Students Reflect (Part 2 of 2): Failure and Learning Tech Skills

This is the fourth post in the bloggERS Making Tech Skills a Strategic Priority series.

As part of our “Making Tech Skills a Strategic Priority” series, the bloggERS team asked five current or recent MLIS/MSIS students to reflect on how they have learned the technology skills necessary to tackle their careers after school. In this post, Anna Speth and Jane Kelly reflect thoughtfully on adapting their mindsets to embrace new challenges and learn from failure.

Anna Speth, 2017 graduate, Simmons College

I am about to celebrate a year in my first full-time position, Librarian for Emerging Technology and Digital Projects at Pepperdine University.  In this role I work on digital initiatives, often in tandem with the archive, and direct our emerging technology makerspace. By choosing to center my graduate career on digital archiving, I felt well prepared for the digital initiatives piece.  However, running the makerspace has been a whirlwind of grappling with the world of emerging tech. My best piece of advice (which we’ve all heard a million times) is to maintain a “learner mindset.” I’m a traditional learner who has mastered the lecture-memorize-regurgitate academic system. This approach doesn’t do much when it comes to hands-on tech.  I am faced with 3D printers, VR systems, arduinos, ozobots, CONTENTdm, and more with minimal instruction. I watch tutorials, but these rarely offer a path to in-depth understanding. Instead, I’ve had to overcome the mindset that I’m not a tech person and will make something worse by messing with it. If the 3D printer doesn’t work, you certainly aren’t going to make it worse by taking it apart and trying to put it back together. If you don’t know how to reorder a multipage object on the backend of CONTENTdm, create a hidden sandbox collection and start experimenting.  Remember that the internet – Google, user forums, Reddit, company reps – is your friend. Also remember (and I tell this to kids in the makerspace just as often as I tell it to myself) that failure is your friend. If you mess something up, then all you’ve done is learn more about how the system works by learning how it doesn’t work. Iteration and perseverance are key. And, as this traditional learner has realized, a whole lot of fun!

Jane Kelly, 2018 grad, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Developing new tech skills has, at least for me, been a process of learning to fail. The intensive Introduction to Computer Science course I took several years ago was supposed to be fun – a benefit of being able to take college courses for almost nothing as a staff member on campus. It might have been fun for the first three weeks of the semester, but that was followed by a lot of agonizing, handwringing, and tears.

I now reflect on my time in that course as an intensive introduction to failure. This shift in mentality – learning how to fail, and how to accept it – has been key for me in being open to developing my tech skills on the job. I don’t worry so much about messing up, not knowing the answer, or the possibility of breaking my computer.

As a humanities student, it simply was never acceptable to me to turn in an assignment incomplete or “wrong.” In that computer science class, and in the information processing course I took at the iSchool at the University of Illinois a couple years later, an incomplete assignment could be a stellar attempt, proof of lessons learned, and an indication of where help is required. The rubric for good work is different for a computer science problem set than a history paper. It has been a valuable lesson to revisit as I try to develop my skills independently and in the workplace.

I have acquired and maintained my tech skills through a combination of computer science coursework before and during library school, an in-person SAA pre-conference sessions that my employer paid for, and, of course, the internet. Apps like Learn to Code with Python or free online courses can be an introduction to a programming language or a quick refresher since I inevitably forget much of what I learn in class before I can put it to work at a job. Google and Stack Exchange are lifesavers, both because I can often find the answer to my question about the mysterious error code I see in the terminal window and reassure myself that I’m not the first person to pose the question.

More than anything, my openness to what I once thought of as failure has been pivotal to my development. It can take a long time to learn and understand exactly what is going on under the hood with some new software or process, but that’s okay. Sometimes a fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality is exactly what’s needed to push yourself to tackle a new challenge. For me, learning tech skills is learning to be okay with failure as a learning process.


 

Speth-Anna_800x450Anna Speth is the Librarian for Emerging Technology and Digital Projects at Pepperdine’s Payson Library where she co-directs a makerspace and works with digital initiatives. Anna focuses on the point of connection between technology and history.  She holds a BA from Duke University and a MLIS from Simmons College.

 

ERS_jane-kellyJane Kelly is the Web Archiving Assistant for the #metoo Digital Media Collection at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America and a 2018 graduate of the iSchool at the University of Illinois. Her interests lie at the intersection of digital archives and the people who use them.

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Students Reflect (Part 1 of 2): Tech Skills In and Out of the Classroom

By London Stever, Hayley Wilson, and Adriana Casarez

This is the third post in the bloggERS Making Tech Skills a Strategic Priority series.

As part of our “Making Tech Skills a Strategic Priority” series, the bloggERS team asked five current and recent MLIS/MSIS students to reflect on how they have learned the technology skills necessary to tackle their careers after school. One major theme, as expressed by these three writers, is the need for a balance of learning inside and outside the classroom.

