What Library Schools Still Aren't Teaching Us – Jess Nevins

If you haven't come across the book, “Revolting Librarians Redux” yet, you really owe it to yourself to pick up a copy.  It's got a huge range of essays (plus poems, cartoons and more) on all manner of library-related topics.  If nothing else, the Appendix linking different types of librarians to their star signs is hilarious/useful, depending on your take on astrology.  (For example, Cancers like myself, are very common in both academic and special libraries but are near the bottom for public libraries.  Er, luckily I'm in the “Astrology is bunk” camp.)

Shea got me the book for Christmas (I still contend her main reason was to see people's reactions when they saw the title!) and it was a great first read to get me up to speed on a whole range of current issues that someone, especially those without direct library experience, might not be familiar with. 

One of my favourite essays is “What Library Schools Still Aren't Teaching Us” (some would argue that 90% of this blog is on that theme so you can see why it would appeal.) 

I'm going to reprint Jess Nevin's main points here (with comments specific to my experience following) but again, would heavily recommend that you pick up the book to read the whole essay. 

Little Things
Office skills
– yes, fixing photocopiers is something all librarians will be called upon to do.  They don't formally teach this at FIMS but the amount of photocopying we end up doing means that you will inevitably be faced with a paper jam or have to convert single sided regular sheets into double-sided legal sized stapled booklet.  It's probably worth spending some time trying to figure it yourself before running to the GRC staff.

Secondary Librarian Skills
– Nevins includes a range of things here including how to use a variety of ILS's, evaluating web sites and databases, writing pathfinders, reader's advisory skills, programming for children and collection development.  I'm happy to report that all of these skills are ones that are taught, either as part of the required courses or available via electives (except working with ILS's which I can't believe they don't include in 505! That was one of the main reasons I stayed in that course rather than getting an exemption and which has in turn, become one of my biggest regrets about my time here.  Speaking of which, a full post on the topic of “my biggest regrets of library school” will be forthcoming sometime this semester, I'm sure.)  I think you can also make a pretty strong argument that a collection development class should be part of the required courses.  

Dress and Hygiene
– it's funny now but I remember having an hour-long conversation with a FIMS alumnus when I was accepted and the final question I asked her, rather meekly, was “Is there a dress code for library school?”  I had no idea – I knew grad students at U of R who dressed like, well, like students.  But I knew this was a professional program and even though most of the librarians I knew in the real world dressed in a style you might call “business casual”, I also knew a few who wore suits everyday.  Meanwhile, my own closet tended towards jeans and t-shirts but I figured if I could hold off buying a brand new wardrobe until I actually had a paying job, that had some appeal.  But yeah, there's a complete range of dress and hygiene among the students here but I don't think there's anybody that you'd have to take aside if you were working with them in the real world and say “uhm, maybe it's time to lay off the ripped metal t-shirts?” (which was an actual concern I had in a previous workplace.)

Big Things
Sensitivity Training
– I'd argue that for the most part, librarians tend to be as aware of diversity issues as pretty much any profession you can name (outside of diversity training consultants, I guess.)  But everybody has their underlying biases and prejudices and it helps to be not only aware but understanding of them – where they come from, how to deal with them.  (True story – one gay student was talking about GLBT literature in one of his classes and the prof actually said “Well, it can't be that big of a body of a literature.  There probably aren't more than 30-40 titles out there.”)  Two months later, the groundbreaking Pride Library, with 5000+ volumes  opened here at UWO.)  I'm not sure if we need a full class on sensitivity (more because of issues of time/cost than necessity) but offering a workshop early each term might be useful.  One student asked about a course in Information Ethics during the Q&A with the Acting Associate Dean over the summer but I don't see why a course like this, if implemented, couldn't be expanded or shifted slightly to be a course in “social justice and community issues” which could encompass sensitivity training as well.

Teaching
– the book makes a good point that a large part of any librarian's job these days is teaching. We do get a lot of opportunities to teach via presentations in our required and optional classes but my main complaint is that we aren't given any training on how to teach before being thrown in front of a classroom.  Public speaking is the biggest fear people have, PowerPoint is evil and yet, students are expected to lead 30 minute presentations with no background or experience.  Worse, bad habits end up getting reinforced via this method instead of being corrected before they start. 

