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[Image] MLIS Thesis Combines a Student's Two Passions

MLIS Thesis Combines a Student's Two Passions

Jihee Beak, an MLIS candidate at SOIS, combined two of her passions, school media librarianship and the organization of information, to study school media specialists in the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system. For Beak, a native of South Korea, it was an eye-opening experience, especially into the American system of education. “In Korea, there are hardly any school media specialists,” she said. 

Initially, Beak sought the advice of SOIS lecturer Bonnie Withers, who introduced Beak to the Whitefish Bay school system through a storytelling project. Withers, who teaches courses in the School Library Media program, helped Beak contact several school media specialists and familiarize herself with the MPS system.

Using that introduction, Beak decided to focus on the organization of information in MPS libraries and what role school media specialists played in organizing materials. Using the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) – which can be found at www.en.childrenslibrary.org – as an example, Beak compared the unique methods MPS library catalogs used to categorize materials in their visual search options. The ICDL helps children find materials by utilizing categories like “Make Believe Books,” or “Real Animal Characters,” and allowing children to search by the color of the cover of the book.

Another aspect of Beak’s study was the level of familiarity and influence school media specialists had on the information organization in their catalogs. Beak eventually broke her study down into two distinct parts: 1) a study of 100 elementary school catalogs through the MPS system and 2) surveys of 41 school media specialists in Milwaukee. Conducting the surveys ended up being an education in itself. “I had a lot of professors look at my questions,” said Beak, who also went through the process of submitting her survey to UWM’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), which sanctions university studies.
In her analysis of the catalogs, Beak found that a lot have added special categories that either correspond to teacher’s reading lists or Wisconsin topics. She also found that a lot of librarians would like to implement more virtual search options like that of the ICDL, but face time and monetary restrictions.

After finishing the project in August, Beak presented her findings twice in October. She first took part in SOIS’ Student Research Day at Golda Meir Library and then again in Appleton for the Student Research Forum at the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) conference. Beak said that presenting at the WLA conference was a big honor.

The independent research project began as Beak was ramping up to write a thesis. Beak, who studied school media librarianship at Kyungpook National University in Korea, is currently writing her thesis for her information organization concentration, and says she learned a lot about the approaches to surveys and how to structure research questions. “[The project] didn’t go quite as I wanted it to, but overall it was a great experience,” said Beak.

Beak now expects to take the knowledge she gained from the project to write her graduate thesis. For the thesis, she’s chosen to pursue a study on the usage of metadata in the ICDL. She says she’s excited to be working with the organization of children’s material again. “It’s what I enjoy doing,” she said.