Where am I now? The Meanderings and Demons of a Dissertation Mind.

Presently I am drawn to thinking about the processes and difficulties of the dissertation cycle. Life works very much in phases, childhood, adolescence, various eras of our personal ‘ten yearly signpost,‘ to reach and meander past. Making sense of who we are and what we want from life is very much based on geography, family, cultural or religious beliefs, economic status, aspirations and educational impact. It is in these ‘knowledge ecosystems’ that we grow, learn and adapt and it could be argued that the dissertation draws on all of those elements within us.

Information literacy is steeped deep within life’s core, yet often, like Charlie Bucket in Mr Wonka’s longboat floating down a chocolate river, there is ‘no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going’ (Dahl, 2016. Chapter 18). Very much like a sorting machine we are funnelled into careers and choices according to the knowledge we collect and are exposed to. All the while data surrounds us, visually, textually and emotionally. This information pervades our lives influencing us and sucking us down various informational black holes leading us to places as yet undiscovered.

My academic year has flown by on a merry-go-round of lectures, philosophies, reading and digital adventures. I am drawn to thoughts of how education has changed me and what I will do with it? Yet first, the monumental adventure of completing a dissertation has to be overcome before thoughts of what next, invade.

I find a good place to start is usually history, especially if you are stuck! What has gone before can inform the present, or kick-start an idea.  You can agree or disagree with it but if it is out there in writing, art (performance) and music, it has the power to influence and take you places.

The dissertation is part of this and has remained a prized evidential status of academic ability dating back as far as the middle ages and evolving over centuries. The term thesis stems from the Greek θέσις ‘something put forth’ and dissertation, Latin for ‘a path’. It was originally a format to counter an argument or point by one scholar to another, thus at its core, remains the same. So, are you writing a thesis or a dissertation? Well, if you’re from the UK you would write a master’s dissertation as part of your taught module programme and a doctoral thesis for your PhD (Shepherd, 2015).

Information gleaned from Leiden University’s HORA EST! (2005) tells us that originally a ‘disputatio’ (dissertation) was a report with a subsequent discussion of content and stance. ‘After the initial arguments, the pro en contra [presented by the magister] a respondens took the floor to formulate and defend his position and subsequently refute the counterarguments which the opponentes put forward against his argumentation’ (Briemer et al, 2005. p.11).  Although the format has evolved, it shows a similar ethos, process and commitment to academic knowledge transfer via an argumentative position which seeks to explore a narrative. These dissertations and thesis forebears are not only documents of knowledge but an art form in their own right. Beautifully crafted title pages, handwritten in Latin, without the technology of a spell check, delete or cut and paste button, they are stored for posterity hidden in archives that wait to be rediscovered. Social history leaking out of their pages.

The Leiden University’s collection alone is made up of 15,000 dissertations of their own but holds nearly 100,000 archived dissertations in all, many older ones yet to be catalogued. These are chiefly dissertations from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, gathered from Dutch, European and the USA universities, (Breimer et al, 2005. p.13). This is truly an example of a historic information hunter-gatherer, ‘keeper of the record’ institution which documents the societal educational knowledge and evolution of thinkers leaving footprints for scholars to follow, build upon or ponder over. Much like  Otlet’s Mundanium (Wright, 2014) it values collecting and evidencing information for posterity.  Yet I wonder if posterity is an avid reader?

For now, I am deep in the literature that debates school library efficacy, plucking out those nuggets of information that will make my dissertation ooze with credibility, thoughtful reflection and salient points. I am adding to the waterfall of dissertations already in a lake of LIS research and finding that nagging self-doubt is part of the process. For inspiration, I have myself delved into the metaphysical pages of Humanities Commons institutional repository, learning from previous students content and approach.  As I follow in their footprints, perhaps one day someone will follow in mine. My thanks go to Ludi Price, Mariane Ou and Thomas Ash, amongst others,  for guiding me via their generously archived assignments, they have urged me to aspire to a higher form of writing.

Sharing knowledge is in our DNA, be that via enchanting tales or thrilling children’s stories, majestic and emotional poetry or factual mind-boggling research-based materials. Morals and knowledge permeate through their passages allowing the zigzagging of the mind to capture that which interests, resonates and illuminates thoughts into actions. Our dissertations are a part of that cycle, we are the authors of knowledge at this moment that will pass all to quickly.

During our busy daily responsibilities, working life or having a family to care for we stand the chance of being blinded seeing only the obvious, of living in a stasis or stagnation of the mind. We listen but on occasions do not hear, see or delve deeply enough into why? What was the hidden agenda? Who are they protecting or demonizing and who has what to gain? All this we must teach our young if they are to remain relevant and thriving.

Being a school/librarian is at times similar to being a metaphysical knight that has many guises; educator, administrator, social equality warrior, mind reader, funding wizard and emotional caregiver. A slayer of knowledge corrupting dragons that compete in tournaments against fake news by Facebook, Twitter or other media exploitative beasts that at times erroneously influence and make us ‘thought lazy’ by simply accepting what is placed before us.  

As CityLIS students we have been exposed to the other side of the information river, we have the bridge of tools that allow us to cross over to make a difference. Will we take up the standard of information warriors or remain information constrained as we move to our next stage of development? I find myself further along the road but far from my learning destination…may I never reach it, to reach it is to stop searching for the new or undiscovered.

Good luck and don’t be too hard on yourselves.

Thank you for stopping by.  P

First of two blogs as diary entry sharing the experiences of the dissertation process in fulfilment of the proposal commitment. All views are my own.



Briemer, D.D. Damen, J. Freedman, J. Hofstede, M. Katgert, J. Noordermeer, T. and Weijers, O. (2015) Hora Est! Leiden: Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden.

Wright, A. (2014) Cataloging the WorldPaul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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