Hack Your Certificate

As a student with Emporia State University’s MLS program, I am not fully satisfied with my educational options. I want a certificate in web design, but such a program is not offered. We have excellent certificates in archives and a youth services. But in terms of emerging technologies we have just the few, basic class offerings. Before for I get ahead of myself, let me explain where this desire comes from…

…I had an a-ha moment about a year into my program. After completing the required web design program, I attended InfoCamp Seattle, a unConference where all sorts of people gather to talk about user experience (also known as UX). To be honest, I had little user experience knowledge before attending, so I had to give my self a bit of a crash course: UX is a way of looking at how patrons (or users or students or customers) interact with your systems. While not limited to technology, UX has really grown out of the studies of human-computer interaction. InfoCamp brought together  people interested in marketing, design, information architecture, design, programming, everyone (or so it seemed).

And this is where I had my a-ha moment: Librarianship is transforming, and while service remains at the heart of the industry, how we provide service is changing. There is still a need for the traditional services that libraries provide, but there is just as great a need for providing innovative ways for individuals to interact with information.

And I want to provide these services. But I don’t feel prepared.  I want a certificate. So what’s a library student to do? Start hacking.

Just this week I was accepted into Portland Community College, where I will enroll in their web design certificate program. Yes, I could have looked at a more prestigious program. For example, UW’s Human-Computer Interaction & Design program. But that is a bit to expensive, and I don’t want to quit my job and move to Seattle. Attending PCC will allow me to keep my current job and continue fostering the professional networks I’ve built here in Portland.

Granted, this is not an ideal situation. I am going to have to take out a little bit more in loans, and I’m going to be in school another year. But I am not sure if I am ready for the real world. The MLS has given me a solid foundation, but my convictions about web design is strong enough to have me perusing a formal certificate program. And this experience will help me with my eventual professional job search (and allow me to put it off just a little but longer).

My time as a library student has taught me that there aren’t perfect programs out there. Not only do you have to deal with the common questions of location, cost, distance learning vs. traditional classroom learning, you also have to try to find a program that meets the goals you have set for yourself.
My time with Hack Library School has also taught me that you don’t have to accept the conditions and parameters your educators have already set for you. With some creative problem solving and a little tenacity, you can create your own program and your own educational experience. And the ability to do that is probably going to take you a lot farther than just your average MLS program. So, when you find yourself unsatisfied with your program, just start hacking…

Categories: Continuing Education

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6 replies

  1. As you probably have seen, there have been a lot of discussions recently about the real-world worth of an MLIS. In CS and IT, this is a discussion about the real-world worth of certificates. I wrote awhile back about the importance of building web design into your MLIS curriculum, but the reality is that systems/IT departments worth their salt don’t care about your degree – just your certs.

    The network administrator at the county where I work described to me that in networking it is important to have your CompTIA / CISCO certifications more than a degree in computer science; for the web, though, your certificates take a back seat to your online portfolio.

    MLIS students are in a weird spot because in just about every non-library discipline the gradwork is worthless, and even in libraries the master’s is just the basics. My reccy in hindsight to MLIS-prospects would be to do what you are doing: enroll in programs that give you the wherewithal to acquire your tech certificates on top of your degree, simply because an MLIS with an Emphasis in Technology & Networking appears to mean nothing to IT departments.


  2. I agree with you in that MLS programs should require more web design/ technical skills in general. I’m fortunate enough to go to Michigan, which seems to revolve around HCI and UX design. Unfortunately, I feel like I don’t have enough TIME to learn everything. I almost feel like Undergraduate school should be two years and grad school should be 4 years, or at least MLS/MLIS/MIS should be! I could see where that’s unrealistic but there are so many skills that libraries want these days that I feel I can’t acquire in two years. Or at least I won’t be able to acquire ALL of them in two years.


  3. It’s not just an issue with library school or other graduate schools. It’s an issue with higher education or if you’re feeling bold, education in general. Technology is empowering, and formal learning systems have a lot of catching up to do. However, I do think this is all in regards to technical skills. And as @GollyDamn pointed out, there are systems in place already.

    The purpose of graduate school is less about learning how to do things and more of an introduction to critical frameworks that allow us to further foundational knowledge. I would say that library school shouldn’t be teaching technical skills. If you have an interest in doing these things–well, do them. If you want to do research, learn how to properly assess data, or examine the long-term impacts of decision-making–well, that’s what I think should really be examined by graduate school curriculum committees.


    • …and, of course, technology is the tool we use to do those things. But tools have been around forever. As “digital natives,” we need to live up to those expectations and feel comfortable learning on our own to a certain extent. Or examine how and what’s taught in core K-12 curriculum.


  4. Turner,
    you and I need to have a beer at some point. I’ll let you know if I run through Portland anytime soon. InfoCamp and Borders, scary.

    I’m organizing an InfoCamp down here right now. You should come. I know at least one other Hacker will be down.


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