Book Purchasing
– if Collections Development were required, this would definitely be a big part of the course. . It's ridiculous that any student leaves here not knowing about vendors or library discounts or standing orders or other issues.  For those who choose one of the two Collections Development courses as an elective (and I suspect most do), they should get at least some exposure to book purchasing. 

Professional Writing
– I hate to say it but even though librarians all have undergrad and Masters degrees, the quality of the writing sometimes leaves something to be desired.  I know not everyone's degree is in English with work experience as a columnist and editor but the value of clear, concise writing can't be understated.  (Disclaimer: this blog is meant as no reflection of my professional writing capabilities! You start paying me to keep this blog, the typos and spelling errors will go way down!

A personal example of the lack of emphasis on professional writing:  I wrote a paper once where, during the editing process, I forgot to finish a thought.  The sentence was something like: “The advantages of online databases are accessibility, ease-of-sharing and…” and it literally ended with the third point not being made.  Instead of taking marks off (I know because I got 10/10), the prof simply stuck a question mark at the end of that line.  I'm a big fan of the saying some school teachers use: “spelling and grammar are used in every subject so they should count in every subject.”  The same should apply for grad level writing. 

Public Relations
– like it or lump it, this is a big part of the library world now too. We get a brief overview in the management course but I think a lot more could be done.  I'm not sure how other 506 courses are taught but I know I really wanted ours to be a lot more balanced in mixing the theoretical with the practical. 

Managerial Skills
– we have a required class in management but, again, at least for me, it was extremely unfulfiling.  Is this a condition of trying to teach “management” which may be one of those things in life, like driving or cooking, you can only learn by doing, not by reading about it in a book? 

Interviewing Skills
– not how to interview new employees (though that's important too.  A friend talked to me recently about hiring being a million dollar decision – if you hire the right person and they stay with your organization for thirty years, you see that the interview process is more than just a couple hours in a board room.)  But what Nevins is getting at is that, in some ways, the librarian's day is a constant series of interviews – with patrons, with co-workers and supervisors, with vendors – and so effective interviewing skills are vital.  We do get some training on this in 503.

Paradigm Shifts
Outreach
– the author makes a good point that this idea should be embedded in everything we do in library school.  Why not do a joint session with the MBA's up in Ivey to show them what librarians can do for them?  Why not have us go out into the community to meet with staff at local non-profits?  Why not have us attend board meetings of the local public library (er, we do that in Public Libraries but maybe everybody should have some exposure to these meetings – they're open to the public anyhow – as part of say, the required Management course?)

Bridging The Digital Divide
– I get pretty frustrated with professors and fellow students who don't recognize technology as something that can be a very good thing for all library patrons and instead, frame those of us who are techno-evangelists as elitist or mis-directed.  Like pretty much anything, the “10% really good, 90% crap” rule applies but it's that 10% that's really good in the world of technology that can be incredibly useful to people.  One easy example: online job hunting sites open up a whole range of options (locally and beyond) that the city newspaper doesn't cover.  And for those who don't have access to technology in their homes due to costs or whatever, the library is the place that gives them access to all types of information that's increasingly being provided via online services. 

Keeping Up With the Times

this point really means just knowing what's going on out there in the real world.  The co-op program is excellent for giving students an awareness of what's happening but for those of us who choose not to do co-op, you might not be aware that the issues of the ivory tower aren't necessarily the issues on the street.  For me, following a variety of librarian blogs has been extremely helpful in helping me to find out (and keep up with) ongoing trends and issues.  Name the topic or issue and somebody probably has a blog devoted to it.  I'm probably never going to be a cataloguer but the
Dewey Decimal Blog is a personal favourite which gives me useful, relevant information that is the type of stuff I should at least have an awareness of if I want to work in public libraries. 

In Conclusion
(Man, this turned out way longer than my initial plan to reprint Nevins' list with a few of my own brief comments!)

I think FIMS could really improve itself by offering a week-long series of optional seminars during the first week of classes each semester or even just once per year. 

(Hmm, if only I knew someone responsible for academic-related matters on student council. Yeah, I'll add it to my short longlist of things to do!)

