What I DID Learn in Library School

Since earning my degree, I’ve seen lots of comments on listservs (NEWLIB) and posts on blogs (Annoyed Librarian and Chronicles of Bean) about what people think they should have/wish they would have learned in library school. There’s the endless debate over whether or not our Masters programs are preparing librarians well enough or even whether or not they’re necessary. Well, I want to take a moment and say that I’m extremely happy with my MLIS education. Sure, there were plenty of things I didn’t learn and have had to pick up on the job, but most of these seem specific to my library and I’m sure I would have to re-learn them should I move to a new library (library instruction request procedures, reference policies, etc.). For the most part, though, I’m proud of my education and grateful that it provided me with a good amount of information and resources to survive (and dare I say, flourish) in this profession.

So, without further ado, here’s my list of things I’m glad I learned in library school:

1. The Importance of Continuing Education. From the start, our professors taught us that continuing education is possibly one of the most important aspects of librarianship. Whether you participate in a free web seminar, attend workshops at conferences, or set up journal alerts to keep up with the latest happenings, continuing education is a must. While in school, I was lucky enough to have many opportunities to participate in these sorts of things, which definitely helped me get into the “continuing ed” mindset.

2. Why We Should Pay Attention to the Environment. My Academic Libraries professor stressed the need to keep a keen eye on the world of higher education. She reminded us that academic libraries are intrinsically connected to the politics of their parent institution; trends in higher education can most definitely trickle down to libraries. For this reason, The Chronicle of Higher Ed is one of the top reads in my RSS Feed.

3. How to Collaborate with Faculty. Having a strong, friendly relationship with the faculty on campus is crucial to the success of an academic library. I learned this firsthand during my field experience. I assisted the art liaison in working together with members of the art department to select books and discuss programs. I have been very thankful for that experience in my current job, where collaborating with faculty is a huge part of what I do.

4. How to Give a Good Presentation. Another thing we were taught in library school was to never underestimate the value of a well-done PowerPoint presentation. It won’t hold its own, but it will certainly make what you have to say a lot more attractive. I can’t even count the number of group projects, presentations, etc. that we were required to do. I can tell you, however, that my presenting skills have stayed well-maintained and I always jump at the chance to use PowerPoint as a visual aid.

5. The Infamous Reference Interview. When I started library school, I had absolutely no idea what a “reference interview” was. When we had to role play in reference class, I thought it was a little odd … I mean, don’t people just ask what they want to know? Working at a reference desk has given me that answer: no. Although no library school could ever teach you everything you need to know about reference resources (that’s specific to your library), I value knowing how to find out what someone REALLY wants to know.

6. Networking, Networking, Networking. The professors couldn’t stress it enough — grab up every opportunity to network that you possibly can; you never know when that person can be of assistance to you down the road. This may seem obvious, but I had honestly never thought that much about networking before I got to library school. Now I feel a lot more confident making the initial contact, knowing how beneficial it really can be.

7. Taking Baby Steps in Publishing. Probably one of the most important things I learned is that the old “publish or perish” mantra doesn’t have to be a scary thing. Starting out small is the best way to lead yourself into the world of publishing. I know that the blogging I do for ACRLog and the reviews I write for Public Services Quarterly will make it a heck of a lot easier to finally get myself moving on writing an actual paper (a day that is probably coming soon!).

There are plenty of other things I’m glad I learned (including a number of very helpful ideas and theories in my Information Literacy Instruction class), but I’ll just finish off by saying a sincere “thank you” to Dean Paskoff and the faculty of the School of Library and Information Science at Louisiana State University. You definitely made it easier for me to make the transition from undergraduate to Masters student to new librarian!

15 thoughts on “What I DID Learn in Library School”

  1. Wow. I wish I’d learned how to collaborate with faculty in my program. Which class was that? It’s certainly something that can be different depending on your institution’s environment, and I’m sure I’ll learn it on the job, but how did they go about teaching you that in an LIS program?

  2. Melissa,

    Excellent post! I’m especially impressed that you remembered to include “The Infamous Reference Interview.” So important, and way too often overlooked. Also, I’ll echo Josh’s point: I, too, wish I’d learned how to collaborate with faculty.

    My only nit: PowerPoint is almost always evil. I wish, instead of a Terms of Service license, people had to read Tufte’s “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint” before being allowed to use it. Perhaps then we’d make it a point to become as adept as PPT as Lawrence Lessig is at Keynote (see his 2007 Ted Talk or the alpha version of his Corruption Lecture).

