iSchool Student Finds a New Path and Understanding in her Studies at SJSU and a Trip Abroad

Community Profile
Gayle O’Hara

“There is no way I could have done this without an online program. I needed to keep working and needed something flexible, so [the iSchool] was just the ticket.”

Gayle O’Hara
MLIS Student Graduating 2018

On a study abroad trip to Ireland, Gayle O’Hara took further steps toward her second career after 20 years in social work.

When asked what interests her about the LIS field, San José State University School of Information student Gayle O’Hara rolls out an old chestnut. “It’s cliched,” she says, “but ‘knowledge is power.’ I love the idea of preserving and making accessible all sorts of information.” Although O’Hara isn’t leaning towards public librarianship, free access to information and services for communities is inspiring to her. As a social worker for 20 years before attending the SJSU’s School of Information, O’Hara worked on the front lines trying to empower historically disenfranchised groups. “I found it wearing after 20 years,” says O’Hara. Not because of any disenchantment with her clients, but with the bureaucracy, systems, and policies that form barriers in front of people trying to move ahead in their lives. “Which is not to say everything flows smoothly in the LIS world,” notes O’Hara, “but it will be new to me and I think that the field is partly about accountability on a societal level.” As someone who did undergrad in sociology and her first master’s in social work, that’s appealing to O’Hara.

Seeking a new path to take, O’Hara thought about pursuing her MLIS for about two years. It was during a strike at her old position that pushed her to finally take the steps toward the new degree. Says O’Hara, “I was getting up and spending four to five hours a day on the picket lines.” That feeling of doing something, however, eased some of the daily tension she had begun to feel in her position. “That’s when I knew something had to give and I applied to the iSchool,” says O’Hara. “There is no way I could have done this without an online program. I needed to keep working and needed something flexible, so SJSU was just the ticket.” For her first semester, O’Hara only took INFO 200 to test the waters. “I figured if I did not like it after all,” says O’Hara, “or felt out of my depth, I could just call it quits. No harm, no foul. At least I tried.” O’Hara, of course, found that she loved her course work and the community built by the professors and students at SJSU. “I was convinced this was the right road for me.”

To the Libraries of Ireland and Back Again
Along with previous community profile subject Terra Emerson, O’Hara joined several of her fellow School of Information students and several University of North Carolina at Greensboro students on a three-week trip to the libraries and archives of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the summer of 2017. While there, O’Hara and her cohort (pictured below) sought to understand the role of libraries during conflicts like The Troubles and the LIS profession from a global perspective.

Discussing her ‘most informative’ LIS-related experience in Ireland, O’Hara reminisces about two LIS institutions in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “I loved Linen Hall Library and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). Linen Hall because the Northern Ireland Political Collection exemplified the best of the LIS field—a librarian having the foresight to know [the Troubles] was something unique that needed to be documented and preserved to eventually develop a better understanding not only of the conflict but also of the history of Northern Ireland and Ireland.” O’Hara goes on to say that the “ugliness” that comes with these conflicts is a part of who they are and needs to be acknowledged just as much as anything else—not taking sides, but recognizing it all around. As for PRONI, O’Hara says, “to me it’s a great example of a government archive and they seem more upfront about conflict being an essential part of the Northern Ireland identity. That is not something you see so much of in government archives here in the US.”

Beyond the Emerald Isle
Back at home, now O’Hara is hard at work on her MLIS at SJSU, with plans to graduate in December 2018. As influential an experience her trip to Ireland was, her course work at the iSchool has helped in her development as an LIS professional. “My INFO 200 professor Adele Reid,” she says, “was beyond helpful and provided a clear, comprehensive overview of the field and its challenges.” O’Hara’s INFO 204 class with Cheryl Dee and her INFO 266: Collection Management course with Wayne Disher have proven to be similarly helpful.

Although not her first time in Ireland, this particular experience abroad helped O’Hara gain a global understanding of the field she wants to enter. Although interested in the public libraries she visited, she was most fascinated by the archives’ priorities and struggles. “Neither archives nor the public libraries,” O’Hara says, “are so different from those in the United States.” O’Hara’s fascination with archival work extends to her own thoughts for her future. Says O’Hara, “I would love to work for the National Archives and Records Administration or the National Park Service. I do enjoy government archives, as frustrating as I sometimes find governmental policies and procedures to be.” O’Hara continues, “In part, I think this is where archivists are so important—preserving the accountability and transparency of government and improving access for all citizens.”

Always on the lookout for new experiences, O’Hara is also interested in working in a special collection somewhere, be it about a social movement, a certain community music, film. The possibilities for her are endless.