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Obviously the last few months of 2010 became a more time-consuming phase than expected.  Grading, office hours, editing the departmental journal, publishing a new ARLIS book review….combined with an intensive research project on Teotihuacan iconography and continuing the Santa Fe gallery commute twice a week combined to throw me into a whirlwind.

The new year brings a new semester and new opportunities.  Likely a new whirlwind as well, though I am resolved to chart the process more often.  The most exciting change is starting my research assistantship this week at the Bunting Visual Resources Library, where I will be cataloging for the VIRCONA (Visual Resources Catalog of Native American Artists) database.  This is a great chance for me to get back in a library and get some new experience. 

This spring also brings my first symposium.  I will have to determine a research project suitable to present to my colleagues, which is somewhat daunting.  Luckily I am taking two courses in Native American art with two of the professors I would like on my committee, so their input will be valuable.

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It’s fall break at UNM, which theoretically means a chance to catch up on everything that has fallen through the cracks.  Of course the reality is that I have been frantically grading stack after stack of student papers and midterms while pulling together my semiotics presentation.  To add to general frisson in the air, this is the week GA/TA/RA announcements were set to be announced.  It’s not easy to relax knowing our funding could be ripped out of our hands next semester.  This is especially hard on the out of state (and out of country) students.  They made the decision to attend UNM based upon a funding situation that has changed dramatically with the budget.  We’ve all been holding meetings and writing letters, but for the next semester at least the situation is pretty dire.

I lucked out in the end.  Not only did I get funding, I got my first choice assignment to work in the Bunting Visual Resources Library.  Some of my friends were not so lucky, and I can only hope they can find a way to finance their educations.

After spending an afternoon grading papers, I’m finally feeling like a real teacher.  A frazzled, uncertain teacher, but a teacher nonetheless.  There are certain components to my GA position that I am finding very rewarding.  I like getting questions and clarifying things in new ways.  I like learning things from my students and being surprised by their insights.  I like seeing the art through fresh eyes.   I also find it a bit intimidating to be responsible for the grades of these people and take that responsibility very seriously, which is why it took me two hours to grade 8 exhibition reviews.

In the midst of my enlightenment about the GA experience is a looming cloud on the horizon.  After submitting my application for a spring assistantship (I am still leaning towards working in the Bunting Visual Resources Library, but that is in no way guaranteed) on Friday I attended a letter-writing campaign meeting to protest the proposed budget cuts to our department and the contingent cuts of approximately half our GA/TA/RA positions.  In other words, this may be the first and last semester I have the experience of teaching.

In other words, I’m glad I’m still working at the gallery part time.

Well, so much for the contemplative life of a creative aesthete.  The past month has spun me like a gyroscope as I continue to carve out a routine that allows me to balance fulfillment and personal space.  The major change of plans was my decision to continue freelancing at the gallery, which means I’ve been trekking into Santa Fe two days a week.  While I’m glad to retain my affiliation with the gallery and while the opportunity is something of a financial relief, it also means my schedule is much more constricted than I expected.  Add to that the carnival of moving, starting a new semester, juggling students, office hours, new friends, and my own research schedule, and the whole idea of contemplative semi-retirement is completely ridiculous.  Which is good.  Even though I’m back in my default whirlwind mode, it’s obvious to me that’s where I function most effectively.  As long as I have a routine (still very much a work in progress for this semester!) and a sense of purpose, I am at my most competent when busy rather than brainstorming new creative projects.  Maybe that’s a little disappointing – maybe I wish to be a little more right-brained.  But it also convinces me of the fallacy of the whole stereotypical American “retirement” dream for my own future.

As part of my new routine, I am resolved to write more often, ideally on a weekly basis.

I am a huge proponent of self education, and part of my taking my current position is the ability to continue to do art history research as part of my job.  With this thought in mind, I have put on hold most serious thoughts about continuing my formal education. 

 The original plan before I ever seriously formulated my sojourn to New Mexico was to enter the Art History Master’s program at the University of New Mexico.  It’s a great program, very competitive, and offers the unique track in Native American/Art of the Americas that I am pursuing in my own research.  It’s basically what I prepared for in my undergratuate Art History degree, particularly my thesis (prehistoric pottery of the Rio Grande region).

Long story short, I have started to revisit my dream.  It seems like the right time to start taking classes again, probably slowly at first as a non-degree seeker.  I can transfer 12 credits into the program if I eventually enter the program officially.  Yes, it’s more money to put into my education, which is a burden I didn’t really think I wanted to put on myself again, but in the long run…this is something I’ve always wanted to do.  I don’t want to regret deciding against such an opportunity to advance my career, enhance my options, and just get some new experience and knowledge doing something I love.  Quite frankly, I need the challenge.

In celebration of National Library Week, I am again tooting the horn of lifelong learning. While this particular gem is not affiliated with a library. it is both a great resource and a good example for libraries who want to expand their services.

Thanks Sarah Houghton-Jan at Librarian in Black for the heads-up on the SelfMadeScholar blog on self learning that also aggregates free online educational resources. It includes a Directory of Free Online Classes, from Buddhism to ESL. You can take a seminar on “Classical Hollywood Cinema” from the American Film Institute or “Art of the Western World” from Annenberg Media. There are also links to free online books and audiobooks (the “Free Library“). As someone who loves self-directed learning and sometimes feels overwhelmed by all that is out there, this is a great centralized resource. I’m really impressed by all the time put in by the creator of this site.