  3. She mentions that she learned about collaborating from faculty during her field experience. This brings up a key issue in library education: How many grad students are getting experience in a library WHILE studying? How many are waiting until they hit the job market? We heavily encourage our grads to intern in the academic library and only a handful do. I definitely appreciate what I learned in my program, but I would have had plenty of gaps if I hadn’t worked in an academic library setting as well.

  4. I think that Melissa’s point about learning about faculty collaboration in her field experience (not a class) is an important example of why field experience, internships and other “real life” exposure to libraries is an essential part of library school edcuation. I’ve spoken with too many library school students enrolled in my state’s only library school who feel that they are simply too busy for an internship or field placement. I try to impart on them the importance of experience, especially when looking for jobs in the academic market, but I fear the message too often falls on deaf ears.

  5. Thanks for your comments, everyone! I did learn about faculty collaboration in my Academic Libraries and Information Literacy Instruction classes, but Jennifer is right — the best exposure was in my field experience. I got to put into practice the ideas and approaches we talked about in class.

  6. Melissa, I’m curious. Did any of your classes discuss the values and ethics of the profession? Things like freedom of access to information, patron privacy, ethical use of information (including citation and plagiarism, but also distribution of access)? Or the more meta-question of what makes a librarian a professional? I’m beginning to sense a shifting climate in this regard, and I’d like to know how library schools are addressing these issues.

  7. Hi Marilyn. Actually, professional ethics and values was an oft-mentioned topic in my program. We had a class called Foundations in LIS, which discussed these issues in length (we wrote papers on the Code of Ethics) but all of the other core classes, and even electives, mentioned access to info, ethics, etc. in some way or another. We even had a question on our final comprehensive exam about why librarianship is a “profession.”

  8. WOO HOO! Go Melissa!! Saw a link to this on American Libraries Direct and thought “hey, I know her…I went to school with her!” How cool to see your writing linked to ALA Direct!

  9. 1. the reference interview – use it ALL the time
    2. the world & wonder of government docs
    3. foundations (ethics, history, types of libraries)
    4. cataloging theory (I’m still bad at the practice)
    5. the world of book publishing
    6. techniques of information finding

    It was well worth the 2 years in library school. Much more practically useful than teacher certification 🙁

  10. Good to know, Melissa! And I like the question from your final comp. I wonder how readers of this blog would respond to the question, “Why is librarianship a profession?”

  11. I got a job as a director straight out of library school. Things I did learn: why good cataloging is so necessary, Why we need to adjust to a rapidly changing clientele, why Ranganathan, Dewey, and Cutter are the gods of librarydom (although I still think Ranganathan was out of his mind), how difficult reference work really is. The big thing I did NOT learn: that being a library director means you don’t get a lot of time to actually be a librarian.

  12. One of the best courses I took was a Bibliographic Instruction practicum (we were required to do a practicum of some kind, and this was one of the most popular choices.) If there’s one thing that’s behind almost every interaction a librarian/research and info specialist has with the public, it’s teaching, and that course was full of wonderful strategies in teaching about libraries and library resources. Definitely, having a component where we applied what we learned was invaluable.

    Marilyn–Excellent, thought provoking question! Every class we had made some connection to the values and ethics of the profession. I won’t write an entire essay about why librarianship is a profession, but I will say that the definitions for “profession” (in the occupational sense) I’ve read mention specialized training (which I certainly got in classes, as well as in the 2 student jobs and 2 practicums I had while I was in school), specialized knowledge (which librarians certainly have–I was shocked at how little I knew about libraries and librarianship after taking a few classes, and I doubt I am alone), a set of values and ethics (freedom of and access to information, commitment to customer service, engaging technology to further those two goals, etc.–of course, not every one who works in a library believes in these, but they are the generally stated values), and a representative association/certification process of some kind.

    While there may be some shifts in the topical focus of the profession (and the schools), I don’t think the underlying values are changing much, if at all.

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this article. Libraries are important! We all agree upon that, right? Then why isn’t higher education in libraries? Your comments are practical, refreshing and right-on! Thank you…again!

  14. I believe customer service training should be integrated in library education programs. Many times I have been to libraries, both public and academic and found the librarians engrossed in other activities other than helping library patrons. I would walk up to the reference desk and the Librarian would be talking to someone about her dog “Mikey.” New Librarians should be made aware of the importance of customer service. They should be taught that a welcoming attitude and expression should always greet the patron as he/she walks in the door of the library. Business education at some level should also be integrated.

    I am currently in Library School and had the most horrible experience while I was doing a course in my first semester. I walked in the library and asked the Librarian for reference materials on a subject. Based on the questions that I asked, she thought I was in library school or something—she did not want to answer my questions—she began to lecture me that if I am going to library school, I should be able to find the information myself, if I am going to be of help to others. I thought that was rude and uncaring.

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