In the Library with the Lead Pipe welcomes guest poster Micah Vandegrift. Micah is a graduate student in Library and Information Studies at Florida State University. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, and is interning at the Brooklyn Public Library. Micah’s education has focused on 20th century American culture, digital media and the humanities and he hopes to work in an art library, museum or academic library in the near future (he’s also on the market, so contact him directly if interested!). He loves hanging out on the internet and can be found tweeting, blogging and chattering about web tech trends, libraries and music pretty regularly. Contact Micah at micahvandegrift@gmail.com or Google Voice # 347-687-2096. Lead Pipe is pleased to provide a venue for the HackLibSchool project, and we hope you’ll join in!

UPDATE February 2011: The Hack Library School initiative now has a blog!

HackLibSchool image

Photo by Flickr user Micah Vandegrift (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The “What.”


If you haven’t heard of Hacking The Academy, I’d strongly suggest you look into it. During the week of May 21-28th a group of academics, librarians and higher ed techies crowdsourced submissions for a born-digital book. They compiled a variety of articles and blog posts focused around the theme of shared professional development resources, questions and innovations, with the goal of taking these important adaptations from across the field and centralizing the conversations in a digital space outside the institution, thus ‘hacking’ the academy. What I admire most about the Hacking The Academy project (#Hackacad on Twitter) is the fact that this group took it upon themselves to engage professional development in higher education and, utilizing social media and other technologies, craft it to their specifications. Call it DIY, curation, hacking or what have you, the point is because of the ever-increasing sociality of the real-time web people are able to interact with one another on a whole new level. When this ability is applied to the professional sphere, the possibilities are bountiful. This post is equal part inquisition and proposition that it is time for the emerging library professionals (we students) to take an active role in what we learn, need to learn, didn’t learn, and wish we had learned in library school by curating our own hack.

From what I know of librarianship thus far, as a student in Florida State University’s Masters in Library and Information Studies program, this field is highly adaptive to new technologies, and there are more than a few cases where libraries really stand out for their technological implementations, e.g. The Hub, Darien Library. Yet, as I have been scanning the social web these past months, I have come across more than a few posts from my peers wondering if they missed something in school, or offering their own posts on “what I wished I’d learned…” regarding the practicalities of librarian life. Is this indicative of blight in the system? Maybe. Is it perhaps a product Gen-Y’s increasing openness to use blogs for constructive criticism? Possibly. Is it worth a glance to see if library school is not lining up so well with the profession (a constant conversation in the field) in the eyes of recent, current students? Absolutely.


The “Why.”

Aside from having to actually find a job, the thought of being unprepared for the field is incredibly scary. Entering the profession with a degree and discovering that there are some skills or core knowledge that you missed is not the way to begin a career. I think this point gets at the heart of one of library school’s broad themes, and one that may be confusing to students; is this a professional or theoretical degree? When I chose to pursue the MLIS I did so under the assumption that I was going to gain some “practical skills” to enhance my previous M.A. in American Studies. I had no idea that social science and information theory was going to be so much of the program. The concepts I’ve learned and the skills I’ve obtained will no doubt be useful, but I didn’t feel prepared at all for the coursework, and am now starting to wonder how all of this will transfer to my day-to-day life in the field. I am interning right now in the Web Applications department at the Brooklyn Public Library, and despite being 75% of the way through my degree, I do not feel entirely confident talking about or working with the tools necessary to do the job. This is not to say that there are not plenty of students who begin the degree totally prepared and transition right into successful careers and do very well. But I can say with some confidence that these issues arise for more students than one might care to admit. Opening up conversations on this kind through a library school hack could better prepare future students, and also provide tips, advice and encouragement to those struggling through.

Then, there is an issue of identity that remains a complication. Are we “librarians”, “information professionals”, “knowledge managers”? Both Kim Leeder and Char Booth have written on this topic recently, which inspired a lot of my thoughts for this post. If working librarians are having such identity crises, what of us still in school!? Thankfully, one of my courses did introduce the idea that a spectrum of careers exist wherein the MLIS will be useful, but I am still unsure how to market myself on a job market. I will hold a Master of Library and Information Studies, and would love a useful title or phrase to promote my skill set, which will be broader than many people’s understanding of “librarian.” I tend to lean toward “Information Professional” although that still leaves so many questions and is nebulous at best. If the profession is set on the precipice of some great, inevitable change in definition, how is my course on Foundations of Information Professions going to be relevant next year when I am job searching?

Additionally, with the information landscape changing so rapidly, I find that textbooks, course syllabi and conference topics that are supposed to be authoritative are lacking valuable content related to current issues in the field and are behind the curve on engaging new ideas. For instance, I am intrigued by the concept of transliteracy, the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, a relevant and pressing topic in the field. I discovered transliteracy through following librarians on Twitter, and have yet to see it addressed in a textbook. The speed at which professional life is evolving right now due to immersive social-technological layers is, in my opinion, far more effective in preparing me for work as an information professional than a textbook that is barely two years old, of no fault to authors and researchers. It is in this kind of a space that a dynamic, participatory text edited and updated in near real-time could function.

To take this argument a step further, I would also argue the case that the professional organization(s) that we all participate in are no match for the relationships that are possible and the value that can be created through curating one’s own network via Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. To say it plainly, I am beginning to think that the staid traditions and topics of librarianship that are addressed in Library School are outdated. If so, what can be done to keep this amazing profession on the cutting edge?

