Before I start this, I want to thank the Tumblarians who responded to my request for feedback on my questions. Not only did you spread the word, but you responded in amazing ways. Thank you all so very much.
It has been a while since an entry. Leslie has departed for the UK for a year at Oxford Brookes University to get a second masters degree in the History of Medicine. I have jumped feet first into the fall semester trying to build upon what I have already done and improve the service I provide as a librarian. More on that later. A few weeks ago the Tumblarians passed around this image:
It’s a meme!
It got me a bit fired up because it came a few weeks after a big Time article about the problem with the Millennial generation. I feel terrible for new librarians and I get frustrated seeing more and more come to the field without any idea of what they are walking into. Not only are they not seeing the problems with jobs in the field in general, but their education may not be preparing them properly.
This December will mark the 10 year anniversary of my graduation from my MLS program. I have been a professional librarian in the field for 9 years and have been in the field for about 15 years with my student positions (some a various levels of professional status). I had no idea what I was doing. I was told I had to learn how to catalog even though I knew I was going to be a reference/instruction/out reach librarian. I was told to take classes in the subject area of my preference so I would know what sources to direct people to. I was told to take an instruction class to learn how to teach (even though I had spent years supporting countless librarians in the classroom and was teaching a few myself). I was told to decide if I wanted to take a research class OR a management class. I was told to take tech classes like learning how to code webpages and how to manipulate search engines. So I did all of that and got into the field and had no real idea about what to do. Not that my colleagues had any other idea. They were still a bit stuck on the fact that this type of education was no longer useful for their own jobs.
I got very lucky with one thing though. My management professor was an adjunct with a 9-5 job as a library director. He was also a leader in the field when it came to management of academic libraries. I took a class on academic libraries with him. If it had not been for him, I would have been obsessed with the wrong things when I started my job. I did walk away from my degree with the ability to develop a project plan, the ability to build support for my ideas, and a sense of what issues were facing academic libraries. There were under-tones of his two classes: this degree will not prepare you for anything you deal with daily. Part of me has hoped that education has improved, but most of the value of my degree has really been in connections and it being a golden ticket into professional jobs that I had actually been trained for in the field. I get more value from professional development classes than I did from my MLS classes.
The problem, as I see it, is the divide between what they are teaching us as theory and what is happening practically. They are two different things because the web is changing our field. It’s no longer about the reference book that will help answer a question as much as how do we empower our users to find things. A lot of classes focused on minutiae details about how to catalog, how to search dialog, which source will answer this type of question. Many Tumblarians said their classes are focusing on really big picture issues like advocacy, censorship, and soft skills. A lot said they lacked a good management course. Another said a class about PR and outreach would have been great.
I agree! What have I learned on the job that I wish I had learned in school: information literacy (not BI), setting outcomes and assessment, creative thinking, pretty much all of what I learned at the ACRL Immersion program, leadership skills as well as more management, PR and outreach, grant writing (over other types of writing), and more that I can’t think of anymore. I wish my course work could have been better connected to the type of library I knew I wanted to work in. So many issues I learned about were for public libraries that have little to nothing to do with my job.
Management should have been required instead of a full cataloging course. Yes, I should have learned cataloging, but I only ever need the basics. A light course would have been much better to teach me why it’s important and how I will use it instead of how to measure a book so I can put it in the correct field on a MARC record. Research should have been required too since I was focusing on academic libraries. I don’t think it would have been too hard to design courses of study for people who do identify a specific type of library and position they want to have. Many have no idea, but most do know.
I will also put one other idea out there that many others have said to me (those who know our field, but aren’t part of it), yet no librarian has ever suggested it. Most practical fields require frequent re-certification of skills. I have teacher friends who spend their summers in continuing ed courses to keep their certification current. We are teachers, we are in a rapidly changing field. Why aren’t librarians expected to be certified and re-certified? I am not sure it’s the answer to our educational issues, but it is something worth considering.
See my original call for help on Tumbler and the responses people are adding. People are still adding comments and I am excited to see if anything changes.