First post proper

September 2013–January 2014

A few days before the start of my second semester at City I feel I have the time to write a brief account of my LIS story so far. Since visiting the university for the first time in February 2013 for an open day expertly hosted by the programme director Dr Lyn Robinson, I had been excited and a little terrified at the possibility that was opening up for me. Made redundant a year earlier; no luck in getting back into my ‘profession’ of marketing; looking for a way out. The open day not only made me want to do the City Masters in either Library or Information Science but I also realised I could do it. One day a week in London was just about affordable and practical (I couldn’t face the prospect of doing it all in one year, not having studied for so long, so I chose to go part-time, over two years).

I applied, I was accepted, my parents paid (for the first year, at least), and I had to wait for it all to start. But, very conscious of my lack of library experience, in the spring I elbowed my way into my local CILIP group (the professional body for librarians, who were, in fact, very accommodating) and started to make some contacts and get a feeling for the strange world I was set to launch myself into. Luckily, a guest speaker at one event was also a librarian at my local library service in Reading. Talking to her on the way out I somehow managed to convince her to ask her colleagues if there was a place for me as a volunteer at Reading Libraries. There was, and I have been putting in one day a week there for as long as I’ve been doing the course.

This has been invaluable to me for several reasons. Firstly, I was back in a workplace, part of a team and given my own projects; secondly, I was learning librarianship in practice as well as theory, and enjoying every minute. I had applied for a graduate trainee position at the University of Reading but I didn’t get a look-in there. I found out later that all of the shortlisted candidates already had one Masters degree, at least. Eeek.

Anyway – no point worrying about that. I needed to get my head down and work. The course consists of two modules (four for full-timers), which, in the first semester were LIS Foundation (taught by Lyn Robinson and Prof. David Bawden) and Digital Information Technologies and Architectures (DITA), lead by Dr Ernesto Priego with support from Dr Andy MacFarlane.

I’ll start with DITA, as that was my Monday morning. I’ve always been reasonably technical, but this course was just what I needed to get up-to-date, particularly in the fields of social media and blogging, web services, and the semantic web. We started with an introduction to computing, then the internet and www, relational databases, information retrieval (very interesting one this), web 2.0, web services and APIs (again, an eye-opener), then the ‘world of open’ [ie, open access to data and published information, one close to Ernesto’s heart], mobile information, the semantic web, and information architectures. This final theme is essentially the way that information is organized and structured behind the scenes, particularly for the web, in order that it can be discovered and used to best effect.

Overall, a very rich and relevant course that included practical work such as coding HTML and CSS (to change how it looks) and publishing a simple website on a Uni server. All modules on the course are assessed by a 3000-word essay (the course finishes with a proper dissertation, of course, but I don’t have to think about that quite yet) but, for DITA, the assignment was broken into two to reflect the division of the course into the ‘pre-web/web 1.0’ and ‘webs 2.0/3.0’ eras.

For part one I wrote about the library management system, which use databases and web interfaces and, thanks to my work experience, I was getting familiar with. I was not only using it to check books in and out on the public desks but also to weed (technical term) and withdraw stock, and add items to the catalogue such as local maps, which are two of the long-term projects I’ve been given. For the second part of the assignment I wrote about XML, which is used all over the place behind the scenes (including in the Word doc that I’m drafting this blog post in), and is particularly useful in librarianship as a tool for defining and sharing metadata, which is essential to the digitisation of libraries; which is the subject of one of the modules we are about to embark on in semester two.

The LIS Foundation module was divided between Lyn’s fascinating ‘The Story of Documents’, which started in prehistory and, to be accurate, hasn’t really finished yet. David Bawden took the second half of the module and gave us a thorough grounding in the fundamentals of information science – still a relatively young and developing discipline (or group of disciplines). Subjects included philosophy (one of the subjects from my first degree and what I ended up writing about in the assignment), digital literacy, information-related behavior, informetrics, and the future of LIS.

The essay I submitted about two weeks ago discussed the contribution to LIS of the philosophers G. W. Leibniz and Karl Popper. Researching Leibniz, who was also a librarian, led me to a document I could only find at the British Library and, therefore, to a BL reader pass (which you can see me holding here, at about 2m49s.)

Going to the BL as a researcher was a thrilling confirmation to me of what I was now doing. I have always loved London and attending City University is, for me, a dream come true. I have to leave home in Reading at 6.30am but by 9.00 I can sit for breakfast with the towers of the Barbican and Hawksmoor’s St Lukes in the middle distance (McDonald’s on City Road, *ahem*).

I have unforgivably broached the 1000 word limit for a first blog post so I will conclude with: so far, so good*.

* And I haven’t even mentioned my course mates, who are a great (and clever) bunch. I’m looking forward to going back this Monday.