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Sweatpants and lovin' it

I made it through high school without drinking coffee.  Despite all of my friends running to Starbucks after school (but before theatre rehearsal), I only developed an addiction to the little packets of honey.  I thought I was being sneaky, but soon the employees began to notice my pocketing the honey packets and soon I was no longer welcome in the downtown Annapolis Starbucks location.

My refusal to drink coffee only lasted until sophomore year of college, when I was forced to pull an all-nighter and my roommate convinced me to have a cup.  She soon regretted giving me the caffeine, and I ended up bouncing around the room all night, somehow managed to finish my paper, and then passed out hard around 5:30AM.

I was thinking about that first cup of coffee when I purchased my first pair of sweatpants.  I know, I know, I don't know how I've managed to live a full 24 years without outright owning a pair of sweatpants -  I think it was because I didn't want to disappoint Karl Lagerfeld, who stated that "Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants."  Now, I wouldn't say that I've been defeated by this first semester of grad school, but I've come pretty darn close.  My new sweatpants have actually made studying a little more pleasant, at least comfort-wise.

I don't know exactly what point I'm trying to make here with this post.  Perhaps some sort of "You can get through it," "Don't let anyone (especially Karl Lagerfeld) keep you from doing what you need to do."  But I hope that, if any of you are struggling as this semester draws to a close, you have some comfy sweatpants to get you through.

(And if you are fans of rap, you can also listen to Childish Gambino's "Sweatpants," which (as far as I can tell) has nothing to do with sweatpants, but will definitely make you feel motivated, even if you might be fibbing a little when you sing along with Donald Glover as he declares that he's "doing me better than you doing you.")

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Relax

We have six weeks of school left.

Not even six weeks! Because of Thanksgiving, we more or less have five weeks of school left!

I'm at the point in the semester where all my group projects are looming in November, and I have three research papers to do, and I still have to figure out what the heck a pathfinder even is, but for some reason I'm not that stressed out about it.

I think a huge part of the reason why I'm not stressed out is because for me reading is a de-stressing activity. So even when I have to read novels for homework, my brain can't disassociate from the de-stressing. I love reading. So I love doing my homework.

I almost forgot to write this blog post because I got too engrossed in Beverly Cleary's Fifteen. Even though I had some issues with the text, the mere act of reading it made me calm.

So in this high stress time, remember what makes you calm. Maybe it's taking a break and just sipping on some tea or coffee. Maybe it's taking the hour to watch How to Get Away with Murder (is anyone else obsessed??). Maybe it's having froyo at Meyers Cafe with some classmates. Just remember to take some time to de-stress. There's no point in getting an all A degree, if you leave school a nervous wreck. Take care of yourself.

All the Best - Hayley 

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What Everyone Is Talking About

The schedule of Spring 2015 classes came out this week, and for a while, it was all anyone could talk about. I still walk through the halls and overhear conversations about it. Generally, people are excited or stressed about it. It's exciting because we can look ahead and see ourselves moving forward in the program, but with all of our options at SLIS, that can simultaneously be a bit anxiety provoking.

I've stayed really close with three other people with whom I had classes over the summer. We all started during that term and were all archives concentrators with the same SLIS academic advisor. Also, we were in class 12 hours a week together and worked collaboratively on many group projects, which is a good way to get to know one another. (Summer schedule is 6 hours a week for six weeks per class with a maximum of 6 total credits, instead of the usual 3 hours a week for 12-13 weeks per class with a maximum of 9 total credits.) Now, after two classes last term, we still have a few classes together this fall, and we usually go out for drinks once a week. Things are different from over the summer. Lizzie switched out of archives and is on the general track now, concentrating on cataloging and classification. Nick is still in archives, but is strongly considering switching to the technology track to concentrate on information architecture. Sara is still in archives though, and she's concentrating on preservation. And I'm still in archives too, but I'm considering going into the general track and focusing on metadata. We are pretty typical, in that it is not unusual to get to SLIS and discover a passion in a certain area of information science that you didn't know you had.

All of these thoughts about changing directions came to the forefront this week, because all of us will be finished with the core requirements for the general degree after the Fall, and we find ourselves having to pick classes for Spring. That means Spring classes will bring either electives or more requirement for archives, which is a track that isn't very flexible. (More information about SLIS curriculum can be found here.)

In many ways this rigidity is comforting for me. I'm in the best archives program in the country, and I don't have to think a lot about what classes to take to make me successful in that field. SLIS took the guesswork out of it for me--for all of us. That lack of freedom can also be claustrophobic. My friends and I have many times shared mutual feelings of fear that we won't be able to discover or explore our other passions if we stay with archives. My roommate Laura, also in the program, says it's the same no matter what concentration you're in. She thinks it's a "grass is always greener" scenario, and right now she's choosing between youth services in the general track or the school library teacher program (SLTP).

These are difficult choices, and at some point in the next week, we're all going to have to make a formal decision. The good thing is that we have one another for support and our academic advisors to help us decide each of our best options. Whatever happens, it's going to feel good (exciting even) to have a clear plan and a firm path.

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Hey You! Take a Break!

