Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Not Since the 3rd Grade

I can identify the exact moment in library school when I realized I'd left behind serious intellectual inquiry and begun vocational school or worse. It was the moment I received a particular assignment in my introductory library class, you know the one most library schools have--"Introduction to Libraries" or "Libraries, Society, and You" or some such nonsense. It was one of the courses I had to take, so I couldn't just avoid it.

No, I had to take the course and I had to complete the assignment. "Make a poster presentation." A poster presentation! I hadn't had to do that since my third-grade science fair when I very cleverly made a volcano erupt, or rather I made a poster about how my dad had very cleverly made a volcano erupt. And now here I was again, after many years of schooling in between, being asked to make another poster. In addition to the simplified content necessary to a poster, I of course also had to master the intricacies of construction paper and rubber cement. Exciting stuff!

And it got worse. It was a group assignment, the bane of my existence in library school. I was used to reading and thinking and writing on my own. Group work meant I had to depend on other people, other people, I might add, not always as competent as I was. The library school "professors" would talk about how we needed to learn to work together because that's how the workplace is. Maybe. I suspect it's just a way to reduce the amount of grading for the "professor" and to make assignments even easier for the students. If you have twenty students and divide them in groups of four for projects, that's only five essays to grade. Not bad! It's also a way to avoid having to evaluate individual students and a way to reduce competition. We're so nice in libraries. We don't like to compete with each other. Groupwork is from everyone according to her abilities, to everyone according to her needs. It's also a way to make sure the students have to waste a lot of their time scheduling meetings to get absolutely nothing done. Wait, I guess that last is like the real library world, so maybe the professors had a point.

With group essay assignments, I would just take over the project, write the essay, and let the other students put their names on it. They might give me some notes, but I did all the writing. This guaranteed clarity and coherence in the essay and a sterling grade for all. Don't think I did this autocratically. I didn't just look at my fellow groupwork students and say, "Hi, I'm taking over this project. Go away." No, it just naturally gravitated to me, because I was willing to do the work and no one else wanted to do it. I would announce at the beginning of the project that if everyone was willing, I'd be happy to write the entire essay, using their notes when necessary. Everybody always agreed.

But this time something had to change. I thought to myself, I'm a grownup now, I don't have to make posters if I don't want to. I don't have to cut construction paper. I don't have to find cute little images or cartoons. I don't have to use school glue. You get the idea. I wasn't about to revisit the third grade and make this poster. I didn't like third grade the first time around, and I'm not particularly fond of third graders now.

And it's not like a poster requires much intellectual work. I was happy to make up an outline for the poster, but you can't put much information on a poster so not much work was required. It's mostly an artistic exercise, and I didn't go to library school to learn arts and crafts. I don't like arts and crafts. I shouldn't be required to do arts and crafts in "graduate" school.

There was no other solution. I had to become a free rider and let others do the work. I just couldn't bring myself to do much with this poster. Fortunately, in my band of four there was a very nice woman who already worked in a school library as an assistant and was now getting her MLS. She already did this kind of thing at work, putting together displays and posters and such, so she took over the project and did almost all of it. And she did a fine job. That was one good-looking poster, I can tell you. I paid her back by getting her another A+ on the final group essay.

Maybe that's a lesson on how group work really gets done, even as a professional. Division of labor. I'll do what I'm good at, you do what you're good at. I suppose that's an important lesson. But there's another, darker lesson. I'll work when it suits me, but I'll avoid what I don't like and hope someone else will take up the slack, and since I'm not being individually evaluated no one will know the difference. After all, if the group is large enough, it's easy to shirk your responsibilities. Maybe that's another important lesson for the workplace as well. And then there was another lesson--library school is a bit like the third grade.

A group poster assignment. That was the beginning of the slippery slope that led me from thinking library school was just easy to thinking it was an intellectual joke. I can never visit the poster sessions at ALA without reliving that ridiculous and painful experience. It's too bad, really, because there are some good poster sessions, but I always feel like I've stumbled back into the third grade science fair. I keep looking around for the display where they make the volcano erupt.

26 comments:

Monster! said...

Alas, Annoyed Librarian, you have just described my first semester (still in progress.) I admit, it's harder than I thought to ramble for 5 pages on Library Leadership: Theories, Styles and Realities (degree requirement.)

