My Perfect Program

As I head towards the end of my time at FIMS at an ever-quickening rate, I have lots of occasion to think back on the classes I've taken here.  Although it may appear that I do a lot of criticism of various aspects of the program on this blog (this is true – at least partly – because it's easier to criticize than to compliment), this is also because I honestly care about this program.  Why do I feel like this, especially since I'm only here for a year?  I think it's  because I've chosen to come here and so I want this program to be the best it can be, not only for myself, but for those who are here with me and those who come after me.  (I think that's a good motto for life: “Try to leave any place you're at better when you leave it than when you arrived at it.”) 

With all of this in mind, here's a list I've been contemplating for the last few days – what would be my “ideal” program based on instructors who I've found to be excellent, courses I've found to be useful and strategies for combining all of this to be the most effective.  (One professor referred to it as your “constellation of courses” which I thought had a very poetic ring to it.)

I don't intend this to be a slight on anyone I don't mention or discuss, either professors I have had or those who I only know about.  This is supposed to be an attempt to celebrate the best that this program has to offer – a compliment instead of a criticism you might say.

Required Courses
501 – Perspectives on Library and Information Science (Sam Trosow)
– Trained as both a lawyer and a librarian (and holding a joint appointment in both faculties), Professor Trosow is extremely intelligent and also extremely political – something I appreciated although not all of my classmates did.  I really can't think of anybody who would be better at giving us an introduction to the underpinnings and important issues of the library world.  Hell, he understands both copyright AND the WTO – how amazing is that? 

502 – Organization of Information – Elisabeth Davies
– perhaps the best professor I had at FIMS.  And it was for “cataloging” to boot which probably isn't high on most people's lists of exciting courses.  Strangely though, I've heard nothing but good things about most of the cataloging profs here – Grant Campbell is highly regarded as is Gloria Leckie.

503 – Information Sources and Services – Jennifer Noon
– I didn't have Professor Noon but have heard she is pretty amazing as a professor (although also a love her/hate her-type professor.)  One former student's thoughts are very revealing: “I went to co-op interviews and they kept asking me all these hard questions and I kept coming up with answers that I didn't realise I knew.  After the interview, I thought about it and it was all stuff I'd learned in Jennifer Noon's 503 class.”

504 – Research Methods and Statistics – Pam McKenzie
– another professor I didn't have but who has an excellent reputation as an instructor.  (I was fortunate enough to have Elisabeth Davies for both 502 and 504 but didn't think it was fair to list her twice.)

505 – Information Systems and Technology – no one
– This course is a perennial problem for students because of the range of technology skills that people come in with and the fact that it simply doesn't seem to keep up with the pace of technological advance.  I have recommended to more than one new student to get an exemption if you have any level of computer skills.  Seriously.  It was extremely basic in my opinion and at least half a dozen people in my class agreed with me.  This strategy also serves the dual-purpose of allowing you take another upper-level course (although I think it has to be a technology one if you get a 505 exemption – but you'll still learn more.)

506 – Management – new person
– I really don't know the reputations of many of the management professors here at FIMS as the instructor we had was someone who came in as a one-time summer sessional from the States.  But I was talking to a colleague who thought it might be interesting to hire a librarian currently working in the field to teach this course as they could share timely, real-life examples. 

That's the six required courses you have to take.  Now for your nine electives (apparently, the ratio used to be inverted – nine required courses and six electives.  It's always a topic of debate whether something like collection development should be a required course and in that case, I personally think that it probably should be.  I don't know what the other required ones were in the past though.)

For my nine “ideal” electives, I'm going to list excellent classes I took, classes I heard were excellent from other people and wish I took, or ones that I don't know a lot about but sound intriguing. 

525 – Managing Internet Information – Gord Nickerson
– Gord does an amazing job at making technology accessible for those without a lot of computer background but also keeping it interesting for those with advanced skills.  Lots of useful information in this course too.  Plus he always brings it back to libraries which is important too – how can libraries use blogs?  How can libraries use RSS? 

