Saturday, June 02, 2007

What I learned in library school

I started thinking about what I learned in library school when I read Jennifer's Life as I Know It and then Library Garden's blog posts about library education.

In Life as I Know It, she laments the lack of library 2.0 education and discusses some of the rigorous coursework she has so far endured:


"So, the basic building blocks have been covered. What have I learned beyond that? I have been taking as many management classes (and classes relating to academic libraries) as possible. These classes have focused on managing resources - including people. I sometimes find these classes painful because so many of the case studies and discussions reflect my real world experiences. However, they are vital classes - and I think they are making me more confident about my ability to make managerial decisions (I do have a job where I manage a department).

Technology is a big problem - one that I don’t think we have dealt with successfully in the work environment never mind in the education environment. Everyone who works in library-related fields needs to be technologically competent. It isn’t going away. We will only continue to become more dependent on systems, on the internet, on computers and portable devices. With new operating systems that continue to lock down computers and impose stricter restrictions to fight spyware, viruses and intrusion, people need to know how their computers work - and how to configure them. I am concerned about how we teach this to people. We do not do a good job of it. This isn’t something that happens at library school."

She takes a realistic approach when looking at library school. She knows that she will learn practical things on the job and is taking classes to help her in what she is doing now. However, she laments that there is not enough technology training incorporated into the library school curriculum. In fact, many of the students are resistant to this training. This is no surprise. I remember when I went to library school how many of the students had unrealistic expectations on what the library world is like and that their coursework involved training for jobs in which few exist. I have always been an advocate for public libraries and had wanted to go into public libraries since I worked in an academic library. I had a realistic expectation that public libraries would have more jobs, they would pay better, but that their resources would be scarce and the patrons would need much more basic assistance. Most students will need to realize that technology will permeate all of their job functions, but it is not necessarily the library school's job to teach that. Some schools are developing a joint MLS/MIS curriculum where librarians are both information providers and information technicians. This is the future.

However, most of what a library school education does it to prepare your mind for the rigorous activity of being a librarian. I learned to do things you would never think you would learn in library school. I learned to:

Read Minds
Predict the Future
Defeat Bureaucracy

It came in the strangest of classes, Epistemology, Economics of Libraries, and Public Administration. All of these classes were not taught by librarians. In epistemology, I learned how people think, why they thought what they did, and how best to use this information to get down to the real problem. If a patron had a question, I was better able to extract what they REALLY wanted based on the information given. By understanding exactly what the patron wanted and being able to get that information quickly, I appear to be a mind-reader. It is not a difficult trick.

In Economics of libraries, I learned all about statistics and how to apply it to all things libraries. This has allowed me to predict when our collection will run out of space and what that will mean for library operations. At this point, our library is out of collection space, so we will need to weed as much as we buy. Knowing that a year in advance of the action that we need to take allows us to rearrange our service levels to make time for additional weeding (or to find ways to better market the collection so that there are less books on the shelves :)). Using simple math, one can begin to justify why we need staff now, that our library provides $10 or service for every $1 provided by taxpayers (or $8million of service for $800,000 worth of taxes), and why we need to build a branch in a particular based on business trends, demographic, and socioeconomic trends.

Lastly, I learned how to battle bureaucracy. One needs to understand how an organization works, and learn how to work with it to turn the ship in the right direction.

I never learned anything about technology in library school. The only technology class I have ever taken was a basic computer class in college on how to use a Mac. Yet, I was able to teach technology classes, understand computer systems, and train library staff on complex technology issues dealing with an ILS, public access computers, and the various ins and outs of a library's technology needs. Technology cannot always be taught, those who see its value will learn on their own, and those who don't will not be dragged to a computer class. Everyone finds their own path and it's never the same path. That is a good thing for librarianship.


Leglib said...

Your posting is very interesting and topical. Thanks for your quality perspective.

If you have the inclination, please have a peep at "Check The Meaning" on the Library Bitch blog, and my posting "Which kind of librarian are you?". The postings may be of interest to you & your readers.

If I may, I'd like to link to your blog.

Thanks, again.

Anonymous said...

I am a volunteer in a small church library. I am a retired classroom teacher who taught basic library organization to my students. We are currently working on putting the library on computers. I am adding the books to the computer, but I feel I would do a better job if I knew more about how the library works. I have read some of the guide book for the program called Concourse. I feel lost because I don't understand the ins and outs of library organization. Our librarian is a volunteer. She isn't formally trained, but did on the job training in Fort Rucker in Alabama. Could you suggest what I could do to train myself in library work. Thank you.