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Post by Alicia Cappello
Many academic, public, and special libraries across Alberta hire MLIS graduate students as temporary or contract employees. Some libraries specifically look to hire MLIS grad students, while others hire MLIS grad students because they’re the most qualified. Regardless of how your library came about hiring an MLIS grad student, there are a lot of great ways to help engage that student in order to take full advantage of their energy, passion, and willingness-to-learn.
Think back to your own grad student days. You probably remember that you took a variety of courses on a wide-range of LIS-related topics. You learned a lot at a high-level in a short period of time. And while you were probably provided with examples or case studies during each course, you probably didn’t get to see much of what you learned applied in the ‘real world.’ Now, as the hiring manager for an MLIS student, you have the chance to show a student what it’s like in the ‘real world.’
You may find the following 10 tips useful when hiring and assigning work to an MLIS graduate student:
#1 – Hire based on interest and potential rather than experience:
In most cases, all the resumes from MLIS students are going to be somewhat similar. Therefore, distinguishing potential hires based on previous experience is almost impossible. Instead of using previous experience as your distinguishing factor, use the student’s interest in the position and what it has to teach them. Look for students who applied to the position because they are interested in that type of work. If you are hiring someone to do metadata work, and a student applies who is interested in using metadata in their capping project or thesis research, you’ve probably hit the bulls-eye.
#2 – Introduce your student employee to your organization:
MLIS students are taught about libraries and other organizations at a very high level and this may be all they know about such organizations (assuming they haven’t worked full-time before, or are also enrolled in the MBA program). At the University of Alberta, one of the required courses (LIS 504) teaches the students about organizational mission statements, vision statements, guiding principles, and strategic objectives. If they’ve already taken this course when they start to work for you, they’ll be familiar with these concepts.
Take the time to show the student where they can find your organization’s mission, vision, guiding principles, and/or strategic objectives. Explain to your student why these are important to your organization, and if you know, how they came to be. Also explain how they should incorporate these items into their day-to-day work.
#3 – Align your student employee’s tasks to their interests:
If you have the opportunity to match your student’s interests to their tasks, do so. We all know that productivity is related to interest. If you assign your student tasks that actually interest them, the output of those tasks will be amazing.
Of course, you may have hired the student to do a very specific set of tasks, and you aren’t able to deviate too much from them. That’s okay too, as the student should be fully aware of those based on the job posting and interview. But if you’re able to demonstrate a link between the tasks the student has to perform, to something that is of interest to them, it would be highly beneficial to both of you.
#4 – Provide your student employee with at least 3-5 consecutive tasks:
When you hire a MLIS student, you’re hiring someone who has spent years having to organize themselves, management their own time and priorities, and still meet all their required deadlines. Take advantage of this. Don’t assign tasks one-by-one and only give a subsequent task when the first task is complete. Instead, give your student at least 3-5 tasks at the same time. Tell your student it’s up to them to prioritize those tasks and completed them by their deadlines. But also make it clear that you are there to help them with task organization if needed (especially at the start when they might not be aware of the intricacies of your organization).
In addition to allowing the student to take time management responsibilities on themselves, you’re also providing them with a variety of things to do so they don’t go insane doing only one task day-in and day-out. Believe me, they’ll thank you for that!
#5 – Explain the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the tasks you assign:
Graduate students are naturally curious and are really good at asking questions. If you hire a MLIS student, expect questions. In addition to wanting to know how to do their tasks, it is likely they’ll also want to know why they’re doing that task and how it fits into the bigger picture of what the team/department/organization does. Be prepared for such questions. If you’re unsure why something is done, don’t be afraid to say so and to direct your student to someone who could answer such questions. Not only will it educate the student, but it will help them network with other library professionals in their organization.
#6 – Allow your student employee to develop their own work habits:
Many student jobs are dull or very regimented. But they don’t need to be this way. Yes, some processes such as the opening and closing of a branch must be done in a specific way by specific people. But most tasks can be done in more than one fashion. While you’ll probably need to demonstrate or explain how to do a specific task to your student, you should let them know they can perform the task in whatever way makes the most sense to them - as long as it gets done properly. They may find a different way of getting the task done that’s actually more efficient or effective.