I’m intrigued by the idea of Personal Learning Environments.  Specifically defined, they integrate different online tools into AJAX start pages (such as those that can be created in Bloglines or My Yahoo).  Ron Lubensky, in his e-learning blog, writes that “a Personal Learning Environment is a facility for an individual to access, aggregate, configure and manipulate digital artifacts of their ongoing learning experiences.”  So loosely defined, they are aggregators of personal digital information.

I would like to become more adept at this myself. I use a lot of online tools, but tend to keep them in their separate spheres. I am not yet savvy enough with tools and plug-ins to have them all at my fingertips at the same time.  There are quite a few tools out there to assist in the setup of PLEs, such as iGoogle and Pageflakes. There is also an archived WebJunction webinar on the subject that gives helpful hints for information professionals.

It seems that the proliferation of digital learning means education (however defined) is both increasingly prevalent and increasingly informal. I think both of these are positive developments. Any learning I can accomplish through my own exploration (conscious or unconscious) is in many ways preferable to formal, structured, TUITION-BASED education. If I can set up an online environment that puts this experience on auto-pilot, all the better.

 One way to conceptualize what information seeking/receiving behavior looks like is to create a mindmap, which is like a illustrative web of how information comes in and how it is connected (I got this idea from Ray Sims and Michele Martin).  Because I love organizing the seemingly disjointed into rational lists, this is a project I would definitely like to take on sometime soon. Maybe it will help me develop a more powerful and logical Personal Learning Environment. It seems like a useful exercise both online and offline.

Unfortunately, it seems like I have less and less time to take advantage of online learning opportunities, formal or informal. Lately it seems like all my free time is taken up with the old-fashioned activities of reading (mostly those artifacts known as “books”) and writing. But I still think this is an interesting idea. I would love to see the directions in which other people have taken this idea – any examples out there you’d like to share?

I’ve been feeling all the twinges of withdrawal lately – not for any of the fun vices, but (rather pathetically) the classroom experience.  Even my online MLIS program provided a structured intellectual community with which to bounce off ideas and motivate me to think outside my own personal box of knowledge and understanding.  Something about the structured community of a classroom environment fills a psychological need.  I’m addicted to school.

When I’m on my own, even though my research objectives are liberated, I tend to get complacent.  I’m not great at intellectual motivation. 

I’ve been trying to feed my addiction through other sources.  Luckily, lately it seems that I have met a lot of like-minded people to bounce off ideas and keep me reading.  I’m revisiting my love of classic literature now that I actually have some time to read seriously.  I just finished Anna Karenina and joined a local book club.  It’s been good for me to start taking notes again on what I’m reading, to get my thoughts in order.  I’m starting to think in terms of metaphor and narrative structure. 

Even casual classrooms like lectures, workshops, and community college training courses seem to fill this need, and luckily many of these things are free or nominally priced.  This month I’m looking forward to a class on traditional Spanish tin art.

In any case, it’s cheaper than therapy!

There’s been some commentary lately on the discussion lists about the ethics of being a library volunteer after receiving the MLS degree.  There seems to be quite a split consensus between those who think it completely denegrates the profession and should be avoided in all situations and those who think it is a valuable tool to get experience.

Personally, I fall more towards the latter end of the spectrum, though I can understand the philosophical/market forces argument put forth by the former.  Internships, work study, volunteering, and other relatively no pay/low pay positions are theoretically in the realm of library school education.  They are meant to supplement course work in order to give us that all important hands-on experience.  By “giving it away for free” as certified professionals, we lower the market value of an MLS degree, which is already undervalued enough. 

However, it’s another one of those infuriating library field Catch-22s.  Many students have no chance to do an internship or get other real world library experience as part of their course work.  There are still many ALA-accredited programs that don’t have such a requirement.  Technically, you could become a librarian without ever setting foot in a library.  While that scenario isn’t likely, it is much more likely that we continue to mill out these cohorts of students who just don’t have the experience necessary to hit the job market running.  That’s where our field is professionally lacking – doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. all complete intensive training in their respective fields.  We do not, unless personally motivated.  It goes unstated that you’d better seek out paraprofessional experience or internships on your own during library school if you expect to even have a chance to break into the field.  Why is this such a secret for library school administrators, and such a gnawed over bone of contention for those of us entering the field?

Even those who choose to complete a – let’s say – 150 hour internship have experience that barely begins to scratch the surface.  You just can’t get the necessary experience in that timeframe.  Some libraries have the patience and resources to mentor and support inexperienced newbies.  Many do not, and as the library market is right now glutted with graduates who have both years of experience and a degree, those without are just not going to be able to compete.  So how can you tell these starry-eyed, newly minted MLS professionals that they aren’t allowed to volunteer to equal out the playing field?  I’ve also heard the argument that having the degree means never accepting a paraprofessional position.  This strikes a personal economic chord.  There are more job-seekers right now in this field than there are jobs.  What are the rest of them (soon to be us) to do as we wait for that first professional job? Polish our resumes like a worry-stone in the hope it will gleam more brightly for the hiring committees? That can only do so much.

 I am of the opinion that ALA accreditation standards need to change to reflect the need for experience, along with library schools limiting the number of students admitted into programs and increasing the rigor of library education.  I know this is not a new argument, but it’s one that needs to be voiced in a variety of venues until it gets heard by library schools and the ALA.  Our crisis is NOT one of recruitment, but of quality and competitiveness.