566 – Children's Literature – Lynne McKechnie
– having Lynne come to our “Public Libraries in the Community” class today was part of what inspired me to do this post now.  She is another one of the amazing instructors that FIMS has and I couldn't recommend this class highly enough to anyone and everyone.  Seriously, even if you hate children or never want to go near a public library, there's probably a good chance that you were a reader as a child and this class will bring back so many memories and put you in touch with why you love books in the first place. 

(The following are a sort of “Baseline Trilogy” of electives in my mind that allow you to cover the three main areas of librarianship.  Initially, my plan was to take nothing but public library courses but scheduling and other factors led me to take one academic-focused and one special library-focused course.  But in the end, both really helped give me a solid understanding of those types of libraries as well as a broader understanding of libraries in general.)

645 – Management of Special Libraries – Rob Craig
– I have to admit that I signed up for this course after hearing it was “everything 506 should be but better” since our 506 instructor wasn't that great.  Rob, as with so many of my best professors in this program, has practical experience (he works in the special library of a local insurance company – hmm, I wonder which one it could be here in London?).  The assignments are all very practical as you build towards a theoretical special library outlining a information needs assessment, a collections development strategy, staffing & budgeting issues and finally designing the actual physical layout of your library.  (The only experience we'll really get with space planning unfortunately – a very easily disregarded/overlooked subject in library schools I think.)

613 – Public Libraries in the Community – Carmen Sprovieri
– Carmen is simply a dynamo.  She had years of experience doing all kinds of work in the London Public Library system and is very able to bring that knowledge to the classroom.  Probably the class that feels most like “home” to me if that makes sense. 

766 – Collections Development in Academic Libraries – Denise Horoky
– although it focused on academic libraries, this was a very useful class for anybody interested in collections development in any type of library.  (I've heard the instructor for plain-old “Collections Development” works in an academic library so you end up getting that slight bias there anyhow.)  One thing the other class does that would have made this course just a bit better is to actually develop a theoretical collection – a very practical exercise.  Denise, as I've mentioned on this blog before, was excellent at bringing her real-world knowledge into the classroom and also having a lot of guest speakers to provide a broad range of perspectives.

765 – Advocacy for Libraries – Wendy Newman
– like the student above who constantly referred to 503 in interviews, I think the Advocacy class I'm in this semester might fill a similar role for me in my own applications (at least the ones I've sent out so far.)  Being a distance course makes it a bit more challenging than I think it would've been in person but this is balanced by the opportunity to get to know some of the FIS students at U of T who are taking the class jointly. 

532 – Shaping of News and Information Through Technology – David Spencer
it's really easy in a professional program like this one to get caught in a trap of only taking courses that have direct practical application or that will “help get you the job.”  I think it's very important to take more theoretical-based courses that have, maybe a heavier, “deeper” reading load than some other classes but which will give you lots of great, thought-provoking discussion as well. I was going to try to not mention any professor twice but Political Economy of Information with Sam Trosow is a doctoral course that's also open to MLIS students and is one that I think Sabina cited as one of her absolute favourites from her time at FIMS – a pretty high recommendation indeed.

697 – Independent Study – Any Professor
– as tends to happen in my life sometimes, I just sort of fell into doing an independent study this summer with Lynne McKechnie and it turned out to be one of the best overall experiences of my time at FIMS.  Although it can be intimidating for some people to have to be a self-starter and take the initiative to do all kinds of work and research yourself, the rewards are endless.  Wendy Newman, who teaches Advocacy, advises that every one working in libraries should work to become a ranking-expert in a certain area related to librarianship.  An independent study can go a long way to making this happen. 

