Concentrating on Concentrations

When I entered library school in early 2019, I was slightly obsessed with planning out my degree. Part of this comes with the terrain of being an academic advisor, but part of it was just the excitement of starting a new endeavor.

I’ve heard from other library science students that their program is either super loose with core classes (looking at you, University of Texas at Austin) or incredibly detailed with required courses with little room for elective exploration. Luckily, my program at Emporia State University seems to have struck a happy medium. Roughly half our program is required and half is elective. I entered the program with lots of academic and professional interests, but with the thought that I would lean more towards public librarianship. More importantly, to me at least, I had planned to take lots of different classes to give my degree breadth over depth when it came to electives. Note the emphasis on the past tense! Due to a combination of things – ranging from developing strong working relationships with certain faculty to changing jobs, which led to a realignment of priorities all around – I found my degree taking a shape that was wholly unexpected 18 months ago. Over those 18 months, I have selected electives that will lead (hopefully, as I am still tying up the final ends!) to me graduating in December with an MLS with a concentration in Health Information Professionals.
While this development was unexpected, I am seeing now that all of my interests in information science are heightened and deepened through the lens of medical librarianship. My interest in diversity and equity finds expression in research on health disparities and how libraries can address them. My desire to do work that extends the traditional bounds of the field is seen in how medical librarians are finding ways to bring information services to sites of highest need, such as critical care units in hospitals. Ultimately, like any concentration or other decision made about your degree, my chosen set of electives that have morphed into a concentration have made my degree more personalized and far more meaningful.
If you are reading this and considering whether or not to concentrate, the best advice I can give you is, “Don’t think too hard about it!” What I mean by that is, where you can and in consultation with you own advisor, let your degree develop organically. And, unless you have, for example, been a children’s librarian for a decade and plan to do that until you retire, be open to different concentrations. I never would have thought medical librarianship would be a guiding force in my degree, but here we are! Take the electives that interest you most and see where that takes you. Finally, don’t discount the relationships you are developing with faculty. I will have taken roughly half of my degree with just one faculty member by the time I graduate in December. While this was due to a combination of positive response to teaching style and interest in electives on offer, it also ended up giving a needed form to my degree.
So, regardless of whether you select a concentration in the end, make your degree work for you and will walk away with an MLS that you can be proud of for a very long time.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Nick Dean is a second-year master’s student in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University. Nick currently works full-time as an academic advisor at a medical school and as a part-time employee at a medical library, both in the Kansas City metro.

5 replies

  1. Emporia is a wonderful school, and I’m glad to hear that it’s done what it can to help you shape your future. I have found that a lot of what I was interested in during school has become a bit more of a reality, what with a lot of digital programming and trying to better use technology to the library’s advantage.

    I wish you luck in your future and hope that Emporia will continue to support you!


  2. I’m sorry, but I do not think that Emporia State is a wonderful school. There are many who also agree with my experiences. So with that said, I would like to share the most recent federal court ruling related to my experiences with ESU and its library school SLIM. Since this ruling by a federal judge that ESU and SLIM participated in retaliation, I will let readers read for themselves. A link to the following story is at the bottom of this post, and it is a Creative Commons licensed story, free to share publicly.

    “Former Emporia State employee not happy with 64K ruling for employment discrimination”

    TOPEKA — A federal judge has ordered Emporia State University to pay $64,000 to a former employee who faced retaliation after reporting a racist slur in 2015.

    Angelica Hale, 58, had argued for at least $500,000 to cover wages and benefits she would have earned if she had been allowed to stay at the university until she retired. She said she was disappointed in the judge’s decision and plans to file a motion to reconsider.

    The ruling Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree follows a five-year struggle by Angelica and her husband, Melvin, to have their complaints taken seriously. An event next month in Emporia will commemorate the couple’s march for justice.

    Angelica Hale kneels outside the federal courthouse after a hearing in June in Topeka. She said Emporia State University has been “on our necks for five years.” (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
    The Hales have been jobless and homeless, sometimes living in their car, for much of the past four years. They currently are staying with an aunt in Las Vegas.

    Melvin said “ESU is laughing today and probably partying” because of Crabtree’s ruling.
    “They’re not going to think twice,” he said. “They’re going to laugh and say, ‘We had them.’ And they’re probably going to call us the N word and laugh like crazy.”

    Gwen Larson, a spokeswoman for ESU, said the university was studying the judgment and exploring options.
    “Emporia State is committed to creating a welcoming environment for all students, faculty and staff,” Larson said.