Even though we are barely a month into the semester, I'm starting to get a little overwhelmed.  This post might be a bit premature for some of you reading this blog, but as an online student working full time and living on my own, it is very easy for me to feel inundated with everything that I have to do.  For us online students, there isn't a standard structure to our academic schedule - no set class times, no free afternoons, no opportunity to go to the 2PM free coffee hour on campus (seriously though - there never seems to be any student events in Boston that take place after 5PM!).  I am still adjusting to building time for my schoolwork into my schedule, and so far I'm getting everything done on time.  But then I remember that it is barely the end of September, and soon my mountains of reading and required discussion forum posts will be supplemented with 10-page research papers and group projects.  I can't help but log into Moodle and utter, "Help!"

I have a tendency to get a little obsessive about getting everything done.  I make giant to-do lists to keep myself focused and become very stressed out if everything on that list isn't crossed out by the end of the day.  Interruptions and unforeseeable roadblocks on my journey to Complete The List cause instant panic and anxiety.  But this weekend I was able to meet up with one of my professors who reminded me of how important it is to take a break.  Even if you only have a few minutes to relax, commit fully to those few minutes.  Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and concentrate on making the best cup of tea or coffee that you've ever had - not on what you were just reading, writing, or studying.  If you are out of coffee, walk or drive to the nearest coffee shop!  Watch an episode of something silly on Netflix (I'm making my way through the 1980s Boston TV series "Cheers" because of my love for "Frasier").  Go for a run around your neighborhood.  Read a chapter of that novel that you were trying to finish before the school year began.  If you have pets, give into their loving neediness and play with them.  You'll find that you have more energy to give to your studies if you take some of that energy for yourself. 

Good luck on your studies, and please send a little luck my way! 

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My cat, Lady, urging me to take a break by using my assigned reading for a pillow.

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Field Study at BPL

I have to do a field study for my Archival Methods and Services (LIS 438) class, which entails visiting a local repository, using it to answer a research question, and then writing a 3-5 page paper about the experience. In the past I've mostly used small, community archives, so for a change of pace, I chose to visit the large and impressive print department of Boston Public Library's Special Collections.

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The entrance to BPL

Before I could visit, I had to come up with a research question. Since I didn't know what collections the department housed, I went online to its website (BPL Special Collections) to get an overview of what it had. Even though only a tiny part of the vast Special Collections has been digitized, BPL still does an exemplary job of listing what it has available for researchers and the general public. But with so much selection, it was a little overwhelming! I ended up picking the Adlow papers, a collection of late 18th and early 19th century documents that belonged to a local lawyer and judge, mostly because it looked interesting and was close to the top of the list, which is alphabetical. I also didn't want to choose a really popular collection, like the Sacco and Vanzetti or the Dickens. This was mostly because I wanted to see how accessible some of the less frequently accessed manuscripts were.

I called the print department and made an appointment to see the papers the following Friday, telling the staff member on the phone I was researching where Suffolk County got the land on which they built a prison in the 1820s, as the Special Collections website said the Adlow papers had documents related to prison construction during that time.

When Friday time came around, I took the T (subway) to the Central branch of BPL in Copley Square. I had been there before on a tour, so I knew where Special Collections was, but if I hadn't, I would have had a difficult time finding it. The department is located on the third (and top) floor after walking through two ornate galleries and a long reading room. Its small lobby is beautiful, lined with leather-bound books dimly lit behind protective glass. It's deceptive because once you go into the department, it's obvious its enormity is concealed behind doors. And there are a few requirements for going through those doors, which I read about online beforehand. Just as the website said, when I checked in at the reception desk, I needed photo ID and my library card. Using these and a card I filled out within a few minutes, the library assistant registered me and sent me to locker room to store my jacket and bag. The only things you can bring into the manuscripts area are loose-leaf paper and a pencil.

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BPL's Central lobby

Armed with my meager supplies, I stepped through the glass doors labeled "Researchers Only". And then I was in a world of books. They were all around me, and they weren't behind glass. Their spines weren't brightly colored with the flashy jackets that grace the shelves in Circulation. Instead, the earth tones of their mostly leather and occasional fabric covers gave the walls they lined a muted brown hue. It seemed like the whole room was some version of that color with the brightness of the orange carpet and pale yellow walls magnified by the glare of the overhead florescent lighting. As I proceeded to the reference librarian's desk, I noticed some oversized books with gold and metal embellished covers. They looked like they were straight out of a medieval library, yet they were just lying there on carts. Across from them I saw an island of card catalogs in the center of the room, and on another wall, a distinguished looking gentleman stared out at me from his stately portrait within an elaborate gilded frame. It felt like I was in Hogwarts in the 1960s. I loved it!

The reference librarian, Kim, was very friendly and helpful. She gave me a finding aid for the papers related to prisons in the Adlow collection, which comprises over 10,000 documents. Within half an hour I had found two documents that looked like bills of sale. I wrote their folder numbers down on call slips, which I gave to Kim, and she called the documents from the stacks.

The whole process was much easier than I thought. The finding aid was well organized and allowed me to locate what I needed, and the staff was remarkably helpful. And even though it took a bit of time to retrieve what I called, when I examined the documents, it was worth it! In my hands I held the answer to my research question, written on delicate yet fibrous paper covered with elegant, sweeping cursive script penned almost two centuries ago. One of the records even had residual wax on it from a seal, though I couldn't tell if it was the judge's seal or the county's. It was red and sticky, and at first I thought it was chewing gum. Touching the tacky surface of the wax, I thought of Judge Adlow. Did he seal this? Was this his handwriting or his clerk's? I felt small thinking about the years separating me and Adlow and everything that had happened during them. My mind entered a dreamy history fuzz as I travel back in time mentally. I had so many questions, and if I had all day, I would have loved to have called more documents to get answers. I was following my questions down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, when suddenly my stomach growled, snapping me out of my haze. I needed to get lunch before a group project meeting on campus in the early afternoon.