Finally, as a student inundated with articles, papers and conflicting theories to weed through, not to mention any hobbies or other interests I’d like to keep up with, I find it difficult and overwhelming to dig into a professional journal, or get more in touch with recently published research, which traditionally formed the cutting edge in a field. I understand that research is important, and I agree wholeheartedly that it may appease some of my desires for an accurate sense of relevancy for my degree, but as a Gen-Y reader and a former researcher myself, often my interest is just not piqued in academic publications. I like to say that two of the most important advancements of the recent social web are the comment box and the “share” button, both of which do not exist in the majority of academic publishing (kudos to PLoS One and Shakespeare Quarterly

for some pioneering work there.) The paper to conference to journal model does not feel immediate or dynamic enough for my plugged-in sensibilities, although I recognize the value of the peer review process. I’d like to think that projects like Hacking The Academy are moving us toward content curation as a form of peer review and digital presentation as equal to analog publication. Models like this excite me about my participation in a field open to evolving technological workspaces.

The How.

On Oct. 24th, 2008 Char Booth guest posted a “Library Student Bill of Rights” on the popular Tame the Web blog. As a guiding document, I think this is a great example of a model for change. She stated, “In full recognition that it is far easier to tear down than to build up, I leave it up to the faculty and administrators of the library school world to do something about it.” However, I disagree with her on this point. Two years have passed and the “Rights to Challenge, Innovate, Redefine” and more touted in this document are not, to my knowledge, being actively pursued or employed. I think Ms. Booth had the right idea, but placed responsibility on the wrong group. Armed now with tools to organize and collaborate, it is the current and recent students and professionals who must “do something about it.” So, in alignment with my belief in the social web, crowdsourcing and user-curation, I propose that the body of library school students should become the change they wish to see enacted.

Thus the #HackAcad connection; why isn’t there a collaborative, online text like that for Library School? There are enough people writing prolifically about their experiences in school, and through transitions to the field, that it would be easy to gather posts on a variety of topics. In fact, as I was researching this post, I came across a post by Bobbi Newman titled “So You Want to be a Librarian? A Guide For Those Considering an MLS, Current Students & Job Seekers” that sets up a great starting framework for a #HackLibSchool experiment.

There is no shortage of content already floating around the web that would fit into a web-text like this. What I propose is that we (the students, the bloggers, the Web 2.0ers) get active, curate this content, and centralize it. We are all familiar with the variety of tools that are available to make this happen, and the process for growing, contributing to and curating content will be open and adaptable to new ideas. Great with coding? Feel free to build a framework for the site. Enjoy social media? Spread the word. This is a chance to get creative, showcase your skills, and participate in something that will resonate in our field.


  • HackLibSchool will begin as a Google Doc, open to all as of today, and eventually move to its own webspace.
  • Content should have a focus on library school, providing tips, insights, challenges, definitions or any other type of “hack” that a current or future student might benefit from.
  • Nominations and submissions will be welcomed for the remainder of the month of October.
  • Articles will be organized by relevant topics.
  • All organization and editing of the document will be entirely crowdsourced, requiring participation, engagement and some level of commitment from involved parties.
  • HackLibSchool can and should be a meme that exists across many networks. It can and should be a Wiki, a Delicious tag, a Twitter hashtag, a .com, a .org, a Flickr group, an unconference, etc.

Other than that, HackLibSchool has no other set parameters. I’d like this to truly be a group-owned project, and I only see my involvement as a progenitor. Eventually, a team may need to be formed to keep the project focused and forward moving. Living up to the dynamic, adaptive nature of the webtext, perhaps a quarterly review will be necessary. I shy away from nominating an Editor, but that may be a future iteration of the project. I’m open to suggestions as to how to continue this project as a seminal document for our profession.

I’d like to clear about my intentions behind this idea. This is not meant to subvert the education that library school provides, but to supplement it. Not sure of the differences between an MLIS and an MLS? Well, here are three perspectives from bloggers who wrote on that exact topic. Can’t remember the top five articles that every library student should have read? Here are two reviews and a Delicious tag to follow. Wondering what is happening right now in librarianship that can help you be better prepared for the field? Here are the most comprehensive Twitter lists, and two emerging scholars who blog regularly. I imagine this serving as a dynamic, adaptive document highlighting what one can expect from grad school, as well as some tips and ideas about the profession as a whole. (Key words: dynamic and adaptive, living on the web and allowed to change and morph as the field does over time.)

For those who skipped to the end for the summary – This is an invitation to participate in the redefinitions of library school, and the thus the field of librarianship, using the web as a collaborative space outside of any specific university or organization. This is an ambitious project, I know, but I have the sense that peers and colleagues are ready for this. Imagine standards and foundations of the profession that we will create, decided upon by us, outside of the institutional framework. Ideas like the democratization of the semantic web, crowdsourcing, and folksonomies allow this to exist and we should be taking advantage of it. What will the information professions be next year if we define it for ourselves today? If we had a voice in the development of curriculum, what would that degree entail? This is my challenge to you; participate or come up with a better idea. How would you hack library school?

Thank you to Trevor Dawes, Ellie Collier, Emily Ford, and Kim Leeder for reading an early draft. Your comments were very insightful and made me remember the value of collaboration in academia.

18 Responses

  1. Hey, thanks for pointing that out, Ellie. And to think I was disappointed that there was no discussion in the comments! Obviously everyone’s shooting right to the doc. Cool!

  2. Vanessa Reyes

    This is excellent! Totally looking forward to contributing in the near future :) Im in your info arch class by the way :)

  3. This is amazing. I can’t remember ever feeling riled up by an article discussing course of study!

    It would suck to have to monetize this venture, but putting it on a ning or other platform might make a huge difference in the ability to organize and access the compiled information. The Google doc is already a bit hard to read through. Of course it would be wonderful if a web developer slash LIS student came along and wanted to create something, too. :)

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