#7 – Provide your student employee with regular feedback:
Students, in general, are used to regular feedback about everything they do. Employees, in general, should also get regular feedback, but this isn’t always done consistently. Don’t be afraid to provide your student with regular feedback on how they’re doing, good or bad.
If they’re doing a good job, tell them! Often, in the ‘real world,’ employees never hear anything if they’re doing a good job. Management may assume the employee knows they’re doing a good job, simply because no one has told them otherwise. But human beings need reinforcement. If you’re a manager, regular reinforcement to your students (and employees) about the good jobs they’re doing can significantly help employee morale.
If they’re doing a bad job, tell them! Take the opportunity to explain to the student what you’ve found incorrect about their work and work with that student to develop a way to improve their performance. Bad performance can sometimes be attributed to something as simple as a misunderstanding. Regardless of the reason, if you don’t work with your student to fix it, it’ll just continue.
#8 – Include your student employee in team activities:
Temporary and contract workers are often left out of the social activities of an organization. It shouldn’t matter what type of employee someone is, they should always be included. This means:
As human beings, we want to be included and asked to participate. Being left out of events can be demoralizing and can affect productivity. If a student doesn’t feel like part of the team, they’re unlikely to contribute as much.
You can always give the student an out by telling them attendance isn’t required. If they feel they’re too busy, or can’t meet a deadline if they attend a meeting or event, let them work that out themselves.
#9 – Help your student employee build their network:
Building a professional network is very important to many students. MLIS student employees may be willing to volunteer to work on certain projects outside their paid working hours if the project provides them with the opportunity to meet people of professional interest. If your student is working full-time, but you don’t have enough tasks to fill all their hours, ask around to see if anyone else needs an extra pair of hands on a project. Loan your student out to another project for a specified period of time each day or week. It’ll benefit your student and your organization.
Take the time to introduce your MLIS employee to other people at your organization. They may be a little shy about introducing themselves, especially if they have no idea who that person is. But if you take a simple few minutes to introduce your student around, it gives your student the opening to go back and chat with those folks in the future.
#10 – Understand that a graduate student’s life is quite chaotic:
Up until now, all the tips have been focused on including students more, or giving them more work or responsibility. This tip is focused on keeping in mind the fact that MLIS graduate students live pretty crazy lives. Most MLIS graduate students are unfunded. This means that, unlike their colleagues in engineering or science, they don’t get paid to do their own research. In order to make enough money to support themselves, most graduate students have to take on multiple part-time jobs on top of managing their course work or research. It can get quite stressful and chaotic. Encourage your student to maintain healthy work habits, and help them do so by working with them to ensure they are able to meet the demands of their job with you and their work at school.
Alicia Cappello is a third year MA/MLIS student at the University of Alberta. Before returning to school in 2012, she worked for 12+ years in a variety of Human Resources and Finance roles at a major Canadian bank. She decided to go back to school after realizing her career didn’t align with her passions. She’s held a number of research assistantships and internships over the last three years, and has had the opportunity to work at the U of A Libraries and U of A Press. Her current research interests include: social media, information behaviour, citation analysis, and anything related to cats.
Post by Sam Popowich
The phenomenon of “fake news” has been in the public eye since the US election came to a head in November of last year. Interestingly, the Google ngram viewer (which only goes up to 2008) shows some interesting spikes in the usage of the term “fake news.”
The biggest spike comes just before 1940 before becoming fairly stable until it rises again in the late 1990s. The spike in or around 1939 ought to alert us to something very important. While some people have been trying to get “fake news” characterized unambiguously as “lies”, it’s important to remember that because news is political, “fake news” has a political objective. We lie for many reasons; when we lie for political reasons, we call it propaganda.
In her essay “On the Abolition of Political Parties” of 1943, Simone Weil wrote:
Collective pressure is exerted upon a wide public by the means of propaganda. The avowed purpose of propaganda is not to impart light, but to persuade. Hitler saw very clearly that the aim of propaganda must always be to enslave minds.