I returned the folders of papers to the librarian, and we chatted amiably about the extent to which everything had been cataloged and the card catalogs themselves. She knew I was a Simmons student from information I gave when I made the appointment, and I felt like the cool kid in school, included in the small world of librarianship during our brief conversation. Then, going back through the secure doors, I said goodbye to the assistant at the desk and retrieved my stuff from the locker where I had stored it. It had been a productive and memorable field experience. What a fun assignment!

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The Balancing Act Begins!

Well, my first full week of school is over, and my two biggest accomplishments were getting a student discount (10% at Tags!) and making my kids do my homework.

Kidding.  Kind of.

Going back to school at age 41, with a husband and kids and part-time work, is, in some ways, just like going to school at any age.  I puzzle over how long it will take me to get to school from our home in Somerville (almost an hour!), where to get my ID (the campus card office), what kind of notebooks to use, whether I needed a snack during a 3-hour class (yes!).

There are some major differences, too.  Before I leave for class, I make lunches for my kids and get them ready for school.  I check my phone during breaks to make sure the school hasn't called.  I drag myself to book club one night, and we talk about our parents' health problems (probably not what my 20-something classmates are discussing over dinner).  I balance my freelance work and shifts at a nearby library with one daughter's gymnastics practices, teaching the other to ride a two-wheeler, and being a room parent at their elementary school.  I forget that I need to allocate time -- plenty of time! -- for homework and class assignments.  I wonder how exactly this balancing act will work out.

But back to the accomplishments.  The student discount is really pretty great.  And the at-first overwhelming Organization of Information class has turned out to be both awesome and a family affair -- my kids selected the books for an assignment in LibraryThing, then came up with the tags themselves.  (Will I be able to hand off any other homework to an 8 and 6 year old?) 

I know I'll find a rhythm.  It's only the first week.  My professors seem fabulous, my classmates inspiring.   The Simmons campus is picturesque, the facilities top-notch.  And there are certainly advantages to going back to school in my 40s - I have roots in this community, family support, many years of professional experience and perspective. 

Here's hoping the second week is as positive as the first!

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Dissecting Computers

I blog and I'm in library school, so sometimes people think I know a lot about computers. While I can understand why they would make this assumption, to be perfectly honest, technology really intimidates me.

This goes back to a when I was in the second grade and my family got a new peripheral device and remote control for our cable television. There were so many colorful buttons! I started pushing away at them, trying to find the guide channel. As result, the TV froze and would not turn back on. It took two days to get someone from the cable company to reset everything, and by the time it was all over, I had a fear of touching expensive machines and always tried to get other people to handle technology for me. My first personal computer? My boyfriend set it up. My first iPod? My brother put all of my music on it and on every iPod I've owned since. When I moved away from home for the first time? My boyfriend at the time configured the wireless and router and hooked up the printer.

I really hated depending on other people like that, and I felt like my actions perpetuated negative gender stereotypes about women and machines. But as time went on, the most important point for me was that I couldn't become competitive in information science without first becoming comfortable with technology.

So when I decided to study Archives, a big reason I chose Simmons was for its SLIS Tech Lab. The lab has long hours and a knowledgeable staff to help me and other students troubleshoot or learn the latest or most basic computer stuff--- and they do it with a pleasant attitude and no judgment. You can't beat that!

My first time there was when I was completing the mandatory Technology Orientation Requirement (TOR) over the summer. I was using a text-editing program called Text Wrangler for the TOR's HTML section, and even though I saved my work, when I went back to it, it wasn't formatted properly, and I couldn't restore it. I started to panic. The TOR was due in two days.

When I took my laptop into the lab, the Technology Reference Assistant (TRA) on duty was a little stumped too. He spoke with one of his supervisors, Annie, who suggested I try new editing software. At this point, on the verge of hysteria, I cut her off, telling her I couldn't do that, because I'd lose all my work. She smiled and very patiently explained that she would walk me through installing the new software and show me how to import my work.

Annie was right, of course. After all, she practically designed the TOR herself.  And since that day, I've been really comfortable visiting the Tech Lab for any problem or question I have. I am even going there tomorrow (a SUNDAY), because I am doing a tutorial for a class about an open source self-publishing platform called Omeka. I can't seem to get Omeka to download to my computer, even though according to its website, my computer meets the compatibility requirements.

Many classes use the Tech Lab too. Last Thursday, my Technology for Information Professionals (LIS 488) class used the lab during our second meeting. LIS 488 is one of the most basic technology classes SLIS offers, and like me, many students take it to fulfill their technology core curriculum requirement. Our class will have several more sessions in the lab this coming term, and these will allow us to apply everything we've learned in our lectures and readings in a hands-on way. It's great for kinesthetic people who learn better through doing. On Thursday, for example, after discussing our reading on the parts and structure of a personal computer, the class went to the Tech Lab, split off into teams of two or three, and each team dissected a Dell computer. Armed with screwdrivers and instructions with diagrams, we located all the drives, the motherboard, the CPU, the heat sink, the battery, and much more. After taking a computer apart and putting it back together, I have a newfound confidence around these machines. It's hard to believe I was ever so afraid to break one!

Want to know more about SLIS Tech? Here's a link to their webpage: http://www.simmons.edu/slis/for/current/tech/

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Above: Teammate Taylor removes the cover.

