Why “What I didn’t learn in library school” doesn’t really matter, with a caveat

Librarians are very good at making lists, especially of all the things that we did not learn at library school.

LIS curricula is a special interest for me – I work on projects in a number of countries where LIS is dated or simply non-existent, and I am interested in how they can develop researchers and modern curricula. Earlier this year, I met with groups of LIS students at two different schools in the US to hear more about their hopes and fears as they were about to join our profession. And I have also been in library school more times than most, graduating with three LIS qualifications. This year I’ve also been on the other side, doing some sessional work at my alma mater.

I’ve seen a number of trends come and go already in my time in the profession. Remember when we were all encouraged to learn how to code, or get MBAs to learn marketing and how to make libraries leaner and more entrepreneurial? Or when academic librarians were required to have a second degree? (Although this still mostly applies at some universities in the US).

The issue with library school, as I see it, is that there is such an endless combination of topics and specialisms that could be offered, if only for time, money, student numbers, and hindsight. There will always be more to learn. There will always be content that while in school, seemed relevant – but then times change, or you move into a different aspect of library work and you need something different.

Librarianship is the ultimate extensible profession. We have been given the knowledge and tools to learn for ourselves throughout our career. Whatever you are doing now, you may not be doing in 5 years time.

This is not to say that I think library school doesn’t need updating or to adapt regularly – it does. Make the most of your time while you are there, but once you graduate, the rest is up to you, with some help from your employer. Learn from other disciplines if the topic you want is not offered in library school. Attend short courses. Go to conferences. Follow research in different disciplines. Listen to podcasts or iTunesU. Make your own learning.

A caveat. There is one topic that is becoming central to the way libraries operate, and which I would like to see more curricula devoted to: licensing and its impact on access to information in libraries. Will libraries continue to purchase content in the future, or just license? How can librarians at every level advocate for equitable access when acquiring materials? How can we improve our understanding of licenses and develop stronger negotiation skills? While licensing is the ‘now’ topic, underneath this are fundamentals critical to being a successful librarian at any time: advocacy, negotiation, equitable access.

So long as you have grounding in the fundamentals, everything else can be built from there. We have a great, flexible profession. Make it yours.

Posted in learning | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Why “What I didn’t learn in library school” doesn’t really matter, with a caveat

  1. I like when you say that “librarianship is the ultimate extensible profession.” We’re good at helping other learn but also know how to learn ourselves. We’re professional life-long learners. That’s one of the things I love about this job and probably the main reason i became a librarian. Because I’m curious and I want to inspire that same curiosity in others. I can read books on marketing or education theory or leadership and they all fit in to things that we are trying to accomplish in our jobs.

    I also think that folks should not let opportunities pass them by in grad school and take only what is offered on the menu of courses in the LIS curriculum. If they don’t offer a course in marketing and you are interested, you should find one in the marketing department. Perhaps you can take a course or two outside the standard curriculum, or you could even audit it. In grad school I knew I was weak in public speaking, so I joined a local chapter of Toastmaster’s because I knew it would be important. You have to not only take learning opportunities that are presented to you. You have to go out and find or create your own. In grad school and afterwards. We definitely cannot learn everything in two years of grad school (or ten years for that matter). I like how you put it about make you’re own learning. You’re spot on. We need to be proactive in our continual education.

  2. Fiona says:

    I agree with you Andy that students should seek out courses outside of LIS. It is good to have a broad perspective that doesn’t consider, for instance, ‘how do libraries market themselves’ but how do different sectors market themselves and therefore, how do we get libraries to stand out from the crowd?

    Inspiring curiosity: definitely the reason I became a librarian.