London Stever, 2018 graduate, University of Pittsburgh

Approaching the six-month anniversary of my MLIS graduation, I find myself reflecting on my technological growth. Going into graduate school, I expected little technology training. Naively, I believed that most archival jobs were paper-only, excepting occasional digitization projects. Imagine my surprise upon finding out the University of Pittsburgh required an introduction to HTML. This trend continued, as the university insisted students have balanced knowledge.

I took technology-focused courses ranging from a history of computers (useful for those expecting to work with older hardware) to an overview of open-source library repositories and learning management systems (not to be discounted by those going into academia). The most useful of these classes was the required digital humanities course. Since graduating, I have applied the practical introduction to ArchivesSpace and Archivematica – and the in-depth explanation of discoverability, access, and web crawling – to my current work at SAE International.

However, none of the information I learned in those classes would be helpful on its own. University did not prepare me for talking to the IT Department. Terminology used in archives and in IT often overlaps, but usage does not. Custom, in-house programs require troubleshooting, and university technology classes did not teach me those skills. Libraries and archives often need to work with software not specially designed for them, but the university did not address this.

Self-taught classes, YouTube videos, and outside certifications were the most useful technology education for me. Using these, I customized my education to meet the needs companies mention and my own learning needs, which focus on practical application I did not get in university. I understand troubleshooting, allowing me to use programs built fifteen years ago. Creating a blog or using a content services platform to increase discoverability and internal access is a breeze. In addition to the balanced digital to analog education of university, I also needed a balance of library and general technology education.

Hayley Wilson, current student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

When registering for classes at UNC Chapel Hill prior to the Fall semester of 2017, I was informed that I was required to fulfill a technology competency requirement. I had the option to either take an at home test or take a technology course (for no credit). I decided to take the technology course because I assumed it would be beneficial to other classes I would be required to take as an MLS student.

As it turns out, as a library science student on the archives and records management track, I had a very strict set of courses I was required to take, with room for only two electives. None of these required courses were focused on technology or building technology skills. I have friends on the Information Science side of the program who are required to take numerous courses that have a strong focus on technology. Fortunately, while at SILS I have had numerous opportunities outside of the classroom to learn and build my technology skills through my various internships and graduate assistant positions. However, I don’t think that every student has the opportunity to do so in their jobs.

Adriana Cásarez, 2018 graduate, University of Texas at Austin

Entering my MSIS program with an interest in digital humanities, I expected my coursework would provide most of the expertise I needed to become a more tech-savvy researcher. Indeed, a survey course in digital humanities gave me an overview of digital tools and methodologies. Additionally, a more intense programming course for cultural data analysis taught me specialized coding for data analysis, machine learning and data visualization. The programming was challenging and using the command line was daunting, but I was fortunate to develop a network of motivated peers who also wanted to develop their technical aptitude.  

Sometimes, I felt I was learning just as many technical skills outside of my general coursework. The university library offered workshops on digital scholarship tools for the academic community. My technical skills and knowledge of trends in topics like text analysis, data curation, and metadata grew by attending as many as I could. The Digital Scholarship Librarian and I also organized co-working sessions for students working on digital scholarship projects. These sessions created a community of practice to share expertise, feedback, and support with others interested in developing their technical aptitude in a productive space. We discussed the successes and frustrations with our projects and with the technology that we were often independently teaching ourselves to use. These community meetups were invaluable avenues to learn from each other and further develop our technical capabilities.

With increased focus on digital archives, libraries and scholarship, students often feel expected to just know or to teach themselves technical skills independently. My experience in my MSIS program taught me that often others are in the same boat, experiencing similar frustrations but too embarrassed to ask for help or admit ignorance. Communities of practice are essential to create an environment where students felt comfortable discussing obstacles and developing technical skills together.


Stever-LondonLondon Stever is an archival consultant at SAE International, where she balances company culture with international and industry standards, including bridging the gap between IT and discovery partners. London graduated from the University of Pittsburgh’s MLIS – Archives program and is currently working on her CompTIA certifications. She values self-education and believes multilingualism and technological literacy are the keys to archival accessibility. Please email london.stever@outlook.com or go to londonstever.com to contact London.

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Hayley Wilson is originally from San Diego but moved to New York to attend New York University. She graduated from NYU with a BA in Art History and stayed in NYC to work for a couple of years before moving abroad to work. She then moved to North Carolina for graduate school and will be graduating in May with her master’s degree in Library Science with a concentration in Archives and Records Management.

casarez_headshotAdriana Cásarez is a recent MSIS graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. She has worked as a research assistant on a digital classics project for the Quantitative Criticism Lab. She also developed a digital collection of artistic depictions of the Aeneid using cultural heritage APIs. She aspires to work in digital scholarship and advocate for diversity and inclusivity in libraries.