ISchool, and I’ll tell you why: Cal’s program is <gasp> non-ALA-accredited! (I didn’t realize that it was because the program is so new. I’d heard talk that it was because the program was so radical. And it pretty much is.)

BUT! The more I explore my ideas and desires in re: librarianship and information management, the more I realize I am looking for something that shifts the paradigm away from the traditional. (Not that it matters, but I want to go on record: I love books and I love traditional libraries. They meet a need in our communities that isn’t really met anywhere else, and I think that their usefulness will continue to grow, probably indefinitely. I especially think that libraries are vital for outreach and services to people who don’t have their own access to information technology and those who need help sorting through things. Also, for teenagers and people who want to read new hardcover books.) I don’t want to be a Trendy Mendy (trademarking that!), but I do want to move things forward here.

Here’s what I am going to do. Take CompSci classes and the GRE. Apply to Berkeley’s MIMS (aw!) for next fall. Consider the possibility of PhD once enrolled.

Yeah, I said that.

Some helpful advice

via Aziz Ansari

I try not to give advice, but I am glad that Poetic Prophet does. I learned how to use a computer around the same time I learned how to write. Our school had some awesome grantwriters, and I can only assume that is how we got Atari 800s in the computer lab, in the early ’80s. I grew up using computers, and I see a definite generation gap between people in my position and those who learned computers later.

A bunch of these, minus Burger King cups = Computer Center, 1983

A bunch of these, minus Burger King cups = Computer Center, 1983

I think the language analogy is apt; just as it is easier to learn languages while your brain is still developing as a young kid, it is easier to learn to use a computer at that age. Computing ends up seeming intuitive, rather than being something you are constantly “translating” into and out of. An e-mail is not an electronic letter, and a chat room is not an e-mail, and a web page is not a newsletter. I know this for the same reason I know how to use grammar in English; I’ve been practicing the concepts, if not these exact iterations, since I was a child.

Which isn’t to say that these things can’t be learned. Just as you can learn a language at any time in your life (I didn’t start learning French until college and ended up majoring in it), you can learn to use any technology you care to. I think the key here is to learn. Even those of us who come by this more instinctively need to learn and apply new knowledge. I had to learn html, just as I originally had to learn DOS, just as I now need to learn css. If you scoff because you are just using the internet casually, I completely understand, but I think that even a little bit of learning can a) make things a lot easier, b) help you to use the technology more effectively, and c) keep you from accidentally breaching the rules of nettiquette. (Sorry about that: I can’t stop smushing words together!) (Good starter book on e-mail = David Shipley’s Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home)

I agree with PP, though, that the best way to learn this stuff is to look around and play around and learn by doing. You might need some basic stuff to get you started. I do not recommend asking your children for help learning this. There are plenty of books on the subject; ask at your library, rather than purchasing books, as this kind of stuff is ever-evolving. But get online yourself and start playing around. See what you like, what kind of aesthetic appeals to you, and bookmark some pages. Follow links and see what else is out there and bookmark some more pages. Remember when you were a kid and you had to write a report on something that interested you? Choose something that interests you and do some online research about it, find communities about it, and read blogs devoted to it. (Again, here is where a good reference librarian comes in handy.) Okay, /end advice

E-mail. Looking at websites. Searching the internet. Using social networking media (and I include forums in this category). Creating your own blog or webpage or site. All learnable. All doable, no matter your generation or experience level. We can all use these tools more effectively, no matter where we are starting from, if we are willing to learn– from reference librarians, from experience, from other users, and from rappers.

For more information:
The Real Heart-Juice to Social Networking from Mark Silver’s Heart of Business Site
Obsolete Technology Website (to learn more about Atari)
Blackalicious’ Alphabet Aerobics and Chemical Calisthenics (warning: audio) (to learn more about life through rap)