The insidious thing about fake news is not simply that it lies, but that it’s purpose – like all propaganda - is to enslave minds.
The question then becomes not only how do we recognize fake news, but how do we train minds so they stand a chance of resisting this enslavement.
Whenever people have asked me for tips on how to learn to code, one strategy I always mention is this: whenever I have a task to do, no matter how small, even if it would be faster to do by hand, I write a program for it. Take for example, something trivial, like sorting a short list of publication names. Even a list of 50 names would take something on the order of 5 minutes to reorder (less if you already have them in a spreadsheet application like Excel).
The important thing here is not only to achieve the result, it is to practice programming.
If you want to learn to code, it is better to take the opportunity (and the extra time) to write more code. The more you write code, and the more frequently you write code, the faster you’ll learn. Programming quickly evolves from being something you are learning to a practice.
Over the Christmas break I spent a lot of time with my nephews, one of whom is five years old and just learning to read. Whenever he found an opportunity, no matter how trivial, he would read the words on something: a bottle of juice, the cover of a book, a street sign. He could have asked what the words were, which would be “more efficient”, but he’s trying to learn how to read.
Just as with programming, reading will eventually stop being something he’s learning and start being a practice.
In his 1978 work The Act of Reading, Wolfgang Iser formulated a theory of reading that took account of the active participation of the reader. For Iser, text and reader meet and, through an active process of meaning-construction, the reader realizes the text they are reading.
Central to the reading of every literary work is the interaction between its structure and its recipient. (…) The text itself simply offers “schematized aspects” through which the subject matter of the work can be produced, while the actual production takes place through an act of concretization. 
A text is only a symbolic structure; it is not, cannot be, and is not intended to be, a full and complete expression of reality. Instead, the reader is called upon to fill in the gaps in the texts, creating significance guided by, but not limited to, the structure of the text. It is for this reason that difficult, allusive (and illusive) reading is more and more important in an age not only of fully-immersive entertainment, but of texts which attempt more and more to reduce gaps necessary for the active participation of a reader.
“The reader… can never learn from the text how accurate or inaccurate are his views of it. (…) It is the very lack of ascertainability and defined intention that brings about the text-reader interaction. 
But news – journalism – does have a defined intention. Its defined intention is to communicate fact, and it is precisely this defined intention that short-circuits the text-reader interaction and makes the news such an efficient vehicle for propaganda.
The short, clear sentences prized by journalists, for example, have the effect of reducing barriers to comprehension. But this smoothness makes journalism ripe for abuse. The barrier-free writing prized by the news is taken as authoritative because it seems anti-elite, more democratic, and because it leaves no space for the active participation of the reader. The reader becomes merely a passive sponge for whatever “facts” (alternative or otherwise) the journalist is putting forward. The form of journalism can become a tool for slipping information past an under-exercised consciousness.
This is not to suggest that journalism should erect barriers to comprehension; that would still place responsibility for critical understanding with the writer. What we need is to train readers on a wide variety of different modes of writing, both the plain and unadorned (popular fiction, newspaper articles) and the difficult and allusive (poetry, scholarly material, “difficult” fiction).
Only by wide and repeated exposure to different kinds of texts can a reader exercise the reading faculty to the extent required to navigate propaganda of all kinds and fake news in particular.
The widespread dissemination of simplified, barrier-free texts did not, of course, happen in a vacuum. In Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, the ruling class must find ways to transmit its ideas and values to all sections of society, in order to ensure “the ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life” by the ruling class itself. Under the guise of democratization, simplified writing became a positive and desirable, even though it led to the weakening of critical reading skills.
The teaching of reading, on the other hand, focused on “practical” and “efficient” functions of reading. This is reading as befits a capitalist society which holds only the practical (that is profit-increasing) as valuable – reading newspapers, reading emails, etc. More imaginative or difficult forms of reading are at best played-down (reading becomes a hobby) at worst actively denigrated or suppressed.
