Library School Confidential

In May, I graduate from Simmons College with my MLIS with a concentration in archives. I attended school full time, and will have completed the program in two years. My experience is probably not typical of most archives students for two reasons in particular: first my background is in writing, not history, which is a very common undergraduate major for archivists; and second, I chose to complete the program (which is in Boston) while commuting from Providence, and I don’t drive, so I relied completely on my bike and the commuter rail. I know a few other students who did this, which made me feel less crazy for choosing not to move to Boston. This is definitely not intended to be an objective overview of library school at Simmons or anywhere else, more a personal reflection on my last two years. If you want to read a more nuanced review of Simmons’s program, you should check out this post on Hack Library School, which I think provides a little more information about what the program is really like. For my own part, I’ll say that I mostly had a really good time at school. The archives track is extremely structured, so I only got to choose two of my classes freely (I took Digital Libraries and Photographic Archives). I learned a lot both in class and through jobs and internships. I found that what I learned in class was very consistent with what I learned in all of my workplaces, which I think speaks well to how current the curriculum at Simmons is.

I think one of the strengths of Simmons is that it’s in an area full of libraries, museums, and other historical and cultural heritage institutions.  In my two years of school, I worked with a correspondence collection from the Mary Baker Eddy Library, art from the Anthony Quinn Trust. I processed textual and audio collections at Northeastern University, which has an amazing social justice collection in its archives. I’ve worked in the digital archives of one of NARA’s presidential libraries for the past year, and for the past three months of worked with photography degree projects at RISD. I’ve also helped work on the Uni, a portable reading room for public  space that provided a really inspiring creative outlet for me, and reminded me about why I got excited about library science in the first place, and how much potential there is for exploration in this field. As this hodge podge of experience probably suggests, this means I’ve been working multiple jobs and internships concurrently at almost all times. Add a few hours of commuting a day to that, not to mention homework, and it probably seems really obvious that I’ve run myself ragged. I have. This past semester, in particular, I’ve really felt that I’d taken on maybe just one two many things, and was at risk of doing them all poorly. Fortunately, I’ve managed to muddle my way through it. I’ve of the mind that when I’m given an opportunity, I ought to take it. At least, I think that’s the case now, while I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.

I started the archives program dead set on working with oral histories. I would still love to do this, but as it happened, my system of accepting opportunities as they were presented to me led me to work primarily with photographs and digitization/digital preservation projects. I’m definitely not complaining. I started the program with very minimal technological skills (I collect manual typewriters and used to work with microfilm, so no, I’ve never been at the forefront of technology.) But I threw myself into learning, and had a really delightful moment when my advisor referred to me as a “technology person,” something I never ever thought I would be called.

For me, going to library school was a lot like going to school for writing. I feel that in both programs, I learned skills that should allow me to fit into many different settings, working with materials from many different disciplines. As a person who is interested in too many different things, I love having studied subjects that in essence can allow me to infiltrate and contribute to so many professional environments. I am very tired these days, so I don’t know that I would attempt to convince anyone to go to library school necessarily, or to commute from Providence to Boston on a daily basis. But if it’s what you want to do, I will say it can be done. (There are also some great places to work in Providence, but I think Simmons has a more established connection with institutions in Boston, so there are a lot more internships and student positions there.) And you will probably get to do some really interesting things, and if you’re in archives, touch some pretty amazing letters. I’ve gotten to get my grubby (actually extremely sterile) hands into letters from Susan B. Anthony and Francesca Woodman’s student portfolio, to name only a few things. I’ve also heard rumors about an official special collections librarian concentration at Simmons, which I think would be a really fun program to go through. Not that I’m looking to go back to school anytime soon.

Oh, hi.

I have again forgotten to tend to this space. However, now that school is coming to a slow, grinding halt (forever!), I suspect I’ll have a little more time to write, and some exciting developments to write about.