I usually take the writing assignments for the same reasons: to insure clarity and a good grade. Last week I was ill and had to allow another student in my group to finish our essay. She not only finished the writing, she "edited" the part I had already written and added two paragraphs (if you can call them that) made up of loosely connected phrases (they weren't even full sentences!). Luckily for me, our professor felt fit to give us an A+ for effort (she wrote as much in her notes.) I was mortified, but, in the end, who cares? I just need the degree so I can work in a warm,dry space and make crazy money with my mythical entry level job.

For the record, I am one of those poor souls who bought into the impending librarian shortage the ALA has been selling. Imagine my surprise the past few months when I've been looking at the job ads to get a feel for the market. I keep teling myself there must be a hiring cycle I don't know about, that next month will see all the hot entry-level jobs. Maybe I need to look at the Wal-Mart ads instead. Or the pea processing plant.

Bunny Watson said...

The only person I ever met working at the library who actually liked group projects was a former education major who'd been brainwashed into thinking a group project was a useful teaching technique. I could write for days about my loathing of the damn things, but I suspect I'd be preaching to the choir with this crowd. If I got really lucky in a class I was able to lobby for my own individual project ("Bunny, you'll still be graded on the same level as people working in groups" "Trust me, that won't be a problem"). I'm a lazy SOB in reality, but still took control of projects like this because it was so easy for me to get an A, even with a very small amount of effort. The worst, though, was when I ended up in a conscientious group who wouldn't let me do all the work.

But really, a poster? That's just absurd (or rather, that's just library school for you).

Anonymous said...

On a number of occasions in library school, I was required to write group essays of around 10 pages with 2-3 other people. What a joke.

Anonymous said...

ROTFLOL - I have to agree about group projects in general (Thankgoodness we only had one professor who loved group projects - and in actuality - her group projects really did make as much sense as any group projects ever had)

But - I never had to make a poster in library school, LOL (though I did end up making one within 4 months of starting my first library job... well it was that or let our library be represented at freshman orientation by a really bad really boring poster - not that anyone was going to look at it anyway, but at least we didn't look as bad to the other departments by my making a new poster... besides now we have PICTURES on our poster - not just boring facts about how many books we have... ROTFLOL...

Anonymous said...

at my very first session of my first library school class (i believe it was a basic reference course) the 'professor' was at a conference so we had a substitute. who put in 'party girl' for the class to watch. i was furious i was spending $1500 a class for this crap. i left after 10 minutes, after asking if this was indeed going to be the entire class. that pretty much set the tone for the rest of library school.

Anonymous said...

I, too, can identify that exact moment. In one of those required classes with the ridiculous, non-sequitur titles, the teacher started reading us a children's book called, I think, Runaway Radish.
I assumed that this would lead to some sort of lesson about communication or connecting or, at least, life. But no. She just stopped reading at a certain point and then got on with the rest of class. She must have just liked the book. I actually looked around the classroom conspicuously with that WTF look on my face, hoping that someone would at least nod back at me in recognition of the ridiculousness of the whole thing. I was disappointed, a state I quickly got used to.
The worst thing was she didn't even finish the story.
I wonder what ever happened to that runaway radish...

Miss Brodie said...

Compared with all this, my library school assignments don't sound quite so bad. Mind you, I'm sure some of the set reading wasn't intended to amuse me as much as it has - according to one author on the list, the practice of management is fundamental to Western civilization, and is a vital weapon in the free world's struggle against communism, to boot.

Nice and up-to-date then...

Anonymous said...

It is hard to understand how librarians expect to be taken seriously as a profession when we refuse to take our schools seriously. I took on piles of debt to get my MLS, and often had banal assignments and even professors who ditched class regularly. The school treated this as a normal educational experience. I worry that if we want to preserve our jobs we have to be able to tell people with a straight face that we did more in school than play with glue.

AL said...

"that we did more in school than play with glue." And as you can tell from my post, I didn't even get valuable experience playing with glue.

Greg said...

If you're a 'doing-it-all' public librarian you do need some design skills. In fact one of the two (2!) classes I took on such presentation projects (undergrad and grad level) was taught by a professional photographer. We did posters, audiotape presentations, and slides. Now I do Powerpoint, web design, and video but it all still helps. But no its not really graduate level stuff.