Below: We are in search of the hard drive.

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Grad School Year Two: Bring it On!

I'd like to start this blog post by first welcoming back my fellow returning grad students and by welcoming those starting their first year in SLIS! I have a good feeling that this semester is going to be a good one, and I wish the same to all of you.
Since the last time I posted something here, I've made the move from Brighton to Roxbury Crossing. Not only am I now living with other students from SLIS and the Children's Literature program, but I am also within fifteen minutes from school. Essentially, I will be at Simmons a lot this year, either at the library, at the Student Services Center desk, or in the tech lab. I even purchased an awesome blanket from the Simmons Bookstore to keep me warm while inside the Palace Road Building. Still deciding if bringing a blanket to class would be a bit too much. What do you think?
Beyond the above, I'm sort of ashamed to admit this but, the reality that my second year of grad had started didn't come when I went to class this week but rather, when I ordered my first pumpkin spice latte of 2014. I've always associated the PSL as a special treat to help get me through midterms in fall, especially if I have to pull a few all nighters. But with its early debut this year, it really brought home the fact that summer is over and that school has started. Of course, the real realization should have struck me when I attend SLIS orientation last week. This year, SLIS really out did itself. Held in the Main Campus Building, master of ceremonies Em Claire Knowles did a fantastic job welcoming in the new class of students while also unveiling the program's new identity of SLIS. Although I will miss GSLIS (Graduate School of Library and Information Science), SLIS (School of Library and Information Science) seems to unite the various graduate programs -and one undergrad program- that make up the Library School in a far better fashion. The ice cream social that was held in the student lounge was also a major success, allowing me and my fellow SSC co-workers a chance to hang out and chat with the new students. Also the weather, which had originally shown rain, was beautiful. 
Now with the week just about over, my schedule is packed with readings and response papers. It feels both strange and familiar to have homework again, and my fingers are crossed that I haven't forgotten how to write a concise reaction paper that compares two primary sources or how to craft a finding aid. After a long summer like this, I always find the first few assignments to be the hardest as I make the transition into academic mode. However, things always get easier once I've re-acquainted myself with skills that have been dormant since early May. Even so, I've been waiting for year two of grad school to start for a while now and can't wait to see what I learn this time around.
Bring it on!

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Hanging out with JFK

Did you know that just a short bus ride away from the JFK T stop on the red line is the JFK Presidential Library and Museum? Did you also know that the papers and writings of Ernest Hemmingway are also stored there?

No?

Well, neither did I. That was, at least, until I went on a field trip with my Preservation Management class last Thursday. Yea, that's right, I went on a FIELD TRIP! Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus would have been super proud of my class.

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Not only did we get to learn about the responsibilities and skills required to be an archivist and deputy curator to a Presidential Library, but we also learned about the JFK Library's disaster plan and how it was tested during an actual disaster that happened last year. For those who don't know, the library had a fire last April and though smoke, water, and firefighter damage was great, the library and museum did not lose a single item. Now that's what I call impressive. Considering that my course, Preservation Management, has been all about learning how to handle and treat archival and library materials and keep them safe from the dangers from decay, mold, damage, and other environmental conditions, this was an excellent example of how a great disaster plan and potential risk awareness and assessment can ensure that even when a disaster occurs, precautions have been make to help reduce the potential damage. As for the museum part of the Presidential library, it is a fantastic walk through history. The photos, items, and re-creations of famous locations associated with JFK truly creates a one-of-a-kind experience. Words cannot describe how cool this museum is, including their special exhibit on the Cuban Missile Crisis. If you can, definitely check it out. And while you're there, poke your head into the Hemmingway exhibit. Stepping inside, you feel as if you are standing in Hemmingway's living room, surrounded by books, statues, and the very paintings that inspired some of his stories. As for the story as to why one of America's greatest writers is housed at the JFK Presidential Library, it's quite the tale. Just try not to step on the lion.

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(Not) A Lazy Summer

When I look out my window, I find it hard to believe that less than three months ago, there was still snow on the ground. Not only that, but it felt like the winter of 2013/2014 was never going to vacate the Boston area. And yet, here we are; the sun is out in full force and people are starting to gather in any air conditioned space that they can find. However, considering just how unbearably cold the first half of the year was, I won't be complaining about the heat anytime soon. But if the city gets hit with another heat wave like it did last July, well, let's just say that you will most likely be able to find me sitting at a table inside JP Licks.
Speaking of summer, this one will be my first ever as a resident of Boston! But just like my last few summers back home in Long Island, I will be spending the bulk of this summer tucked away inside, either at work at the BPL or in a law library on Atlantic Av. Oh, and at Simmons as well. Yea, that's right, SIMMONS! 
Call me crazy, but I'm the type of person who likes to have things to do. While it's true that I now have two jobs to occupy my time, I still felt that there was something else that I could be doing this summer. And since I mastered knitting and crocheting over the last two summers, I decided to try going back to school. After experiencing a long break last summer between graduating undergrad and starting Simmons wherein I felt like my mind essentially turned to mush, I thought that maybe a summer class stretched over the course of the summer would be perfect for me. What did I ended up signing up for instead? A two week intensive archives class! Instead of having class one or two days a week over the course of maybe six weeks, I'm taking one class over the course of six days that meets for seven hours a pop. So much for a lazy summer. 
Well, on the bright side of things, if I can get through this, I can certainly get through anything.

