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A look at some Directed Fieldwork experiences
By Tim Held
March 21, 2003

Should You Consider Directed Fieldwork?

If you want to develop professional skills this summer, or you can't wait to put your classroom knowledge into practice, you should start thinking about directed fieldwork now.

LIS590, a variable-credit elective, is open to any students with 30 credits who want practical work experience. What kind of experience? And where can it be found? Read on to learn how diverse these information science experiences can be.

Sandy at the Reference Desk

In her last year of the evening program, Sandy Bennett negotiated a six-month Directed Fieldwork position at Bellevue Community College Library, where she was assigned to the reference desk, as well as other instructional projects. Sandy gained teaching experience in putting together a staff training video.

Sandy's experience gave meaning to her coursework: "Working in the trenches, so to speak, was enlightening. Up until then, everything was theoretical, and I was still somewhat vague on my career goals. Doing this helped solidify both the positives and negatives in an academic librarianship career, while allowing me to finally apply some of the stuff I'd been learning!"

While evening students may find Directed Fieldwork difficult to schedule, to Sandy it was essential. "For someone like me, who came from a distinctly non-librarian, non-information professional background, it provided experience that I couldn't get any other way, as well as insight into the field."

Kathleen and Database Management

Another iSchool student who gained perspective on a professional field is Kathleen Crosman. She enhanced her content management skills in her first Directed Fieldwork at the UW Drama Library last summer. "I worked on converting sound effects indexing previously stored in two different databases into one InMagic database. I also created a web query to access the information.

"Because the Drama Library is small and because Liz [Fugate, Drama Librarian] was generous with her time and experience, I gained a great deal of insight into the operations of academic libraries. I decided to pursue further education in archival studies as a result of this fieldwork.

"I would highly recommend fieldwork. It can confirm your interests or change your direction. In my case it did a little of both. My desire to have a connection to the world of theatre was strengthened but the focus changed from librarianship to archival services!" Kathleen will pursue her drama interests in a second Directed Fieldwork this spring in the Manuscripts, Special Collections, and University Archives. She will be processing the papers of UW drama instructor John Ashby Conway, which includes glass plate negatives, watercolors, and architectural drawings.

Noni studies Book Arts

Noni wanted to explore the profession of conservationist after LIS507, Preservation and Conservation of Library Materials, so she took WSU Special Collections up on its offer of a stipend to spend a month learning the trade under conservator Gudrun Aurand. Student Services Administrator Lynnea Erickson set it up for Directed Fieldwork credit simultaneously.

"My favorite project was repairing a journal from the library of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. The cover, binding, and the pages needed attention. The staff had quite an interesting discussion about how to repair this old magazine because Virginia Woolf had made the cover herself using stiff paperboard and wallpaper! The stapled signatures needed to be separated, mended, and sewn. I trimmed the tiniest bits of frayed edges from the cover and reattached it with strong thin paper. Finally, I made a custom enclosure to protect it from shelving and environmental degradation. Apparently, her handmade covers are of interest to scholars; it was fun to work on one that will be safe in its enclosure for, well, a long time.

"I liked so many things about my experience! First, I was treated like an honored guest rather than a lowly intern. Second, I learned so much good stuff about book and paper conservation. Third, I got to roam the shelves of the archives and inspect many precious old books. Gudrun Aurand is a genuine master at her work and a committed teacher. The rest of the staff, a dozen wonderful folks, shared their time so I could learn what their jobs are."

Lelia goes to Washington

Directed Fieldwork situations are not all in traditional library-or even local-settings. Lelia Boyd Arnheim knew she wanted to work as a National Public Radio intern, and her experience at the iSchool helped her land the perfect position: reference librarian to the staff of NPR. She also updated their journal holdings records to determine what could be substituted with digital access.

"I answered reference questions for NPR employees: reporters, hosts, producers, editorial assistants, interns, and once for one of the VPs. I LOVE reference work. And I particularly love the pace of reference work in a news library like NPR's. It suited my MTV-generation attention span perfectly. I had something new to do, something new to find out, every few minutes. It was also particularly satisfying to hear the results of my labor on the radio anywhere from minutes to days after I'd done the work."

Like the others, Lelia's perspective on the field broadened considerably. "It's impossible to quantify what I gained. I came to the MLIS program directly from 10 years of work in the theatre and with absolutely no background in libraries. The fact that NPR gave me a chance amazed me in the first place. And Alphonse Vinh, my supervisor for the summer, made sure I had every opportunity to learn. He let me fend for myself without ever second-guessing the work I was doing, but was always happy to give advice or to introduce me to new resources and searching skills. If you want to learn how to be a reference librarian, I think the most effective way is simply to do it."

Lynnea Erickson is the Person to See

Student Services Administrator Lynnea Erickson manages Directed Fieldwork for MLIS students. If you have a setting in mind, Lynnea will make the first contacts to find an on-site mentor. If you don't know what kind of directed fieldwork you want, she can give you ideas to get you started.

For two to four credits, the student must work out a set of goals, achieve a certain amount of hours per week, write a brief report of the experience, and have an exit interview with Professor Sharyl Smith to discuss progress on those goals.

"Most students choose public or academic library settings, but others have gone further afield," says Lynnea. "Recently, we have had students do Directed Fieldwork at EMP, King TV, and the Utne Reader magazine in Minneapolis. The scope of possibilities is only limited by three considerations: the mentor must have an MLS (or equivalent), the work must be at the beginning professional level, and it must be a learning experience for the student." Lynnea stresses the reciprocal nature of the arrangement. "Our students get a lot out of it, but so does the institution." She estimates that 40 to 50% of the MLIS students engage in Directed Fieldwork.

For more information on Directed Fieldwork, read Liisa Rogers' and Drexie Malone's previous articles about their Directed Fieldwork experiences written up in Silverfish issues last fall. Visit the Directed Fieldwork page to find out particulars, but remember: you need to start at least 10 weeks in advance with Lynnea Erickson. Your future awaits.

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Edited by Michael Harkovitch

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