AL said...

"need some design skills." Definitely. But as you can see by this blog, I don't have any design skills. Also, I don't want any. I want other people with superior design skills to do my design work for me!

Anonymous said...

In my first class in library school we had to create a make-believe patron and give a presentation on how to meet his or her information needs. And this had to be done within the context of “diversity.” My make-believe patron was a non-English speaker, but I had fantasies of presenting a gay Hispanic man from Ukraine who only had 3 fingers.

Repressed Librarian said...

My approach to group work was just like yours--I was always the one to write the essays and ensure our good grades.

Privateer6 said...

In all of my academic expereinces, as an undergrad and working on two masters, group work sucks. Someone is always slacking off, do not know what they are doing, or it's impossible to meet with everyone at the same time.

Believe it or not, only one group project was ok, and that was a "management" course in which we did group budgets and role played a defense in front of the instructors. Class was more intitiative games than anything, so I trusted my group to a degree, and we did alot better than some people. But if I wanted to play initiative games, I'ld go to the local ropes course and conduct a course, getting paid to do so, than shell out money for something I did onthe side.

My question is this: what's up with all the cutesy artwork crap for doing presentations? I mean I've seen puppies, kitten, stars, etc. If it was for an school or children's linrary class, sure no problem, but for a "upper level" class on patrons and how they think? 90% of the class used the stuff like that amd it drove me nuts. Only the other guy in class didn't use that crap.

mdoneil said...

My MLS was by distance learning so our group projects were electronic. I recall one in which we had to make a humpty dumpty power point presentation with at least 2 slides for everyone in the group. I got the 'great fall' part because I knew how to fly things around ppt.

I also wrote the group projects - as far as anyone knew. I collected the notes (after I found out that most of my fellow students were barely literate and assuredly innumerate). I dictated them on the computer and sent them to a company (I'm not giving up my source) in Mumbai to type. I got them back the day before they were due, made a few changes from India- English or corrections of odd minutae and sent them around for approval. I doubt anyone read them but we always got an A.

Anonymous said...

I hate group projects. All I can do is echo what others have said.

I did manage to get out of the only poster project I had in library school. When we were told we had to make one, I said that "If I need a poster, I'll hire a graphics firm to make one." When told that most libraries didn't have the money to hire outsiders, my comment was, "Then why work for a library?" It went downhill from there, but I still got an A in the class.

Anonymous said...

I'm an LIS professor. I was also subjected to a "less than rigorous" education im my MLIS program. Now, I now do everything in my considerable power to prevent group work of any kind from sullying my courses. As many of you have noted, not all LIS professors graduated in the top half of their class :). There are library schools and LIS faculty who are trying to make coursework more challenging, but there is still resistance to rigor, especially from students coming out of colleges of education (oh, the irony...don't get me started!). Most faculty crave independent-thinking, motivate, (dare I say) bright students...but we're typically inundated with students who possess few if any of those qualities. And yet, they are ours to educate, and we're too nice to wash them out...that is to our discredit. I could go on and on, but I have a class to teach :)

AL said...

It's nice to have a comment from the other side of the desk, as it were. Though I've never taught LIS, I've taught plenty of college classes, and I can only imagine the pain genuinely intelligent and engaged LIS professors must feel when they survey the often pitiful students in their classes, or for that matter when they survey some of their colleagues. I know some smart LIS professors, but I also know some dullards, and in library school I even had to take one to task for not knowing how to plan a syllabus, create effective assignments, or intelligently evaluate student work.

And I'm sure education students are the worst, since schools of education are an irredeemable intellectual joke.

I think LIS education is a joke, but I don't think it's irredeemable, or I wouldn't bother critiquing it. But as long as there's lots of group work, as long as anyone has to make a poster, and as long as library schools keep letting in idiots and passing them through, then library school can't help but be a joke.

I've noted before what I think of the poor quality of most of the library school students I've seen. And they're probably the ones most puzzled over why no one takes librarians seriously. I'm shouting into the wind there, though, since they're also the ones least likely to read the AL, since even my hostile critics seem pretty intelligent. Well, except for that cranky Marxist guy.

sassymoll said...

