As my Facebook and Instagram feeds are flooded with graduation photos, it’s time to reflect on my education, now that I graduated with my MLIS almost exactly a year ago. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the MLIS curricula, and for good reason. Education is expensive and job outlooks are bleak; it makes sense that we need to re-evaluate this investment. I’ve been critical of our degree myself. But as I’ve read many posts questioning the value of our degree, I’ve tried to take stock of the 2 years I spent in school and consider how some of my more theoretical courses have made me a better librarian.
I am a strong believer that students need to be realistic about what to expect from a graduate degree. Only getting practical, task-based skills is not the point of our education. I agree that our classes should offer meaningful, thoughtful assignments we can include in our portfolios and should be testaments to our employable skills, but they should primarily give us the necessary conceptual tools to be innovative, creative professionals. In other words, theory matters; having a strong foundation in theory is one of the things that separates librarians from other library staff. Now that I’m a year out of my education, and a year into my professional career, I’ve reflected on some of the more theoretical courses I took in school and how they’ve helped my career so far.
Digital Media Collections: this class was, probably, intended for students who wanted to go on to do video or multimedia curatorial work. In this course, we explored the idea that collection design is a form of argument, expression, and experience. We learned how to figure out a purpose and audience for a collection; how to best select, organize, and describe items in a collection; issues of copyright, fair use, and creative commons licenses; and how to best present our digital media collections. The final project was building our own video collection on a certain topic. Though I have never worked with digital media collection building, or even print collection building, this class gave me the skills to:
thoughtfully consider how to best organize and present resources in instructional Lib Guides;
determine who my potential audience(s) is/are when developing instructional workshops;
- plan library resources and services in ways that are commensurate with open access and/or fair use principles;
articulate some assumptions database and search engines make when organizing and structuring results, which helps me aid students on the reference desk.
Classification Theory: this class was intended for theory nerds like me (I can only assume). In this course, we explored different classification systems and investigated how classification can be a political act. The final project was a critical paper. Though I am a self-professed theory buff, the knowledge gained from this class has been instrumental in my contributions to developing an information literacy curriculum in my university. Among other skills, this course has helped me:
articulate the differences in classification and retrieval systems. I use this articulation to help students better understand why they get the search results they get and when they should look to the open web or databases;
implement a critical pedagogy in my instruction; this class helped me to understand how some students can feel marginalized by traditional search engines and classification systems.
Social Media for Information Professionals: potentially the most wishy-washy course on the schedule that semester, I took this course because it fit the best with my courseload (honesty, right?) In the class, we read McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Massage” and other mass media theorists, particularly as they relate to the concept of “value added”. The final projects were a presentation on how an information organization would use a social media site of our choice (I chose Pinterest) and a critical paper. As a librarian, I’ve used the theory to:
co-develop a social media plan for our library’s marketing and outreach activities;
think critically about if, how, and when we should adopt particular social media for the library to have the most impact on our mission
Undoubtedly, some of our programs need to do a better job of knowing what it wants to be. Some schools are more professional in nature, and do a great job of offering quality “core librarian” courses, like reference, instruction, cataloging, and archiving. Students who work full-time, or have children, or would otherwise not be able to gain much practical out-of-the-classroom experience are some types of students who would be a good fit for these programs. At the same time, there is a lot of professional experience to be gained from more theoretical or non-traditional library school courses. As is often the case, we don’t always know what we’ve gained until we’ve needed it.
Have any of the classes you took in grad school been surprisingly useful in your career? With the benefit of hindsight, what do you wish you had or hadn’t taken? Leave a comment or tweet your thoughts to me @beccakatharine.