the i-school and me

I'm not really in library school. Not yet, anyway.

The Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto calls itself an "iSchool," and claims to be the only such school in Canada. There are other graduate schools for library science, but an iSchool purports to have a broader focus. It's true, but it's also a marketing position.

The iSchool offers a PhD program, a Master of Museum Science, and a Master of Information (MI), which is my degree goal. (There are some other programs, like a combined MI/JD, and various other obscure combinations.) Within the Master of Information, there are a few different areas of concentrations, or paths: Library and Information Science, Archives and Records Management, Critical Information Studies, Information Systems and Design and Knowledge Management and Information Management.

They've introduced a new core curriculum required for all MI students regardless of path: Knowledge and Information in Society; Representation, Organization, Classification, and Meaning-Making; Information Systems, Services and Design; and Information Workshop, that integrates the other three. The core curriculum is supposed to give a thematic framework and provide context for future study.

About half the students in my classes are taking the library sciences path, and the other half is a mix of the other disciplines. The professors in both my classes asked us to introduce ourselves and say a few words about our background and goals; it was interesting to hear where people are coming from and what they want to do. There are IT professionals, systems designers, historians, artists, folklorists, and on and on - a very broad range of interests and perspectives.

Yesterday and today, I read several articles - as I will continue to do throughout the term - examining society's relationship to technology on a very theoretical and abstract level: how can humans' relationship to technology be seen, analyzed and discussed?

Perhaps a look at the weekly topics of the two courses I'm taking will give a better idea. These are the topic titles and my brief note as the prof went through each one.
Knowledge and Information in Society: course topic overview

Week 2: Myths and Imaginaries of Information Age
language, metaphors, images, maps representing information age

Week 3: Information Ethnography
apply social science concepts/frameworks/vocabulary to information age

Week 4: Political Economy of Information
who’s running the show? who exercises political and economic power in information field?

Week 5: Information as Property and as Common Resource
who owns information on social networking sites, on mmorpgs, forums; copyright laws as they apply or might apply to information

Week 6: Internet Governance
what’s at stake, who governs, how do they govern [not only internet – all our info]

Week 7: Sovereignty, Citizenship & Consumerism
where does social change happen?

Week 8: ICT4D
Information & Communication Technologies for Development - is such a thing really possible, what is commonly believed, what might work

Week 9: Surveillance & Control
who gets to see your information and what can they do with that information, what power do they have over you – asymmetry of surveillance
can surveillance be imagined in a more benign or more accountable way?

Week 10: Policy Issues: Privacy, Identity & Access
privacy: our ability to retain control of our information [ID card, enhanced driver’s licence, r’ship btn you & your ID dox]
access: your access to information about yourself
[see Ipsi, Identity, Privacy, Security Institute, lectures archived online]

Week 11: Sociology of Knowledge
Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour – most prominent in field

Week 12: Information Education & Professionalism
what binds us together w/in multidisciplinary field; how to define information professionals; codes of conduct w/in field

Week 13: Integrative Round Table

I feel a bit strange about the whole thing. A bit resentful. A bit like I'm in the wrong place.

I love learning, and I'm interested in a very broad range of topics. So it's not that these topics are uninteresting. As a writer, blogger and activist, someone concerned with freedom of expression and access to information, I'll probably find at least some of it relevant to my interests.

But none of it is what I would choose to be doing right now.

For me, this program is a means to an end. I need a career change. I need it financially, and I'm increasingly realizing that I need it physically. (As I get older, the repetitive stress injuries will become more severe and more frequent.) I think I'll make a great librarian. I think it's meaningful work that I will enjoy, and will help me live a more comfortable life.

But do I really need this Master of Information program to become a good librarian? I doubt it. But some combination of academic and professional gatekeepers have decided that I do. So here I am reading about "the social constructions of technological systems" and "technology and heterogeneous engineering".

And I resent it because it's not want I want to read (even though I might find the reading interesting). The list of things I want to read is very long and always growing, and I have so little time to read. And now I'm spending precious reading time reading this other stuff, taking me off my plan.

That's how I feel about the whole program. Like it's a great big detour taking me out of what I want to do. But I also know I need to do this and it's the right thing to do. A contradiction, but there you go.

This is similar to how I felt about going to New Mexico for my nephew's wedding. I love my nephew so much, and it was an honour and a joy to attend his wedding. I had a great time with my family, and a terrific time driving, hiking and exploring with Allan. But... there are so many places I want to go, so many trips I want to make and can't afford. And on some level, I disliked and somewhat resented having to spend my scarce travel dollars on a trip not of my own choosing.

I live with a constant and profound sense of time moving very quickly, and being finite. My active time is further limited by my health issues. This is what underlies my need to be organized and not waste time, my need to have a game plan or defined approach to almost everything I do: my deep need to experience as much of life as I can. Anything that takes me off my game plan annoys me.

Of course, changing careers is part of my game plan right now, so this is what I have to do. Yet I can't help but think that I could become a qualified librarian through a one-year training course followed by on-the-job training, the latter being the way I've learned how to do almost everything.

On the positive side, this process feels very concrete and circumscribed. I have to complete 16 courses. I can check them off as I go, and after 16 check marks, I'll have my Master of Information degree. The process is much more clearly defined than so many things I've done. How does one become a writer? There's no clear path to that goal, it's mostly self-defined, and the standards are all subjective. By contrast, school will be easy.

And as I said, I do think it will be interesting. I just wish I didn't have to do it.

More banal thoughts on my first days of classes coming next.

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