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How to be a Public Library Director in 5 Very Packed Days

I got to spend last week talking about one of my favorite things, public libraries, with one of my favorite professors, Mary Wilkins Jordan. During my time at Simmons (so far) I've taken three intensive courses and I must say I love the format. While learning about the many aspects of library management (budgeting, outreach, programming, evaluation, collection development, and advocacy to name a few) in one week was a bit overwhelming at times, it's also a great way to cover a lot of ground quickly and get to the heart of issues. Many people in graduate school, especially at GSLIS, are also working and do not always have a whole semester to devote to classes like LIS 450 Organization and Management of Public Libraries and the week-long intensive format is a great alternative.

The class was structured in five jam-packed days over the course of one week and we covered a lot of ground in a very short time. This is a subject that I'm incredibly passionate about so it was wonderful to be in class with a group of like-minded individuals. We had students such as myself with limited experience in small public libraries as well as people who've never worked in a library and a couple who have been full-time for years. The range of experience mixed with tons of stories and anecdotes from Mary made for a lively and interesting week of class.

Cramming an entire semester's worth of work into a week wasn't a picnic but Mary sets very clear (and realistic) expectations right up front so it was easy to know what to expect. This was a great class for me as I'm wrapping up my time at Simmons because it reminded me what I love about public libraries, as well as some of the challenges, and inspired me to continue to be involved with my local library as I move on to other opportunities. If you're thinking about GSLIS and are worried about scheduling, I strongly urge you to think about intensive courses as an alternative to traditional weekly courses. And, in case I haven't mentioned this before, if given the opportunity, you cannot go wrong taking a class from Mary Wilkins Jordan. In my many years of schooling it's been rare to come across a professor with as much passion and dedication to her field and I cannot recommend her highly enough.

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Semester Wrap Up and a Library Gala

My final "real" semester of school has finally wrapped up and it was quite a whirlwind! Had I known how difficult it would be to simultaneously juggle two intense classes and two demanding part time jobs I'm not sure I would've done it. That said, looking back I'm happy I survived and managed to find a reasonable amount of balance along the way. Next Friday I will participate in the GSLIS graduation ceremony and receive an empty diploma as I still have two courses left before I'm officially done. I'm looking forward to listening to our speaker David Weinberger and participating in the ceremony.

The courses I'll be taking over the summer are both week long intensives and should be a lot of fun. First I'll be taking LIS 430 Organization and Management of Public Libraries the last week of May with Professor Mary Wilkins Jordan. I started this class in the fall semester but dropped it (because I signed up for too many classes) and I think it will be a fun and informative week. My very last class at GSLIS, LIS 425 The History of the Book with Professor Martin Antonetti, will take place on the Mt Holyoke campus in Western Mass. Wrapping up my time at Simmons with a course I wanted to take long before I applied to the program feels fitting. Especially after this last semester of two tech heavy and demanding classes, it will be nice to conclude with courses I'm much more excited about.

Sunday afternoon I hit "submit" on my final project of the semester and got dressed up for my library's annual gala fundraiser event. We were fortunate enough to have Andre Dubus III as our speaker, the author of The House of Sand and Fog, among other best sellers. The event had a fantastic turnout and everyone was incredibly impressed with the speaker. Dubus spoke at length about his craft as a writer and what that process means to him. His most memorable comments were about democracy and the value of libraries. He said that democracy is able to continue because of public school teachers, independent bookstores, and public libraries. This comment was met with resounding applause. If my time at GSLIS has taught me nothing else it is the importance of libraries in society as places of free access to information. I may not be going to work in a library straight after graduation but this sentiment certainly rings true. Listening to this speaker, surrounded by many people in my community who also hold the same ideals was a great way to end a difficult but exhilarating semester.

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What's Next?

4748804337_ff51d52736_z.jpgI am graduating in December. This is painfully evident to me as many of my friends are graduating this spring. I watch them as they introduce themselves at the job fair in their smart pant suits. I linger over their announcements on the last day of class: This IS my last class at GSLIS. I jump for joy when they reveal in triumph: I GOT A JOB!

This is what's next this week: parties, life without homework, and the jobs on the horizon.  But what about after that? What happens after the cheering is over, the reading for fun begins and the day-to-day routines of library jobs set in?  This is inevitably what is addressed, or should be addressed, in any last class rant by a professor of substance. My two professors, both crazy intelligent beings, Amy Pattee and Linda Braun, spent their last moments with us pronouncing those fateful words: THIS IS NOT THE END! They're right, it is only the beginning. I pass their words of wisdom on to you, dear readers, as this semester comes to a lovely close.

Linda Braun, who taught me about the vast potential of social media, said that in order to succeed as librarians we must continue to invest in reading about the latest trends in technology. This does not mean we should exclusively be subscribing to list-servs or rss feeds about technology in libraries, but simply what's new and exciting on the web, hardware and other various new tech trends. How are people interacting with the world through technology. As we become more informed, the more we will be able to link these new trends to potential in libraries. As I said, the woman is a genius. Did I say that? Well if I didn't: GENIUS.

Amy Pattee, who opened my eyes to a world beyond dystopian young adult literature, reminded me to keep my finger on the pulse of the publishing world. It is our job as librarians to understand what is happening in literature and that can't just mean ordering the New York Times Best sellers (that's a great place to start, but there are other sources). Find a voice of a librarian that resonates with you on twitter or on a blog and keep up with what they have to say. Find a community that fits your needs and sign up for that list-serv or join that round table at ALA and join the conversation.

