By Heather Walker (2nd year ARM Student 2019-2021)
In looking back at my first year as a graduate student at the iSchool, I can scarcely believe how much I have developed my academic and personal interests within such a short space of time. I was accepted into the Master of Information program in Fall 2019, with a concentration in Archives and Records Management, otherwise known as ARM! I came to the program after almost 10 years of travel and work, where I had gained a variety of experience in the creative arts as an administrator and coordinator. Many aspects of my previous jobs revolved around being a meticulous record-keeper, managing complicated schedules, and acting as a conduit of information within diverse and fast-paced teams. When I started to consider returning to education, I knew that my background in media, technology and knowledge-sharing would guide my decision, and I am so glad I made the leap!
As a somewhat mature student in my 30s, it was incredibly daunting to imagine myself in a classroom full of bright young things straight out of undergrad. I found the faculty “Information Days” so informative, as I could really start to place myself in this somewhat unfamiliar academic environment. I know the world has changed a lot since last summer, but my advice for those joining the programme is to get involved in the virtual events, groups and meet-ups in the next few months. Now more than ever, we all need to push ourselves a bit to build a meaningful and supportive iSchool community, and create new opportunities to connect with each other.
As for your courses and schedule, I would tell incoming students not to worry too much about trying to do it all. There are indeed some mandatory courses within the concentrations, but there is also the flexibility to be curious and exploratory. Take the time to look at all the courses available to you in the other concentrations, and build the education you want. The iSchool has allowed me to pursue the wide-ranging skillsets of an aspiring archivist, as well as discover other fields related to librarianship, UXD and systems design. An interdisciplinary and holistic approach will help to broaden your outlook on how information is communicated within varied environments.
Of course, leaving full-time employment is a difficult prospect for anyone at the moment. Take the time to apply for any on-campus jobs or co-op programs that will allow you to earn and learn while you complete your degree. Having relevant practical experience is essential to setting yourself up for success after graduation. In particular, the TALint (Toronto Academic Library Intern) program provides 15 hours per week of paid employment for the full two years of your studies, including summers, and has been immeasurably beneficial for my own professional development. There are a number of positions across libraries and archives in the UTL system, and it is a fantastic opportunity to apply your theoretical education in the workplace. I work at the Media Commons Archive, where I assist in the processing of collections from filmmakers and artists, and I feel very lucky that I can develop these hands-on skills throughout my studies!
We won’t get to see each other in person this September, but I hope we will find new ways to navigate and thrive in the remote learning model. I would really encourage everyone to get involved in the student groups and societies that interest you, so you can find your voice and contribute to the community. Here is where I insert my shameless plug to join the student chapters of the ACA (Association of Canadian Archivists) and AMIA (Association of Moving Image Archivists), as we hope to welcome many new students into both groups this year!
And one final note, the Faculty of Information loves acronyms, but I’m convinced nobody knows what they all mean!
All photos courtesy of Heather Walker.