Ideas for FIMS Week One Seminars
Monday – interviewing
Tuesday – public speaking
Wednesday – professional writing
Thursday – assertiveness training
Friday – diversity training

Useless Trivia of the Day:
October 4-6 is the 130th Anniversary of the ALA.  (via Shifted Librarian)

Comments 17

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I read this book in my first semester, umm cause I saw it on this website! I managed to borrow it from Weldon and read it from cover to cover, giving it precedence over all readings for a day or two. It was worth it!
    But I think it ought to be used in classes — for instance in 501 and perhaps 613. Brilliant book — one that made me feel proud of my hoped-for profession.

    Posted 09 Oct 2006 at 11:11 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I think many of the things you pointed like PR, writing and teaching are taught, but just like Collection Development as electives only. With only 6 mandatory courses, they really don't have too much room to play around with (Though If they overhauled 505 and 506 things could be better accomplished)

    Posted 11 Oct 2006 at 7:40 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    I'm with Linda. “Revolting Librarians Redux” is definitely the best book I've read on library issues (and I've managed to at least scan quite a few this year.) A former alumni told me to read “Our Enduring Values” by Michael Gorman which is good too but in a much different way – more like a “hooray for everything library!” self-help book than the practical advice and knowledge in Revolting Librarians Redux.
    Jen, you're right – teaching is definitely taught and though I couldn't fit it in, Jennifer Noon's “Instructional Strategies” is supposed to be an amazingly useful course. “Marketing and Public Relations” was last taught in Summer 2005 so it's probably due again but it wasn't offered in my 12 months here at all. Not sure what you mean about writing being taught though – do you mean there's a specifc course or that writing style is a factor in all classes? As I said, that's really at the discretion of the prof as to how much emphasis they want to put on it.
    You'll get no disagreement about overhauling 505 and 506 (especially 505!)

    Posted 11 Oct 2006 at 8:22 pm
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    What a great list of suggested topics that a professional association can take possible offer as a summer series.
    PS I don't think someone can be a “former alumni”.

    Posted 12 Oct 2006 at 4:26 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    Good point on “former alumni”. Uhm, what's “can take possible offer” mean?

    Posted 12 Oct 2006 at 4:56 am
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    I did 530 instead of 505, and it does cover ILS's, but you don't get any practical experience with them at all, which is a shame. The background theoretical knowledge I got from it did help somewhat when I started working with Horizon at my coop job here, but I still would have liked to get my feet wet a bit in school.
    “we have a required class in management but, again, at least for me, it was extremely unfulfilling.”
    *chokes* Yeah, that's one word for it. πŸ™‚

    Posted 14 Oct 2006 at 8:23 pm
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    I think we must be online together right now! I'm following up on your comments pretty much as they arrive in my in-box. Anyhew, yeah, not getting an exemption from 505 is probably right near the top of my list of “regrets about my time at FIMS.” Sure, it gave me one easy class that I got a really good mark in but I'd much rather of actually, you know, learned something, now that I'm looking back with a benefit of hindsight. No one knows how hard the program is coming in so it's pretty brave that you were the only one in our entire cohort to get an exemption – including quite a few techie-types and even one person with a CS degree!
    “Extremely unfulfilling” – yeah, I'm still trying to be delicate with how I refer to things because I know that a) this blog is read by a lot of people including professors and probably some in the administration. b) I know that being too…forthright…in a public forum could come back to haunt me someday (although I do tend to push that line a bit sometimes!) But for now, the official word is that 506 was “unfulfilling” not “the absolute biggest waste of time and energy and money I've ever had the mispleasure to experience.” Now, *that* would be much too candid!

    Posted 14 Oct 2006 at 8:30 pm
  8. Anonymous wrote:

    “…would much rather have actually…” not “much rather of actually” – I hate when I write like I talk.

    Posted 14 Oct 2006 at 8:32 pm
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    I don't know how *brave* getting an exemption was – it was more that I could see, after the first class, how bored I was going to be in 505…and I don't have much tolerance for that level of boredom. So I had to try for an exemption out of pure self-preservation. πŸ™‚ (And then I dropped a course and went to four instead of five, which I probably wouldn't have done if I'd stuck with the easy 505, but…I'm still glad I got out of it.)

