Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to School

As a first year MSLS student on my very first day of classes, I felt quite a bit like Alice, going through the looking-glass and finding herself in a world that is utterly unlike the one she just left, a place that seems strange, compelling, and even sometimes impossible.

In every room I entered I encountered foreign jargon, concepts, theories, and applications. Terms like "meta-discipline" or "biblio-metric techniques," career paths leading to positions such as "knowledge manager" or "information architect." And I imagine myself as Alice with the backwards looking-glass book, before she realizes the key to understanding the message in front of her--holding the book up to a glass so that she can read its reflection.

The first article I read for one of my courses contained a passage which touched on this feeling of disconnect with my new field. The author, Marcia J. Bates, writes of the challenges initially faced by students: "at first it feels alien to think about a resource in terms of the features that matter to the organization and retrieval of it, rather than in terms of mastering its content."* Generally liberal arts and science majors alike are trained to learn by studying and absorbing a resource's content. In a MSLS program, students must alter their perspective. Bates refers to this perspective switch as a new "lens through with information scientists see their world."* To Bates, the gradual understanding a student reaches and the change in the way they think about materials and information is a difficult, but essential, "transformation" for future librarians and information professionals.

Hopefully I will find my own glass soon, to help me make sense of the fascinating classes I am signed up for this semester and find my way through this diverse and ever-evolving field. Though I can't help but remember that even when Alice was able to translate the poem in the looking-glass book, the end result was far from enlightenment.
"'It seems very pretty,' she said when she had finished it, 'but it's rather hard to understand!' (You see she didn't like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) 'Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas--only I don't exactly know what they are!'" --Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

*(Bates, M. J. (1999). The Invisible Substrate of Information Science, Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50 (12), 1043-1050.)

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