Some thoughts gathered while writing my personal statement (draft notes)

I enjoyed my undergraduate years as an Anthropology major, though the financial crisis of 2008 meant despite trying each semester I had to put education on hold Spring 2009 until Summer 2011 where my grades improved and I went on to graduate Cum Laude. Through my minor program I was able to study in Mexico City Fall 2007 where I greatly improved my Spanish comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing abilities and learned a great deal about the culture and history of Mexico. Through observations of and interactions with the people, I gained insight into a greater, pluralistic view of the world, especially as it pertained to the U.S. and Chicanos and Latinos within it.

My background in anthropology afforded me the ability (or curse?) to critically analyze everything I hear about libraries: written rules and policies and their actual enforcement and delivery by library staff; interactions and activities actually conducted versus the idealized vision of a library’s purpose; who decides what is a library and how does this affect that particular branch or system? Growing up black and working-class, I’ve found it easy to critique racial and economic inequality. But mine is just one perspective in a many-faceted approach to the larger study surrounding inequality in the U.S. I’m interested in the interplay of anthropological methods and concepts utilized in library settings and among librarians: critical analysis, ethnography, ethnocentrism/ “othering,” etc.

For years I’ve considered library school. As the only job where I felt I truly made an impact through applied social justice (free information for everyone!), I felt this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my days. Yet doubt kept popping up: Although ALA says aging of most librarians will mean more MLS-holders will be needed, I see there is severe competition in even getting a part-time librarian position as older librarians hold on to their jobs in an uncertain economy. Although I can make an impact, I still have to sift through bureaucratic red-tape and what if the vision of leadership and librarians in my institution don’t necessarily line up with the needs of the disadvantaged? What if, within the last bastion of democracy/ public institutions, there lies unaddressed/ unrecognized bias that limits our abilities to best serve our target communities? And what about libraries in public colleges and universities? What about community colleges? Working at Enoch Pratt Library throughout the riots here in Baltimore I like many others applauded the director’s reaching-out to the community through cleaning up the neighborhood, but wondered, What about the people who worked in that library right in front of the riot zone? They had to lock themselves in the building as they awaited instructions on how to safely get home. When we commit to serving the community, does this mean risking the safety of the workers and members of the community who happen to patronize the library?

I believe information is a powerful tool of the everyday and that it is unfortunately too often misused to further the oppression of the many by the hands of the few privileged. I aim to explore law and theory behind information access, in which I’ve worked for the past 7 years. I’d also like to gain the tools to better contextualize changing policies and conversations on information access, especially with respect to copyright, international information and sources, and how they will be affected by non-information-centered policies like the Trans Pacific Partnership.

I see myself in the next 5-10 years working in research involving U.S. relations with Latin America. Considering the tumultuous history of relations between U.S. and Latin America, I would like to study recent political changes (like the wave of socialism) and analyze U.S. and South American responses to those responses. Also, would like to analyze the relations of powerful countries like Mexico and Brazil with respect to their neighbors and the greater region. From an information perspective, I’d like to produce briefs, country/ subject guides and websites and some analysis like that found in Library of Congress’s Country Files. I will also pursue studies in Portuguese and Advanced Spanish in order to utilize resources from Latin America.

Research interests: Gentrification; migration (international and domestic); linguistics (applied and social) and languages (East Asian, Latin American: indigenous, Spanish, Portuguese, and French); critical race theory; anthropological/ qualitative research and social theory; quantitative/ statistical research methods; searching and information retrieval and storage; U.S. international relations, esp. imperialism; “minority” experience in U.S. and Latin America; travel, tourism, and international relations b/w West and non-West/ North-South/ 1st-3rd world, etc.; racism, prejudice, and popular conceptions in U.S., esp. by African Americans

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The Dream: An Introduction, or Why Library School?

For the past 3 months I’ve been stuffing virtual folders with links and notes and unfinished resume drafts and personal statements in preparation for application submissions. In an attempt to make some chronological sense of my process, it dawned on me: start a blog. So, I give you my first post in the hopes that it will help someone else in applying for the right MLS program or just so that I can keep track of every interesting library-related thing I find online. Also, something peculiar happened that brought new life to my info-gathering.

Last night, I suddenly awoke startled, dazzled by a dream. Before bed I worried myself to sleep about library school applications and if I were picking the right course of study. Then the dream: a fuzzy vision of moments in a savvy tech services department in an academic library, me cataloging some East Asian treasure. Awake with the realization: cataloging is my calling!

I’d been attracted to it before but balked at having to sit in front of a computer screen all day (At the time of this revelation, I was working in circulation at a great neighborhood library). But my knack for categorizing and belief that great cataloging is the root of access trumps that! I currently work a sit-in-front-of-a-computer-all-day library job and enjoy the decisive processing aspect slightly more than the search and retrieve aspect (I work in the Reserves department of a large academic library).

This dream has brought new life to what had become humdrum. In my excitement, I try to read as much as possible about libraries and what professionals, students, and others think about the future of libraries and librarianship. Some interesting insights that have shown me that I’m ready to pursue an MLS:

Library school is about getting the big picture

I work best when I have an idea of how my work fits into the big picture. I’ve found in my years in public and academic libraries that I struggle most when I don’t have an idea of the goals of the entire organization or institution. Of course, though it’s impossible to know EVERYTHING, knowing a bit of key theoretical facets on top of my experience could truly aid in my future success in librarianship (and making me a great asset to any library I work for).

Library school – or any school for that matter – is what you make it

The previous point came from a commenter’s response to this post by an MLS student disappointed by what her school required but who still seemed to get great experience by taking on lots of interesting jobs and internships. She wished library school were more like an apprenticeship that prized experiential learning rather than the theoretical focus she got from her required classes. She did, however, give herself that experiential aspect by seeking out internships and jobs, so she made what she wanted out of her time in library school.

This is the main reason I would like to attend library school on campus: to take as many opportunities as possible. There is so much I want to do in the next few years and I don’t want to be limited by the syndrome of the same-old, same-old. I’ve lived and worked here for so long and really want to explore what my options in the regions of each school I’m applying to:

– University of Pittsburgh: All my supervisors at my previous job attended this university online and on-campus, one of whom just earned her MLS in 2013. Our desks were next to each other back when she was still a Pitt online student, and she has since offered me so much good advice on what classes to take. Also, I’ve been all over the North America and always try to make sure I visit the main or biggest library in each city I visit. Carnegie Public Library is my favorite library in the country, so I’m hoping for an opportunity to work there.

– University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Has FOUR study abroad options exclusively for students of the information school! Also, an entire library dedicated to Natural Resources at NC State and potential opportunities within the Research Triangle (Raleigh/ Durham/ Chapel Hill). I’ve always imagined myself attending grad school in an idyllic, leafy college town and descriptions and pictures of the campus and surrounding regions attest to that.

– University of California, Los Angeles: What first attracted me was the opportunity to get two concurrent masters in Library Science and Latin American Studies with many opportunities to work with region-specific collections and communities. I think a west coast educational perspective could also give me a diverse experience.

I definitely have more on why I would like to attend each of these schools, so more to come in future posts.