    Posted 14 Oct 2006 at 11:38 pm
  10. Anonymous wrote:

    “I'm still trying to be delicate with how I refer to things because…”
    Heh. I thought you were just trying to refrain from ranting. πŸ™‚

    Posted 14 Oct 2006 at 11:53 pm
  11. Anonymous wrote:

    I'm in 505 now and the only reason I didn't get an exemption was that I thought if it were replaced by 506 I would've been overwhelmed. I won't regret my decision until I see what 506 is actually like.
    And Sufjan Stevens is awesome.

    Posted 15 Oct 2006 at 12:22 am
  12. Anonymous wrote:

    I have the impression that 506 was particularly bad the semester Jason and I took it; it's not really a popular course, but I think usually it's better than that. Glad to hear 505 is going well for you!

    Posted 15 Oct 2006 at 12:39 am
  13. Anonymous wrote:

    Yeah, 506 isn't a hard class but because we had a non-librarian as our instructor, there were a lot of issues in the classroom. Him and I had a “discussion” after one class late in the term and he said “management is all the same” and I said “no it isn't – you don't manage your own small business the same way to manage a non-profit organization the way you manage a large corporation.” He was adamant that you did. (A prof I later told this story, who's much quicker than I, said “why didn't you ask him why they have a specific branch of management called public policy?”)
    Anyhow, back to the point, 506 wouldn't be that bad – even when it's taught by librarians, I get the sense that a lot of it is pretty common sense stuff – how to communicate with people, how to deal with conflict, publicity techniques, stuff like that.
    Oh, and this is 100% embarrassing but when you wrote “Sufjan Stevens” rocks, I thought you were talking about some new person who was teaching 505 instead of realising that was the name of the band on my LastFM feed at the moment you typed that. Gotta admit that I don't really know the artist – just downloaded the album because it was such a big buzzy thing last year in the year end polls.

    Posted 15 Oct 2006 at 6:37 am
  14. Anonymous wrote:

    Well, as my blog posts indicate, I'm pretty much in a constant state of trying to avoid ranting! I'm debating how badly it would reflect on myself as a person and a future employee if I did go off on a massive rant about some of the things that I have a problem with around here. I try to be constructive in my criticism for the most part but it's pretty easy to slip into ranting madman territory sometimes!

    Posted 15 Oct 2006 at 6:41 am
  15. Anonymous wrote:

    Well I guess it's too late to get out of 505 now anyway. I don't mind that much but I think the program should emphasize that the course is optional. I wouldn't want to learn about corporate management either, but who knows maybe within the next decade all the public libraries will have been bought by blockbuster.
    Don't be embarrassed about Sufjan Stevens. I don't even know what Last FM is, and have never downloaded a single song off the internet once and I don't even own an MP3 player. I think that's against the law at Western; if looking at the student body is any indication owning an ipod is sacrosanct.

    Posted 15 Oct 2006 at 12:35 pm
  16. Anonymous wrote:

    “Oh, and this is 100% embarrassing but when you wrote “Sufjan Stevens” rocks, I thought you were talking about some new person who was teaching 505″
    I thought that too! Oops. πŸ™‚

    Posted 15 Oct 2006 at 5:48 pm
  17. Anonymous wrote:

    Another idea we kicked around a bit was suggesting that they have two 505's – 505A would be pretty much what it is now with fairly basic introductions to computer and technology issues. 505B would be a more advanced introductory course with more of a focus on current technologies, the Internet, social software and stuff like that (I guess the answer to this is “Well, why not get an exemption from 505 and go to 525 or a similar upper-level course?”) But yeah, they *do* mention that you can get an exemption but they don't do as good of a job of explaining how basic 505 will be. Oh well.
    Libraries all taken over by Blockbuster!?!?! Surely you meant Chapters!
    Maybe I should do a post on “Web 2.0 Technologies That Jason Talks About A Lot” since you're the second person to tell me they don't know what I'm talking about when I get all excited and “web-happy”.

    Posted 15 Oct 2006 at 7:57 pm

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