Happy end of the semester to all and to all a good night!

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Where Did the Time Go?

I've looked at my calendar more times than I can count in the last few days. Surely the date can't be right; wasn't it January just the other day? Although it says that today is the second to last day of April, I'm about 95% certain that my laptop's calendar is wrong. Shouldn't the last few days of April be warm? I'm pretty sure that the weather outside is more like something I'd find in late February, or early March at best. No, this all has to be one massive, over the top hoax; any moment now Ashton is going to pop and inform me that I've been punked.
Any moment now...still waiting....Ashton?
 
Alright fine, I'll face the facts, the semester is literally days from being over which means that somehow,  I've just completed my first year at Simmons. Of course I'm over the moon excited by this fact; I have just one small twenty-five paper standing in between me and summer break. And yet, it seems like just yesterday I was leaving for spring break. Seriously, I knew that time flies when you are having fun but this is outrageous. But then again, I guess that this semester, just like the one before it, was just one awesome experience after another. Yea, the homework at times somewhat decreased the fun factor, but still, for the most part, I've learned a lot and have come a long way since last September. Who knew that grad school would go by so quickly? I feel like when I was a senior in college all over again. One moment my dad and I are lugging my stuff into my senior year dorm, the next, I'm walking across the stage to accept my diploma. The situation is a bit different, but the same principle still applies. In all seriousness, I really thought that grad school would be something that would feel like eternity to get through. But I just finished the first of a two year program and I feel like I've been living in the city for all of five minutes!
 
So now what do I do? Well, I have about four months of relaxation up ahead to enjoy though don't think that means I won't be doing anything fun. I'll still be working at the BPL (yay!), I'll have a plethora of opportunities to get outside the city with my older sister and do some hiking (yay!), I'm thinking about doing some volunteering at a local library or historic site (yay!), the fourth of July (yay!), and a summer course (yay?). That's right; for two weeks, I'll be enrolled in the summer session of Preservation Management. It's definitely going to be one of the most intense courses I've taken thus far, but I'm excited for the challenge. Of course, I'll be writing all about it, so don't worry; I'll be sure to include as much information as I can. And of course, I'll be writing about all the other things I plan to do this summer (expect a lot of recipes) and you can follow along here!
 
I think the next four months are going to be very interesting.

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Beginning of the End

That's not entirely true, I've got so much work to plow through between now and the end of spring semester that at times I feel like I'll never be done. However, Wednesday afternoon I signed up for my last ever classes at GSLIS. True to form, I'm taking the road less travelled and finishing up my GSLIS career with two weeklong intensive courses over the summer, including one that I think is intended for archive students. My final semester as a masters student will be done in short intensive bursts. I'll spend the last week of May taking LIS 450: Organization and Management of Public Libraries, a class I'd planned to take in the fall semester but timing hadn't worked out. The second course will meet for two three day periods during the month of July, LIS 425: History of the Book. I'm most looking forward to LIS 425, in fact, it's the class that made me originally decide I wanted to go to school to become a librarian.

I remember very distinctly the day I was looking at the Simmons GSLIS curriculum from my desk, at a job I absolutely detested, and seeing that part of library school could involve taking a class called "History of the Book." That sold me right then and there. What could be better, and more nerdy (in the best possible way), than devoting a whole class to books; how they've evolved as physical objects and what they've meant to society over time. When I saw that this course was being offered over the summer it seemed serendipitous that the last class I take with GSLIS would be the one that made me initially decide to pursue library school.

In total, of the twelve courses I will have taken at Simmons, seven were regular in-person courses meeting once a week on Simmons' Boston campus, one was entirely online, and four were weeklong intensive courses. Of the intensive courses, two met/will meet in Boston, one met in Rome, and the last will meet at GSLIS West at Mount Holyoke. Excluding the blended course format, one that's mainly online but meets in person a few times over the semester, I've managed to experience just about all the Simmons has to offer. This wide range of courses and formats has made me really think about how I learn best and has forced me to become a more independent learner.

As of now, the online class is proving most challenging, as I suspected it would, and the weeklong courses have tended to be most enjoyable. In some ways I can't wait to be done with GSLIS, in others, I can't believe I'm almost done! It may not be quite the beginning of the end, but the end is certainly just around the corner.