650 – Information Entrepreneurship – Larry MacKinnon
– this choice is probably surprising to anyone who knows me, knows my politics and knows my beliefs (which I'm not too shy about sharing.)  But the reality is that our society is a capitalistic one and having more knowledge about how businesses start-up, how they're run, how to write a business plan and so on is a very useful thing to know, even if you have no plans of leaving the public or non-profit sector.  (Plus I have this idea for a company where anybody can upload videos to a web site that I think might have some potential as a business…)

[Edit: 2007-03-20 – got some feedback in the comments that “Info Entrepreneurship” was a
horrible class.   Part of me wants to say “Well, in FIMS, it's almost inevitable to have at least one class that you think will be good but that turns out not to be so I'll leave it.”  But if I had to pick an alternate, to make a full fifteen that were all good, I would list “Instructional Strategies” with Jennifer Noon.  I said I'd try not to list profs twice but this class consistently gets rave reviews from people I talk to and is the single class I've ended up regretting not taking during my time at FIMS.  The skills you learn will serve you extremely well in librarianship and indeed, in any aspect of your life.  My “50 Great Things About FIMS” post lists some of the top-rated profs so that's a good place to get ideas about the top classes/instructors as well.]

Again, this list isn't meant to slight anyone (er, especially any of my current professors who may be reading this!)  There are probably enough interesting electives and excellent professors here that you could literally take the program twice and not exhaust all of the possibilities. 

What I've tried to do with this list is present a list of courses that would provide an excellent balance of skills and exposure to some of the best professors at FIMS.  Scheduling issues make this “ideal” program all but impossible but it's an interesting exercise to consider what it might look like if it were to happen. 

(Holy crap, look how long this got.  How can you tell it's research week?)

Oh, and if anybody reading this, current or former student (or anonymous professor! ) wants to chime in with their thoughts in the comments, please do so.

Comments 6

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I'll certainly second your votes for Elizabeth Davies and Jennifer Noon as being instructors who set the bar high for everyone else. I would take courses from either one of them that I wasn't very interested in, just because I think that they would both make the course interesting and relevant.
    The “new person” teaching 506 is Martha Joyce, and not only does she have a lot of managment experience, she is also – shocker! – a real life librarian. I suspect that she would be an excellent instructor regardless, but being able to draw from experience and put management topics into a library context puts her up there (for me, anyway) with Elizabeth and Jennifer. Looking back, it seems like the best instructors I've had have been the ones who have had extensive experience in the field (Carmen Sprovieri included).
    One notable exception, who I know you never had as a prof but who I feel deserves mention, was the Summer 2006 instructor for 501, Natasha Gerolami. I believe that it was her first time teaching, and she tackled a pretty difficult course quite masterfully. Unlike Sam Troscow, who was either love or hate, she was pretty widely liked. (I can't think of anyone who didn't think she was great, so if there were, they were not particularly vocal about it). And, the sign of a truly great instructor, Natasha knew which topics to bring in guest speakers for. So, we had Sam Troscow for a class on his specialities, and Margaret Ann Wilkinson for copyright. This isn't really the right forum for this, but I just can't say enough good things about her.
    You know, the thing that each of them had/has in common? They maintain the balance between professionalism and genuine care and concern for their students. I think it's because they believe so much in the profession, and understand that it's to everyone's benefit to help students succeed.
    As for Collection Development, it's certainly core-course worthy. I find myself using information learned in that course cropping up in a lot of other classes. It's relevant to any kind of library, and there's cross-over into a lot of other course topics.

    Posted 01 Nov 2006 at 10:19 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    That's good to hear about Martha Joyce. We had a non-librarian sessional for our 506 class this summer and had quite a bad experience at least partly because of that lack of knowledge about library issues. (It didn't help that he thought we were library technicians taking summer courses to become managers at first either!)
    So anyhow it's nice to know that some management professors are aware of library issues and skilled at teaching management as well.
    That's also great to hear about Natasha, especially as a first-time instructor in the program. One commonality with the profs my cohort has had the most problems with is that they were all first-time instructors at FIMS (even if they weren't first time professors.) But as you know, I presented my Independent Study to your 501 class and Natasha was very accommodating and friendly leading up to it which gave me a good impression.
    In many ways, 501 is the most important class that we have here because it lays the foundation for everything else we talk about so it's important to have a really good instructor who cares about their students and also respects them. Unfortunately, that's not always the case with the profs who teach this class as the official UWO end of term evaluations show.

