Winter Issue 2001
     The Newsleter of the Association of Library & Information Science Students (ALISS)

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Directed Fieldwork & Work Study Experiences: Kirsten Freeman-Benson
March 29, 2002

Kirsten Freeman-Benson: Photograph by Heidi Andress

How did you learn about your directed fieldwork opportunity? How did you know what type of DFW you wanted?

I knew by the time that I was ready to do a directed fieldwork that I wanted to work with children. I just wasn't sure about which type of setting I preferred, since I didn't have any real library experience. I thought that I would like to either work in a school setting, or in a public library setting. So, I came up with the idea of testing out each environment by doing a directed fieldwork in each setting. I decided to do the school setting first, in Autumn, because it seemed to me that kids are pretty busy learning the ropes of their schools during this time, and I wanted to get in on that, helping to teach them about using the library early in the school year, when they were more open to the idea.

Once you found out about the organization, how did you go about setting up your DFW?

I just contacted Lynnea and told her about my idea of working in the two different settings, and she said that the previous year, a student had worked at Eckstein Middle School, and that it had been a good experience. I agreed with the location, because it was conveniently located for me. I also had specifically requested middle school-age children, because I had heard that they were the most challenging, and I really wanted to test myself. I also really enjoy middle school-age kids, and my experience at Eckstein served to confirm that.

How much interaction did you have with your supervisor?

My supervisor was almost always there. Right away, she treated me like a colleague. Whenever teachers came in to confer on a project or just to talk, Jean would always bring me in and introduce me. She explained things wonderfully, although sometimes I had to ask for explanations. She even invited me to a meeting of the local branch of the Washington Library Media Association, to meet her colleagues. I ended up learning a lot of stuff just by conversation, both with Jean and with the library assistant, or by listening to the conversations that Jean would have with the teachers.

What kinds of things did you get to do?

Right away, I was out on the floor dealing with the kids. I did a little of everything: supervising free-use time at lunchtime, helping kids with their research projects when their entire class would come in, helping kids learn about bibliographic citations, teaching about how to use different resources and why, readers advisory, reference, devising questions for a treasure hunt exercise using the reference works, weeding the collection, shifting the books on the shelves, physically processing the new or battered books, copy cataloging, marketing videos to the social sciences teachers, marketing the library to parents, devising a mini-questionnaire for the teachers to get feedback on what they wanted in the way of fiction that would support their curriculum, and more. It was great, especially for someone who craves variety in their life, like me.

What did you learn during the experience?

I learned that the role of the school library and librarian (or media specialist) is vital to the school's success. The school librarian needs to have her finger in all the pies, in order to know the needs of the teachers and students and to build a collection that meets those needs. There will be funding problems, and some days when you are so busy that it's hard to find time to even just go to the bathroom. Basically, it is an intense job for the entire school year, but very rewarding. The school library is a haven for many kids who otherwise would have no place in the school, and the school librarian becomes an important adult in their lives.

What kind of training did you receive?

No training, other than the supervisor introducing me to everyone, and also informing me that reference work with children in a school setting is different than for adults. For one thing, you aren't supposed to just hand out answers. Every question is supposed to be a teachable moment. I would just ask questions as they occurred to me, and that was really my on-the-job training. I thought it worked well, since it allowed me to immediately get out there and start doing something.

Do you feel that this experience has helped prepare you for work in a professional setting?

It sure has. Even if I only got glimpses of how some things are done, such as collection development and cataloging, any practical experience helps to place classroom learning in context, and make it easier to remember. In addition, learning how to gently teach information literacy skills in reference work is a good skill that is applicable in any reference situation. After my experience at Eckstein, I just felt more competent and confident in my skills, and I felt like I had a more accurate picture of what was expected from me as a professional.

Did this experience make you want to take any additional coursework or seek additional training?

One of the suggestions of my advisor was that I experience working with different age groups to be able to better choose which age group I prefer. I agree, so I am going to seek out experiences with older and younger children, although I still really enjoy middle school-age kids. I also decided I needed to know more about collection development, which is a big part of a school librarian's job. Learning how to market a collection to its user group would also be a good thing to know. There were so many materials that the teachers (or students) could have been using, but they just didn't know about them, and the librarian is too busy to remember everything like that when the issue arises.

Any advice to other students seeking fieldwork experiences?

Definitely do it. I would choose settings that intrigue you, or that can help you develop connections in an area that you are already interested in. It's too bad that we are limited to only two directed fieldwork experiences, so choose well!

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