Musings on Library Education

In May, Amy Kearns started a great discussion about the state of library science education by asking What are the library students of today learning? over on the Library Garden blog. I gave a summary of what I have been learning – as did several others.

A couple of things stood out for me from these discussions. One is a comment from Jeff Scott’s Gather No Dust response. Scott is discussing the issue of technology. He writes: “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.” I have to agree that there in fact do seem to people who get technology and those who do not – and that taking a basic computer class may not actually help those who do not get it. But can we just accept that there are people who won’t get it and leave them to flounder? Personally, I believe that we need to deal with this issue better. How can we as a society expect ourselves to succeed if we depend upon something that a good portion of our society doesn’t get? Are we in libraries dooming ourselves by providing services that require technology that people won’t be able to use successfully?

Of course, it was really Scott’s next sentence that made me stop and think a great deal about library school. “Everyone finds their own path and it’s never the same path.” In 11 words, Scott gets to the heart of the problem – everyone is different. No two students will have the same reaction to their experience in library school – even if they attended the same institution and took the exact same classes. One could have found the experience fulfilling, while the other might have found it lacking. And really, there is no way of telling which student will be the better librarian. It is about finding one’s own path, making the most of the opportunities presented and forging one’s own way. I do not think this means that library education is perfect – I don’t. There many problems and issues. However, I will not ever say that my library education was not worth it – regardless of how I actually feel about my program, my classes, my professors and/or my experiences at SCSU. I am forging my own path – and I’m putting a great deal of my current educational experience under the heading of “That which doesn’t kill me will make my stronger.”

Another take on the issue comes from Emily Clasper over at Library Revolution. She writes: “In all of my other classes, I learned… well, really nothing of interest or real relevance.” This doesn’t sound like a good experience at all. Fortunately, I have had some excellent experiences at SCSU. Later, she adds

If I had it to do again, I would go to library school. Frankly, I needed the degree to advance in the field. But this time I would blow it off, and not spend so much energy mad that I wasn’t learning anything. My experience was that there is a lot of important knowledge and skills required to be an effective professional librarian. But, for me at least, these were nearly all learned elsewhere.

Sadly, I understand exactly from where this sentiment is coming – especially now that I am getting so close to the end. I have done this at times – blown off work, done just enough to get by, compromised my own education standards in order to just get something done. Sometimes, I have done it because life got in the way, sometimes because work got in the way and sometimes because I was reacting to a class that I considered to be sub-par. I know I will do it again. Clasper is right that in the end it won’t really matter. Chances are I will get my degree (all sorts of fingers and toes are crossed as I type this) and most of the skills that I will use for the basics of my job will have been learned elsewhere (and honestly, most were learned before I even applied to graduate school).

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3 Responses to Musings on Library Education

  1. Jeff says:

    Thanks for the link. I think we need to have more discussions about library school. It has its value. However, if you are not going into a very specialized field or to an academic library, the grades don’t really matter.

    I work in a public library. When I hire librarians, I just check for the degree. If the school is a bit obscure, I don’t worry too much. I can usually tell in the interview if you are sharp or not. I hired two librarians right out of library school, very little experience, and they were the best two hires I have.

    I know from working with librarians and patrons that technology is always tricky. A surprising number of Americans are uncomfortable with technology. That leaves the rest of us savvy people the responsibility of teaching them in the formats we can. It can be in a classroom, one on one, or catch as catch can.

    Great post and great ideas. Good luck on finishing your education and on future job prospects.

  2. GeekChic says:

    It’s unfortunate that so many people get so little out of their library school education. Sometimes, I think this is because the degree is crammed into too short a period of time (one year, instead of two in some places) – given all that we seem to expect out of it. However, I tend to think that specific technologies should not be taught in library school unless they are somehow fundamental to libraries (i.e. MARC) or unless they can be used as foundations to understand related concepts (i.e. I learned about dBase IV because it was a relational database and all relational databases are essentially similar, I learned SQL because a query language is a query language).

    I did enjoy my time in library school (Toronto in the late 90s) and I learned a great deal. Having said that, the only courses that I truly couldn’t have done without were the 4 cataloguing courses I took – and no, I’m not a cataloguer.

  3. Emily says:

    Yes, technology is tricky. But being able to use technology, learn new technologies, and guide others in the use of technology is such an important part of this profession that I don’t think that NEEDS to be addressed in library school. I am always shocked at the lack of basic competencies many librarians I work with display… I think there needs to be a core set of skills that need to be in place for every information professional – a basic technology skills set that folks can draw from and expand in the future. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a library to do a training session on ILS software and I’ve ended up doing a lesson on “how to use your browser” or “how to make a shortcut.” I honestly don’t know how many librarians do their jobs at all.

    The idea of teaching technology in library school isn’t so out there – what about the MARC classes we all took in some capacity or another? Or database searching? Those technologies are seen as fundamental to library work, so they get taught. I think it’s high time that library schools start seeing other technologies as important as well and giving their graduates a base of knowledge that they can use not only to function int heir jobs, but also to serve as a starting point for learning new technologies as they come along. It’s not fair to students or to other information professionals to assume that some people will “get it” and some will not. If you want to enter this profession, it is your responsibility to “get it” in some way or another.

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