    Crabtree last year ruled the university improperly punished Angelica under federal anti-discrimination law. In a separate case, a jury found the university was justified in canceling Melvin’s contract as an assistant professor.

    Angelica was the administrative assistant to the dean of ESU’s School of Library and Information Management, and worked in an exclusive office where few had access. Someone wrote “niggaz” on a notebook in her office, and the couple immediately informed the dean. University officials initially refused to consider the incident to be significant, and campus police declined to investigate.

    The couple complained publicly about the university, which led to an internal review by an assistant director of human resources that found no wrongdoing.

    Emporia State University attorney Kevin Johnson, left, leaves the federal courthouse in Topeka after a hearing in June. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

    In public statements, the university’s attorney, Kevin Johnson, falsely said the slur had been written in a commons area and that it was a fluke the Hales had even learned about it. He asserted that hate crimes don’t exist under Kansas law.

    Angelica quit in July 2015, citing a hostile work environment.

    Crabtree determined Angelica was entitled to just nine months of wages, retirement benefits and tuition assistance, worth $48,312.03, plus $15,991.28 in interest. The judge said Angelica frequently changed jobs before arriving at ESU and would have been unlikely to stay after her husband’s contract expired in May 2016.

    Angelica said the judge’s conclusion was sexist and offensive. The couple owned a house in Emporia, she said, and told the Associated Press in 2015 they intended to stay in the community to address negative attitudes toward minorities.

    “That’s personal. That’s a bias,” she said. “You’re going to end it based on the male’s, the head of the household’s, end date? There’s a problem with that.”

    Melvin said the court’s ruling sends a chilling message to anyone who would report discrimination in Kansas. The couple lost its vehicles and a house after being cut off from income.
    “What this is really saying is, ‘Black lives don’t mean a damn.’ I mean, let’s just be frank about it,” Melvin said.

    Supporters marched with Melvin and Angelica Hale in 2015 in Emporia. An upcoming event will commemorate the march. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

    Jay Vehige, of Emporia Community Action, has organized events for Sept. 15 to commemorate a march led by the Hales five years ago. He said issues of systemic racism haven’t been addressed.
    The university, which in recent years has defined limited spaces where public demonstrations can be held, blocked Vehige from planning events on campus. Instead, supporters will march to the library, where speeches will be delivered.

    “We hope through our continued advocacy to one day be able to say and mean that ESU and the greater Emporia community now respects diversity, embraces it, and is united in our pursuit of justice, equity and liberation for all peoples,” Vehige said.
    The Hales are scheduled to speak at the event via video conference.

    Angelica attended a court hearing in June in Topeka, and took note of the rising awareness for institutional racism that was playing out in public protests across the country. She kneeled in front of the federal courthouse, where the Brown v. Board desegregation case was argued 56 years ago.
    “This has been a long time coming,” she said. “That’s why I took a knee right now, because they were on our necks for five years. They had opportunities to reason with us and do the right thing and they did not do it.”

    This story has been corrected to say an assistant director of human resources conducted the university’s internal review.

    REPORTER INFO: Sherman Smith has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal, where he started on the copy desk, then oversaw digital operations, was the managing editor and reported from the Statehouse. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.

    Pilar Pedraza sees journalism as a public service, providing viewers with the information they need to lead their best lives. This is part of what led her into political reporting early on. She cut her political reporting teeth on the First in the Nation Caucuses in Iowa in the 90s. She won multiple awards for her election coverage in Des Moines. She’s spent much of the last decade covering the latest developments in Kansas politics. In between elections she’s covered everything from the Oklahoma City Bombing, the OJ Simpson Civil Trial, and the birth of the McCaughey Septuplets to the Capture of BTK and the Flight Safety Crash at Eisenhower Airport. With two decades of experience in broadcast news, Pilar has done just about every job there is in TV news. Her favorite, to date, is reporting and anchoring, especially covering politics and breaking news. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms in Michigan and Oklahoma, where her mother was a reporter, editor, and columnist and where she learned how to work with her local community. Pilar graduated from Iowa State University with a BA in Journalism and Spanish in 1996 and got her MA in History with an emphasis in 20th century politics at Pittsburg State University in 2019. She is fluent in multiple languages. In her scant free time, Pilar likes to hang out with her husband of 20+ years and their son, a recent graduate of Maize High School. She enjoys reading, quilting, cross stitching and petting her dog and two cats. LINK TO STORY:


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