I’ve been reflecting a bit on my experience in library school,  in part spurred by a friend who is also in my program asking me what my dream job (not a job currently posted; just theoretically dream job). I’ve actually had a difficult time answering that. When I first looked into a library science/archives program, I felt that I knew exactly what I wanted to end up doing. But in the two years that have passed, I’ve become aware of so many new possibilities that I feel like any vision I had of a career path has completely lost its shape. I will have more to say on this subject soon.

For the time being, I will at least say that I am taking my first post-graduate step toward figuring it out by accepting a three-month position in Salzburg, Austria this summer. In June I’ll become the library intern for the Salzburg Global Seminar at Schloss Leopoldskron, and I am both dumbfounded and unspeakably excited by this unexpected turn of events.

In the meantime, I have to finish out my last semester at school, as well as my current job, sneak home to Pennsylvania for a week, and move into the house I’ll live in when I get back from Salzburg in September. It’s going to be a very busy month and a half, to say the least, but for once I legitimately can’t complain.

And Guerrilla Libraries

And what more can you say about books? They’re the greatest things ever, and everyone should have more.

I know I’ve mentioned my love of tiny unconventional libraries before, but I will never stop talking about this subject. Read this really inspiring story about New York City’s phone booth libraries.

And while you’re at it, check out some of my other favorite tiny libraries and library-like structures:

Clinton County’s Book Booth (also in an old phone booth!)

Little Free Library

SPREAD Pop-Up Libraries

The Uni (of course)


More of That Silence

Once again, little to no time for writing about all the things that are running through my brain. I am done with homework early tonight, but I will be relaxing with tea and watching indulgent mystery programs, because I am slightly sick.  So no in-depth writing here tonight.

I have been frantically knitting away on projects for other people (and lazily knitting on projects for myself) and soon will get around to photographing said things. There’s even some intarsia in the mix.

For now, consider this:

One of my favorite signs (I favor the serious cloaked in the light-hearted) from Occupy Wall Street, where I spent my Columbus Day off, learning about another kind of pop-up outdoor library. More on this later.

America’s Littlest Library

As a lover of small, portable and/or unorthodox libraries and library-like structures, I am obviously very smitten with Clinton Community Library’s “Littlest Library” Book Booth.

(Photo courtesy of the Book Booth’s Facebook page.)

Everything about this project appeals to me, from the community involvement (especially the housing of the cookbooks in a nearby local restaurant), to the upcycling of the booth, to the distinction between “smallest” and “littlest” libraries, to the general idea of the pint-sized library. You can read more about the project over at Library Journal. I’m personally looking forward to seeing how the branch fares over time. Such an interesting and inspiring form of outreach. I would love to see book booths catch on in more cities.

The Uni Project

If I’ve been a bit silent here, it’s because I’ve flung myself full-force back into the school year. A year into my education, with just one left to go, I’ve been able to really begin to form a more clear picture of the professional issues I care about most, and what I want to be doing in terms of work a year from now. What I really care about is access (archival and otherwise).  I’ve always enjoyed reference work, ever since my wee-librarian days at the Carnegie Library microfilm desk. But I am especially excited to be involved in a project that I feel takes the elements of reference that I love and pushes them several steps further.

The Uni Project, that “portable reading room for public space” I have been incessantly telling my friends about for the past nine months, launched last Sunday, September 11 at the New Amsterdam Market in Manhattan.


And yesterday, Sunday, September 18, we set up in conjunction with the Brooklyn Public Library at the Brooklyn Book Festival.

It was really incredible to see the Uni in action after months of brainstorming and anticipation. I loved seeing it take on different configurations and adapt to two different settings with such success, and I can’t wait to see where it will go next.

Although not a “library,” by any strict definition, the Uni is a perfect embodiment of why I went back to school to get my MLIS.  Regardless with the nature of the resources I end up working with in the future, this project has been such a valuable reminder that we preserve, catalog, digitize and maintain our materials in order to enrich the lives of the people who access them.

I highly recommend taking some time to browse the Uni website (and perhaps to donate some of your books as well…)