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Monday with Julia Child

This past Monday I ventured over to the Schlesinger Library, which is part of Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advance Study. Although I was making this trip for research purposes, I won't deny my excitement about getting to handle the papers and letters of THE Julia Child! To begin with, this was the woman who not only taught America how to cook, but she was part of a food revolution that helped pull America out of its bizarre obsession with disgusting Jello-molds and pre-packaged foods. Going beyond that, this woman is somewhat of a role model to me. Like her, I went through most of my relatively short life not totally sure of what I wanted to do. Just like her, I tried different things, each fun but never quite providing me with the level of fulfillment of satisfaction that I was searching for. But then, I discovered how much I loved baking, and a passion began to grow. Sure, I didn't have the same degree of a food epiphany that Ms. Child had when she had her first meal in France (which for those of you who don't know, consisted of oysters and sole meunière) but the same principle applies. For me, my food revelation occurred during Thanksgiving 2011, the Thanksgiving that I decided I was fed up with my mom always doing the baking and that I wanted to try my hand at it. Of course I had had done some baking before, who hasn't popped open a box of brownie mix in the past? But this time, something was different. As I prepared the recipe, I found myself enjoying the kitchen science that I was performing. I was literally taking separate things, combining them, and creating something new. Not just new, but delicious as well. From then on, I became obsessed with food.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because this passion of mine is what led me to the Schlesinger Library Monday morning. You see, in the history course that I am taking for the dual degree, I need to write a 20+ page paper on any topic I want as long as it occurred in the post WWII era. After some careful thinking (okay, maybe more like frantic), I came up with a topic that I knew I could do justice. For the paper, which will most likely be later incorporated into my history thesis, I will be writing about American food culture in the 1950s and 1960s and its reflections of gender roles. Since my inspiration of the idea came from a discussion I had started in class related to Julia, I knew that I wanted her to be a part of my paper. Her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking came out at a time when American food culture was in desperate need of a change. Not only was her cookbook directed at the average American cook, it also encouraged them to break their habit of using pre-packaged, pre-made junk. Additionally, her cookbook is gender blind. I've skimmed through my copy and I could not find one instance where Julia or her co-authors make it explicit that this cookbook is for women or men only. The impact of her cookbook and her cooking show, The French Chef, impacted Americans greatly, all of which is documented in the many boxes of fan letters, personal correspondences between Julia and friends, and other documents that the Schlesinger Library has in its collection. For me, holding a letter written by Julia for her dear friend Avis De Voto that discussed various recipes for sauces felt like I was holding a piece of culinary history. Talk about fulfilling a fan girl's dream!

If you are like me and are somewhat Julia Child-crazy, then you too should plan a visit to the Schlesinger Library. They do have a variety of other collections that are worth exploring as well, including a quite large historic cookbook collection (something that I will be examining in the very near future). The Schlesinger Library is located about ten minutes from the Harvard T stop so you could totally pop in for a visit the next time that you are in the area. If you need a cafe suggestion, I strongly suggest stopping by Crema Cafe, which can be found along the way. It can be a little bit crazy in there, but the coffee and pastries are worth it. Who knows, maybe you too will have a food epiphany just like Julia?

Bon Appetite!

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The Agony and Ecstasy of Group Work

One of the main differences between undergrad and graduate school that I would probably have appreciated knowing about ahead of time was how different the workload tended to be.  Instead of lots of small assignments, you usually only get 3 or 4 big projects per class per semester.  I hate to tell you this, but most of them involve group work.

I have to admit that I didn't know that going in.  For some people it doesn't seem like a big deal - group work?  So what?  For others, though, myself included, knowing that my entire academic life at Simmons was going to depend on groups of peers working together was enough to make my heart sink. 

The first time I heard about the approaching group work storm, I was sitting at a table with five or six other new GSLIS students at the Orientation Day last spring, and we were shooting questions about GSLIS classes and professors at someone who was about to graduate.  I swear that when he mentioned group work, every single person at that table groaned.  I'm pretty sure all of us were picturing the same thing: the group where we're the only one doing any work, or no one's schedules work together, so coordinating efforts is a Herculean task, or someone else's efforts are so much less than they should be that their part of the project drags the entire grade down... there are a ton of terrifying possibilities, most of which we'd all experienced in college or our professional lives more than once.   

Of course, there are advantages to working in groups on big projects, and when everyone works together beautifully it can be an amazing experience, but that's the gold ring, the one in a million chance.  Mostly, everyone's experiences had been pretty awful, and it was with dawning horror that we confirmed that yes, group work was going to be a part of every class, that group work is just how grad school tends to work, not just at GSLIS or at Simmons, but more or less universally. 

It was a pretty chilling revelation for all of us. 

Now that I have more than a year of classes under my belt, I can say with some confidence: it's really not that bad.  I really isn't!  In all of my classes I've only had one group work experience that was even close to the sort of horror show scenario I was expecting at the beginning, and even then it was made clear at the outset that our individual contributions would be what determined our grades, not the overall group performance.  The professors at GSLIS do, in fact, understand why people hate group work so much, and have created ways to minimize the awful parts of it. With that out of the way, there's more time to experience the good parts of working in a group - having other people to bounce ideas off of, being able to divide work based on individual strengths and weaknesses, and all the rest of it. 

I'm not sure I'll ever look forward to group work, but it's not something traumatic anymore.  For that, I am extremely grateful.

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Construction Paper Revelations

Before the first day of The Picturebook, Professor Megan Lambert sent us an email requesting that we bring the following items to class: a stack of construction paper, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick. If you're anything like me, these magical three are the things you bring to craft nights because you can't sew or embroider or knit or [insert equally awesome skill here]. They're the essentials. They're the things that make you feel like an artist even when people say you aren't. Therefore, you can imagine my delight when I realized that the activity planned for class was nothing other than starting the project that would be creating our very own picturebooks. In grad school. Awesome, right?

When I found out, I told everyone. As I rejoiced and Instagramed my process over the next few weeks, I realized that the people I was telling were making certain assumptions about the level of difficulty of my program. I can imagine why they would. Picturebooks, normally 32 pages, tend to have simple text and colorful illustrations. They tend to be reviewed in magazines as "charming" or "cute." When pitted against a 500-page novel, perhaps the literary merit of a picturebook goes to the wayside. But let me fill you in on a little secret: Making picturebooks is hard.