    Posted 10 Nov 2006 at 8:48 am
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    I'm glad to see you give Rob Craig high marks. Though back when I was at GSLIS (as we called it then, like Gstaad without all the fun) with him we called him Bob.
    I found your blog via AskMe. I went to school there back in '95-'96 and am now in California working in scholarly publishing and high tech. Go figure.
    Two questions, if you would indulge an old-timer:
    1. Is the Froh still totally awesome? He was the best prof I ever had though I had no idea that was the case until I left school.
    2. Do they still make you put those stupid-ass name cards in the slots where you sit?

    Posted 22 Nov 2006 at 4:43 am
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Thanks for writing! I took the liberty of forwarding your comments to Rob – hope that's okay. I didn't know if you were a long-lost classmate but he said he'd seen you at a conference last year.
    His class is really good (and I'm not just saying that because he's one of the few profs to admit to reading this blog! )
    As for your other questions…
    1. I assume the “Froh” is Bernd Frohmann? I've never had him for a class myself but my impression is that he's kinda polarizing – some people absolutely love him, some absolutely detest him. He taught 501 last fall (?) and got a 3.x out of 7 in the end-of-term evaluations when the average tends to be around 5. Maybe that's just proof that you don't realise how good a prof like that is until you leave school, like you say?
    2. Nope, no name cards. Rob said he was going to dig his up and that it was like a work of art.
    I love MetaFilter/AskMetaFilter. I tried to get Jessamyn West to come to speak at FIMS as part of the “Lunch Bucket” speaker series I started here but since I was doing it with basically zero budget, was never able to make it work. Too bad.

    Posted 24 Nov 2006 at 6:41 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    Rob and I managed to catch up last year at SLA in Toronto and it was great to see him and learn that he was teaching at FIMS (is that right?).
    “The Froh” is definitely Bernd Frohmann and I think it might even have been Rob who came up with that name. He, The Froh, was absolutely polarizing when I was there as well but I loved him (had him my final semester for Indexing & Abstracting) and do sometimes imagine coming back to do a PhD with him. I think that I liked him so much because he was the only person who actually gave me any kind of intellectual challenge while I was there. Sure there are plenty of assignments and it was lots of work but none of it felt like what I expected out of grad school – actual intellectual challenge and stimulation. Until The Froh – and then finally for God's sake someone made me think and think hard and I might have even thought I wouldn't ace this class – what a revelation! I believe I pulled my first, and only, all-nighter writing the final assignment.
    I realize that sounds really patronizing, but my experience at GSLIS was pretty disappointing in terms of actual thought required. I churned out plenty of 5-page papers and that's good practice for the real world but I just never felt like it was academic the way I imagined graduate education should be.
    Those name cards were excellent for writing snarky notes about fellow students and unfortunate professors who appeared, from the back row, to dye their roots with pink highlighters. I think I still have mine around somewhere as well.

    Posted 29 Nov 2006 at 4:21 am
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    I forwarded your comments to Rob and he mentioned that you'd bumped into each other recently (and yep, it's FIMS now.)
    Your concerns definitely resonate. Another alum told me he thought this program was “like being pelted with popcorn” – lots of short, easy assignments but nothing too challenging.
    I think one problem with this program is that it's a bit schizophrenic – is it a grad program or a professional program? Is it focused on producing public librarians or academic librarians or special librarians? In many ways, it tries to be all things to all people and ends up not meeting anyone's expectations.

    Posted 29 Nov 2006 at 4:43 am

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