Both schools and libraries have been part of this dynamic. The move to ebooks makes intensive, sustained, cover-to-cover reading almost impossible; the rise of off-site “dark” storage makes serendipitous browsing completely impossible. Both ebooks and dark storage are allowing print collections to be reduced and, eventually, eliminated. The article has taken over from the monograph. Reading programs for children and readers’ advisory programs are maintained in public libraries, but they tend to follow the bourgeois “the customer is always right” model rather than attempting to awaken and exercise the faculty of critical reading.
Since the fake news and “alternative facts” stories broke, I’ve seen checklists of how to recognize fake news . A checklist seems to me to fit squarely into the bourgeois, empirical/positivist model of understanding the world: there is a list of rules or criteria to measure the world against.
But the world, even as represented by journalism, is much more complicated than that.
A checklist is not going to help to recognize or resist fake news, because applying a checklist is the height of passivity.
All that is going to help recognize and resist fake news is the practice that humanity has used for generations to help understand, model, and navigate the messy, complicated world that we live in: wide, extensive, intensive, difficult reading.
It is often argued that “difficult” texts are elitist, that simplified texts with no barriers to comprehension are therefore more democratic. I would argue that since the active engagement with difficult texts creates citizens more able to think critically and be active participants in society (as in their reading), the reading of “difficult” texts is more democratic, less elitist than the position that maintains that citizens are too stupid to read anything more than what journalists and governments deign to make available to them. Simplified texts are used to facilitate the dissemination and absorption of propaganda (“fake news”). Difficult texts require the active participation of the reader. Describing how language can become easily-digestible through over-familiarity, Jameson writes that
Style resembles the Red Queen, developing ever more complicated mechanisms in order to sustain the power to say the same thing; and in the commercial universe of late capitalism the serious writer is obliged to reawaken the reader’s numbed sense of the concrete through the administration of linguistic shocks, by restructuring the overfamiliar. 
Journalistic texts rely on the overfamiliar, indeed it is a hallmark of their style. This is not to say, however, that simplified texts don’t have their place: Twitter, for example, has been used to manage and organize protests in various countries. But this has to be a complement, not an alternative, to the practice of sustained, intensive reading with active work on the part of the reader. Promoting this practice – not checklists and LibGuides – is how librarians should be addressing the phenomena of fake news.
In a recent Code4Lib Journal editorial, Ruth Kitchin Tillman issues a call for librarians to start “assessing how well we live up to the fundamental principles of our profession”. She describes how privacy, vendor relationships, partnerships, algorithms, as well as the “way we treat each other” must all be constantly scrutinized in order to hold ourselves to account, not only for the good, but for the evil that we, as a profession, might do (unwittingly or not).
I think that we are currently witnessing a rebirth of explicitly political librarianship, which can only be a good thing. This means we can’t let our users drift in a morass of LibGuides and pathfinders. We have to start promoting the practices, behaviours and, yes, values that we think are important, whether or not these fall under the traditional purview of library work. In the case of fake news, I think librarians need to get back in the game of promoting real literacy – not just the literacy of street signs, menus, and newspapers, but deep, intensive literacy, in order to help our coworkers and users resist the political movements which are currently sweeping over us. Tillman writes that the future of the information professions is “on us, whether we choose to passively accept a status quo others build or to act and grow and develop ourselves and our workplaces.”
In order to separate propaganda from the truth, readers must be exposed to a wide variety of styles and rhetorical modes. In order to identify manipulation and prevarication, readers have to be able to recognize them and engage with them actively, rather than merely passively accepting them. We must read things we disagree with, even things we find repugnant, in order to see the similarities between, say, Mein Kampf, and the propagandistic “news” of a Breitbart or a Fox. Except for Ayn Rand. Life’s too short to read Ayn Rand.
 Weil, Simone. On the Abolition of All Political Parties, New York: NYRB Classics, 2013: 16.
 Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978: 20-21.
 Ibid, 166.
 Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks, New York: International Publishers, 1971, 12.
 Jameson, Fredric. Marxism and Form, Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971: 21.
 Kitchin Tillman, Ruth. “Editorial”, Code4Lib Journal, Issue 35 (2017-01-30). Available at http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/12232
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