The assignment itself seemed so simple at first. We were to condense a fairy tale into five scenes and design artwork for each page (as well as front and back covers). The catch was that we could only use construction paper, three colors plus white, and our artwork was to be a bit more abstract. During our most recent class, we presented our picturebooks. Naturally, the results were as varied as the people in the program:

picturebook.png

Mine is the sixth from the left side. And, now that I have turned it in and distanced myself from the assignment, I must say that I have gained a new respect for those who create picturebooks. This is not to say that I didn't have it before. As an aspiring minimalist, I have long admired the art form's conciseness and tight integration of the verbal and the visual. That said, I think the fact that I have now created a picturebook--that all students who study children's literature at Simmons will have created picturebooks before they leave--speaks to our ability to critique them. Sometimes it can be really easy to judge a book on the shelf. In fact, ridiculously easy. But I think that we forget sometimes that someone made that book. That someone maybe even cut out construction paper mock-ups once upon a time before it became that finished product you might be holding now.

My picturebook would probably never be published. It's not even technically a full book. But as I saw it up there, among the others from my class, it felt like I had made one. A real one. All the effort that went into it was plain as day: pencil markings, curled edges of pages, and the like. I'm certainly no Lane Smith, but it's okay because I don't have to be. It just means that not everyone can make a quality picturebook. The best ones, simple as though they might seem, are really works of art.

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Hidden Value in Boring Courses

 I'm about to say something that may shock you. Not all classes in library school are riveting. One in particular is considered by many to be the most boring class they could possibly imagine. This course has only recently been removed from the list of core courses and I'm here to suggest that when you come to GSLIS, you take that boring course. This infamously boring course is LIS 403 Evaluation of Information Services. Perhaps the name is a giveaway for why it might be considered a bit of a snooze. In truth, no it wasn't my favorite class to sit through, for three hours, in the evenings, on Mondays, but I am now applying so much of what I learned to my current library job.

Professor Mary Wilkins Jordan did her best to keep classes lively and interesting, and considering that the subject matter is dry, I'd say she succeeded most of the time. The real value of the class was the semester long assignment to create a research proposal for a theoretical evaluation. Some students worked on hypothetical situations they would like to research in a future place of employment, basically just doing the assignment to get it done. While I'm sure there is value to that, I found designing an evaluation based on my current place of employment to be much more interesting and useful. In fact, we are in the process of actually doing the evaluation I wrote for class! It's been a challenge to edit the initial survey I created from an assignment to something that we will actually be putting out to the community, but I'm so excited to be working on this project.

LIS 403 gave me the tools and the background knowledge to get this survey going. When the project is completed, my library will have done a thorough evaluation for the first time in more years than anyone can remember. Moving into a future where libraries serve a different role and budgets keep getting cut, it will be extremely valuable to have taken the time to ask our community what resources they value most at the library.

What this all really gets back to is the theme of applying the GSLIS education to real world scenarios. Even though LIS 403 Evaluation of Information Services is no longer a required class, I would advise everyone to at least consider it. Like many classes, the real value comes from being able to see how it will help you in the work place. This semester as I take LIS 458 Database Management and LIS 415 Information Organization, I am again reminded that what I'm learning in school is only as valuable as how I'm able to translate it into the real world. Prepping students to enter the workforce is something that Simmons, in my opinion, does incredibly well.

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Confessions of a Kid Lit Fanboy

Let's talk about fandom. Surely, there is somebody out there whom all of you are dying to meet. Yet, you're probably also terrified of meeting this person, for fear of being tongue-tied, boring, or just all around beside yourselves (my grandmother, bless her heart, would use the phrase "tickled"). Well, a strange thing happened here at Simmons this semester: by some cosmic twist of fate, I am now taking a class from one of my heroes, Roger Sutton.

See, Roger doesn't know that I idolize him. He doesn't know that one of my biggest motivations to come to Boston was to someday be his intern (fingers crossed). He doesn't know that, on the first day of orientation last semester, when I found out he'd be teaching this class, my jaw literally dropped and I had to pick it up off the floor. He doesn't know that, that same day, I all-too-energetically ran to meet one of the members of his staff at The Horn Book. At least, I hope he doesn't know these things. And I hope that, by writing them here, I'm not shooting myself in the foot.

The children's book world is small and, as far as I'm told, it is a field dominated by women. Roger Sutton--like Brian Selznick, Gregory Maguire, and my all-time hero, Maurice Sendak--is someone who, by his very existence as a gay man in the field, showed me that, maybe just maybe, there might be a place for me in this small little world. Of course, Roger doesn't know this either. I don't want him to. But what he does know is my name. And that is enough for me. For now.

There's a delicate balance you must strike as a fan. You never want to come on too strong (i.e. "Roger, I WANT TO BE YOU give me a job at your magazine please and thank you!") but you also don't want to feign too much disinterest (i.e. "Yeah, your work's okay. I guess. I read an article once."). I think that what you really have to do is treat your idols as people because, in the end, that's all they really are. That's all anyone really is.

As I left class Tuesday night, I felt as though the fact that I was able to be among the giants in my life--if only for a little while--would make everything else worth it. I may have left my home behind. My boyfriend. My family. But this singular moment, sitting in that classroom and hearing an insider's stories of the publishing world, made everything worth it. No matter what happens in my future, I will know that I will always have Simmons. I will always remember these as the times I sat among giants and, more importantly, belonged.

I can't guarantee that you'll meet your hero at Simmons, but I can guarantee that--if only for a little while--you'll be among giants. As hokey as that may sound, I honestly believe it to be true.

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