originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Intersections magazine
For Illinois native Robert Sarwark, the decision to pursue a master's degree at GSLIS was an obvious one. As an MS/LIS student and graduate assistant at the International and Area Studies Library, he's now pursuing a range of interests, including information access, communications and languages, and special collections.
Why did you decide to pursue an LIS degree?
I have another master’s degree—in Portuguese—and I knew that with the MS in LIS, I would be able to really make myself more marketable when applying for jobs at colleges and universities in the LIS field and beyond. In addition to that, the science of organizing information and what that really means are issues that resonate with and challenge me in a constructive way. I'm particularly interested in the art of communicating—linguistically, cross-culturally, institutionally, artistically, or otherwise—and how this intersects with the ways that we go about accessing and utilizing the information that actually comprises or influences those communications.
Why did you choose GSLIS?
I have a dear old friend who graduated from GSLIS in 2013. Since he was in a similar position as myself before he went for the MS (he had an MA as well), I wanted to know how he had leveraged the two degrees together to find a great job as an instructional librarian immediately after graduating. His story convinced me that the solution to my situation at the time was to combine the two. What's more, since GSLIS is so highly regarded and ranked in the field, and I'm an Illinois native, the choice was clear!
What particular LIS topics interest you most?
Special collections is one. I'm really interested in how and why certain "special" artifacts or materials are cataloged as well as the larger issues of value and notability. This, in part, led me to complete a summer practicum at Chicago's Button Museum of the Busy Beaver Button Co., which had me cataloging and describing dozens of pinback buttons, some going back as far as Abraham Lincoln's second presidential campaign.
Also, community informatics seems like something that will be very interesting. I'm just starting a course with Kate Williams in this area and it already seems like it will strongly relate to my interests in the intersection of communications and information.
I work as a graduate assistant at the International and Area Studies Library and have really enjoyed working on projects that aim to facilitate students' study and research of foreign languages, history, culture, and more. I also get to put my Portuguese and Spanish skills to use while simultaneously learning how to read other scripts (Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, etc.) and understand methods of librarianship from countries outside of the United States.
I'm also really interested in intellectual property and intellectual freedom/censorship issues. I could go on and on with this one but suffice it to say that we live in interesting times in relation to these particular issues.
What do you do outside of class?
I try to write as much as possible. I'm currently working on a few different things: a chapbook of short stories and other comedic pieces I've accumulated over the years and a book of children's stories, as well as music and/or lyrics. I'm currently collaborating with fellow GSLIS student and piano-man Nate Evans on recording demos for some of these songs. The working title for our band is Trigger Warnings, though Nate doesn't know that yet.
What career plans or goals do you have?
In all honesty, I'd like to have both a 9-to-5 job in the LIS field—probably at either an academic or municipal library—as well as enough free time to pursue my own creative interests. The great thing about LIS, though, is how it is already very much related to my creative interests. So there is no conflict of interest there. Maybe one day I'll be able to work for myself in some capacity, but in the meantime a real sense of tranquility comes over me thinking that I could be doing the kinds of things that I already do on a daily basis with my assistantship. Barring that, I wouldn't be opposed to applying for a full-time position as a Peace Corps recruiter. I'm currently doing that parttime here at Illinois, and I can say with certainty that many LIS core competencies like access, research, and data mining come in very handy with multiple aspects of this job.