I agree with all comments regarding group projects; I've always hated them for the reasons already given. We never had to make a poster, thank goodness; and I thought my MLIS program was bad! Well, it was; I distinctly remember sitting in my Issues class (rumored to be preparation for the comprehensive exam, though once we were in it they were careful to inform us that it was not at all intended to prepare us for the exam) listening to fellow students who couldn't even read, and it wasn't a language barrier issue. They all, of course, passed comps and graduated. And are now, I'm sure, magnificent librarians, earnestly making the profession what it is today.

Anonymous said...

God, that sucks. I don’t think I ever had to do a poster presentation for my LIS. I was lucky enough to have a young and intelligent LIS professor for my intro class who allowed us to explore any topic related to librarianship for our final project. The assignment was for each of us to write a 15+ page essay on a topic of our choice. I chose to do a paper on why library science is, in fact, not a science at all, but one of the arts or studies. I have to say that researching the literature written by the library “science” theorists such as, Boyd Rayward & Jesse Shera was astonishingly vainglorious in its attempts to make this thing called librarianship appear more credible than it was by attaching to it what amounts to, in this case, an empty qualifier, i.e. “science.” I personally don’t have a problem knowing that I’m not a scientist, but a librarian.

soren_faust

AL said...

Librarianship could only be considered a "science" in an oldfashioned sense. From the OED:

"2. a. Knowledge acquired by study; acquaintance with or mastery of any department of learning. Also {dag}pl. (a person's) various kinds of knowledge.
b. Trained skill. Now esp. (somewhat jocularly) with reference to pugilism (cf. 3c); also to horsemanship and other bodily exercises."

But some library "scientists" think it's more like this:
"4. a. In a more restricted sense: A branch of study which is concerned either with a connected body of demonstrated truths or with observed facts systematically classified and more or less colligated by being brought under general laws, and which includes trustworthy methods for the discovery of new truth within its own domain."

So the most generous interpretation of library "science" would be in this sense as a roughly organized body of knowledge and set of skills that can be taught. I think a Master's degree in Librarianship would be better, though.

Bob H. said...

A poster? Jeez. Thankfully, my library program was not that insipid. In my educational past, which unfortunately included a number of "Education" classes, I had to do some god-awful things - or, rather, I was assigned some god-awful things which I refused to do.

I would not make a bulletin board. I refused - I got a D in that class, but I feel pretty happy with that D.

In my MLIS, we did do a good bit of group work, which is, from what I can tell, always awful. There is always either a slacker or there is an obnoxious ass that tries to take over everything. In one of my group work projects, the individual tasked with writing the paper insisted on using the word "whereas" completely inappropriately, despite the fact that I showed her lots of evidence an examples to demonstrate that that was not the correct way to use the word. Ahh, frustration.

miriam said...

The poster has been replaced, for the worse, by the Powerpoint presentation. Curse you, Bill Gates!

Anonymous said...

I just got done with a group project that sort of sucked, except it was great because three of our five were highly motivated and did a lot of work. But then when we got to the presentation part....

we made a wiki. I made my section too long. They cut it down and watered their own content down. It was too much work for them to do everything in their parts that I did in my part. And my part only took maybe 20 minutes to write, max. The funny part is how our professsor told us how sparse our product was. I was rolling in laughter. On the Floor. But that low A really smarts...grrr...

When I do something, I try NOT to make another generic product that looks like all the other crap in the world nowadays. Somedays they penalize me for this and say "its too disconnected from the subject, we "don't get the connection," we want more summary of what has already been said and less analysis by you.

I wish I could connect them to the output ports on Hoover dam and see if they get THAT.

Merc Kat

Anonymous said...

I used to have a class so pointless that bringing a book to read was the only way to get through it. I only showed up because there was a participation grade. The professor gave me an A. Although the lecture was worthless, the book changed my life.

Cynthia said...

Yes, I agree that Library School is very silly. We do occasionally learn some useful things that could be applied to my work in a public library.

However,there is simply no reason it should be considered graduate level work. I could learn the same material in a half day seminar in the library training room.

Someone commented that library school should be a certificate program like training to be a paralegal. I agree. It demeans us all to give us ridiculous assignments and call it graduate work.