Few of us have managed to keep actively swashbuckling this year, but in true Bookaneers fashion I’m feeling a burgeoning in my desire to post something, and in my stock of discussion topics. I promise I’ll try to keep it vaguely focused and under control (in order to spare you, dear readers, I’ve relegated some of what I feel the need to say right now to comments on previous posts).
First off, though, let my fond hope be known: that this blog will prove a gathering place for bright minds and scintillating discussion (and perhaps even idling) as we—well, most of us—move on from library school to the rest of the wide world. Let our physical dispersal only reinforce our intentionality in posting!
That said, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on my experiences with the group work aspect of library school. In a conversation with a professor last night I mentioned that it’s only in the past two years, through having to write papers cooperatively, that I really feel I’ve learned how to write. He expressed surprise and mentioned that this isn’t a perspective he often hears. And it got me thinking—do we not discuss the beneficial aspects of group work because they're few and far between, or because group projects are just one of those things we’re used to complaining about, perhaps using to commiserate?
When I say I learned to write, of course, I don’t mean how to string a sentence or some thoughts together, but how to approach writing—how to respect and give myself enough time to work through the process. I’m sure that part of this has to do with observing other work styles up close and seeing where they are more (or less) effective than my own; and that part of it is the inevitable result of continuing to write, get feedback, adjust, repeat. But I don’t think this shift would have happened as quickly or enjoyably were it not for a few specific projects during which I was finally able to experience the ideal goal of group work: dividing responsibility and feeling confident your colleagues will do their part; refining ideas together; and building upon one another’s insights to create something that none of you could have come up with on your own.
In reflecting on the power of these experiences in my own graduate school career--the affirming effect they’ve had on my feelings about my decision to enter this particular field, as well as shifting my perspective on the value and possibilities of group work in general--I’m struck by two things in particular.
The first is the centrality to this transformation of the specific people I’ve worked with; obviously this type of learning comes most easily when the group you’re paired with are effective writers, workers, and collaborators themselves, and you all have something to teach one another (and are willing to learn). The second is the contrast between the several very positive group work experiences I have had, and the (about as frequent) extremely negative and frustrating attempts at productivity in groups that did not work well together. I’m sure we’re all more than familiar with that particular story—the member who won’t pull their weight, doesn’t follow through on promises, and/or relies on the fact that someone in the group will care enough to take on more than their share if it becomes clear that’s the only way things are going to get done.
There seems to be a prevalence of group work in library masters' programs in particular, and I've often heard its use discussed with reference to the collaborative nature of the field. Given that I've been in plenty of group projects since early grades but never found this felicitous convergence of skills and personalities until now, I would love to hear what others think. Are we all just more mature and ready to work together? Or are my expectations now too idealistic, and did I just get lucky with my groupmates? (Or my cohort—there are a number of other people I could imagine being happy to work alongside). What’s been your experience with group projects? The ratio or range of bad-to-good? Are group projects a useful approach for library schools to employ? And, for those in the work world, did any of these experiences prove useful in preparing you for employment in the field?