The #citylis Experience: James Atkinson

James Atkinson recently finished a Masters in Library Science at City University London and here he recounts his experience. You can find James on Twitter as @JamesAtkinson81. For more information about the LIS courses available at City see our guide to #citylis. You can also look at the #citylis blog, which James currently edits.

The course was made up of eight taught modules (and their associated coursework!) which, as I was a part time student were taken over two academic years, before the dissertation project-slash-journey on which I embarked last May. The two-modules-a-term part started back in late 2013 with Digital Information Technologies and Architectures and Library and Information Science Foundation.

IMage 1
The 2013 #citylis induction session

Digital Information Technologies and Architectures gave us an introduction to the various areas of computing that sit behind systems within Libraries, or are used by them: we looked at the Internet and World Wide Web (I am still a bit sad that neither is known as the Information Super Highway), Relational Databases, Information Retrieval, Web 2.0, Web Services, the World of Open, Mobile Information and the Semantic Web. One of the strengths of this module was its blending of lectures and computer classes in which we would try out a little of what we had learned by building a (very) simple website or interrogating a SQL database.

It was in connection with this course that I started to use Twitter an awful lot more. Via #citylis, the students and staff of the course interact by sharing news, live tweeting from events and asking questions, too. For a part timer, I really enjoyed this aspect as it allowed me a sneak preview of modules to come and into ones I was not taking. But mostly this formed a fantastic support network that I am sure I will remain a part of in one way or another for some time to come.

Library and Information Science Foundation, as the name suggests, was a foundational module giving a background both to the history of Libraries, via The Story of Documents, and a history of the subject(s) of Library and Information Science (LIS). As an Ancient History and Archaeology graduate, I got particularly excited by the opening Story of Documents lectures that took me back to those days. The module started by looking at documents and libraries from cave paintings up to the today taking in the Ancient, Medieval and Modern Worlds, as well as looking at future possibilities. It also looked at the history of Library Science, introducing us to the Documentalists of the early 20th Century, such as Paul Otlet, as well as other visionaries such as Vannevar Bush and early Information Theory pioneer, Claude Shannon. This module introduced us, too, to important concepts within LIS that we would often touch on later such as Information Behaviour, the use of Philosophy in LIS, Informetrics and Digital Literacy.

In the second term of the first year I tackled Digital Libraries (Information Science students take Information Retrieval) and Information Resources and Organisation (IRO).

We were taken through the background, foreground, history and use of Digital Libraries in a module that both referenced Encarta and flickr. It was a fascinating insight into what makes up a digital library that meant we got to explore a lot of different resources and meet a great selection of guest speakers from the professional field.

IMage 2
The 2013 #citylis induction session

In Information Resources and Organisation, we were introduced to the myriad of ways in which information, in many forms, can be organised for retrieval and use. Not only did we cover classification systems such as Dewey, Library of Congress, Bliss, Colon and Otlet’s Universal Decimal Classification (UDC); but we also studied taxonomies, cataloguing, metadata, vocabularies and indexing. Almost always via examples involving cheese. Again, some great guest speakers came, giving talks on the UDC and the classification of music. This module also gave the opportunity to learn some practical cataloguing skills, though sadly I missed this opportunity (three times! – I am both bad and slack in the extreme).

Then came the wilderness of the summer break and the replacement of first year full timers with second year full timers. With the lovely new crowd, I studied Information Management and Policy and Research, Evaluation and Communication Skills in the second year’s first term.

In Information Management and Policy, we studied the processes and policies behind the management of knowledge and information in companies. Through a variety of guest speakers from companies such as GHQ, the National Archives, the British Library and Linklaters, we looked at subjects such as Information Governance, Knowledge Management, managing Digital Repositories and Information Law.

The real strength of this module, though, was our weekly group work in which we looked further into the practical issues raised by the lectures. Each group chose a different case study library (ours was Canada Water Public Library), and each week we collaborated, taking it turns to give a short presentation. Mine was on Investigating Users. For me, this was really good. All my life I have avoided giving presentations (once opting to do a play instead, and on another occasion simply made sure that I went unnoticed by our lecturer). This module got me going on what has been quite a year for building presentation skills; having presented a few times at work (including at a staff away day), in job interviews and at an Unconference. So I owe a lot to this module for forcing me back into the presentation world.

Research, Evaluation and Communication Skills started us preparing for and thinking about our dissertations by looking at different forms of research. We went on a journey through research land leaving no building or monument unexplored, looking at different ways of approaching research, from desk research to experiments and surveys. We also learned about communicating and evaluating research (the latter including a great class discussion of an article), statistics, ethics, and social media as a research tool. This module ended with a rather fantastic session in which students could pitch ideas for their dissertation, gaining instant feedback. My only regret is not not doing so myself, as I had an idea for a dissertation but preferred to keep quiet – those presentation skills were still hiding at that time.

In the final taught term I took Libraries and Publishing in the Information Society and, finally, Information Domains. The latter was my chosen module – other possibilities (across this course and its sister Information Science course) included Information Law and Policy, Web Applications Development and Data Visualization.

The mornings were spent in Libraries and Publishing in the Information Society, a really fascinating course that looked at the changing world of publishing in various contexts- trade publishing, academic, newspapers- and seeing how the electronic world and the Information Society has altered it. Again, we had a variety of guest lecturers giving extra insights into these areas.

In the afternoons we traversed the worlds of Information Domains by spending each week looking at the way a different subject area approaches its information. Our final guest lecturers visited us here and taught us information is organised, and, indeed, different, in areas such as Medicine, Chemistry, Music, Law, History and many more besides. Lectures on information in advertising, the everyday and general reference lectures added to the variety on offer.

For this one, we had to create an information resource on a topic of our choosing. Mine was the football club, Gillingham FC, and I had great fun scouring all kinds of resources on the net (including watching footage of old matches on YouTube and Pathe) as well as making trips to the British Library and Maidstone Public Library to look at books and fanzines. At the latter I even made an unexpected trip to the Kent History Centre to view a rare book wish came to me upon a lovely foam stand.

After that, the only thing left was the dissertation. Having been inspired by Information Theory in LISF and its associated coursework, I decided to look at it through the analysis of the relationship between Data, Information and Knowledge (or a Library Love Triangle, as the title put it). The most fun thing was finding a Cookie Monster quote in an article. This almost made me pack everything in. What further debate is required after Cookie Monster has had his say? Data from a cookie is turned into information by the tastebuds which in turn create the knowledge that cookies are good. Enough said.

In all seriousness, though, I really enjoyed this course – both meeting the lecturers, attending their classes, writing the essays and meeting some amazing coursemates along the way: all of whom I hope to meet further along the way during the career we are all embarking on.

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