After some consideration, I decided to share my application essay for Kent State University’s Master of Library and Information Science program. Their prompts were thought provoking, and the end product serves well to capture how important libraries have become in my life.
My life journey is intricately woven into the library world. As a young-adult patron, my local public library was a regular haunt of mine. Later, thanks to a glimpse behind-the-scenes at a part-time job, this appreciation became a passion for librarianship. This application to the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at Kent State University is the culmination of this passion. The impact libraries have on critical issues in their communities is dear to me, I aspire to develop an understanding of library work beyond first-hand experiences, and my time spent in online learning environments and broad work experience could bring an engaging perspective to the classroom. I know deep down this the right path for me.
A library can be a cornerstone of its community. When such communities face critical issues, it is natural for them to reverberate through the library. When this happens, it is often seen as a call to action by the library. The Nelsonville Public Library (NPL) is where I saw such a call and response take place time and again. Their community service was above and beyond my preconceptions of what a library “was” at the time. One example of many is their free summer meals program.
NPL first began providing free meals in 1997 (United States Department of Agriculture, 2016). The lack of school lunches over summer break was hard on some families. The library saw this as an opportunity and began offering free meals alongside summer programs that encourage literacy and discovery. These efforts continue to this day.
Libraries look out for their communities. The opportunity to join in these efforts is what began to pull me into this meaningful line of work. But what of the more traditional roles of libraries? Are they relevant and fruitful? As it turns out, many traditional roles are exactly what we need.
Information literacy is central to combating an old dilemma taking new shapes. In today’s climate of uncertain facts and misleading content, information literacy is critical. I agree with Texas state librarian Mark Smith (2019) that we are facing an “erosion of faith in objective information.” However, I do not see this as a detriment to library services. I see this as a call to action.
Writing for Forbes magazine, Ryan Holmes (2018) shares that libraries are behind some of the best grassroots movements tackling the issue of fake and misleading news, citing efforts through infographics, webinars, slide decks and information literacy classes. Holmes (2018) stresses that we must equip upcoming generations with media and information literacy skills. For example, a Stanford History Education Group study featuring 203 middle-school students found that only 20% could identify sponsored news content as not real news (Wineburg et al., 2016). This is troubling.
As outlined on the iSchool website, “someone needs to know how to root out what’s relevant, important and accurate — and how to organize and present it in a way that makes sense” (Kent State School of Information, n.d.). This will require diligent work, but libraries are up to the task. For instance, librarians at Lakeside School in Seattle are teaching middle-schoolers how to identify legitimate news and detect bias through “digital life” classes (Large, 2017).
I began working in libraries 19 years ago. Since then I have been lucky to work in both public and academic libraries. My knowledge about the library field is broad, but it is all from limited experiences. There are deeper levels of library work I wish to delve into, and the MLIS program at Kent State University is the doorway to these aspirations.
A core aspiration of mine is to become more adept at librarianship. A holistic understanding of how all layers of a library work together is something I yearn for. Therefore, the core courses in the MLIS program are precisely what I need. Beyond this, there is a specific layer I want to explore in detail.
I love working with data. Its potential to guide user-focused decisions, organize information in accessible ways, and assist researchers across all disciplines recently caught my interest. I aim to use the MLIS program to gain skillful knowledge of data in. Such data skills will be invaluable in my role as Public Service Desk coordinator for the User Services Department at Ohio University’s Alden Library. I provide both logistic support for operation decisions and reference support for patrons, both of which would benefit from data analysis skills.
I have taken many online courses. As a result, I am very comfortable with learning in an online environment. It is important to have fellow students that jump in to ask questions others are hesitant to and earnestly engage in discussion. This is a strength I will bring to the iSchool online classroom, should I gain acceptance to the MLIS program.
My wide range of library experience would also benefit the classroom. I have around 15 years of experience working at a public library and four years working at an academic library. These experiences have potential to enrich my contributions to discussions, and I would be very receptive to such reciprocity from other students and faculty.
As for the library profession, it is often the small things that matter most. Once, I had a long-time patron who left for the military revisit me years later. Beaming at me, he said “you know, you got me my very first library card!” That was such a rewarding experience. Libraries can hold a special place in people’s hearts. I want to continue this contribution to the library profession above all else, no matter where it leads.
Libraries are a significant part of my life story. This application to the MLIS program at Kent State University is an important piece to a puzzle I have been pulling together for a long time. This is the right time and best next step for me. Libraries will always continue to be a part of my life story and getting my MLIS is certain to be an integral chapter in that book.
Holmes, R. (2018, April 10). How libraries are reinventing themselves to fight fake news. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanholmes/2018/
Kent State University School of Information. (n.d.). Why the iSchool? Retrieved March 7, 2020, from https://www.kent.edu/iSchool/why-ischool
Large, J. (2017, February 6). Librarians take up arms against fake news. The Seattle Times. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/librarians-take-up-arms-against-fake-news/
Smith, M. (2019). Top ten challenges facing public libraries. Public Library Quarterly, 38(3), 241–247. doi:10.1080/01616846.2019.1608617
United States Department of Agriculture. (November 30, 2016). Summer meals toolkit. Retrieved March 5, 2020, from https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/sfsp/
Wineburg, S., McGrew, S., Breakstone, J., Ortega, T. (2016, November 22). Evaluating information: The cornerstone of civic online reasoning. Stanford Digital Repository. http://purl.stanford.edu/fv751yt5934