My Five Most Useful Classes of Library School

When my boss came to Southeast Regional Library as their new director fifteen years ago, one of the first things he did was go out and work an actual front-line shift in a few of our branches to get a sense of the workload, what was effective in how our system operated, what wasn't and so on. 

This front line appraisal hasn't been done by anyone since. So when the idea came up recently, I jumped at the chance to do a similar analysis.  I spent three days last week on the road at a series of branches across our region – trying to find a balanced combination of factors in the branches I visited: those with an experienced librarian, those with a newer librarian, smaller branches, larger branches, morning shifts, afternoon shifts, ones with programs scheduled, ones that were scheduled to receive our weekly van delivery of books, etc. 

One of the branch librarians I visited, in the oh-so-blunt style I love in rural Saskatchewan women, flat out asked me “Why are you here?  Didn't you learn this in library school?”

After giving her the explanation I heard from a classmate who'd initially taken a library technician program before coming to FIMS, (“a library tech program is 20% theory and 80% practical; the Masters program is pretty much the inverse of that.”), I began thinking about what were the most useful classes (in the practical sense) out of the 15 I'd taken at FIMS

This is what I came up with and as always, a disclaimer that this is a list based on my current job situation as a rural public librarian plus a small dose of what I think would be useful in different positions or what might be useful in the future plus a dash of my own biases about what I think is important in librarianship as well.

1. 765 – Advocacy
I chose this as number one simply because this has been a bigger part of my job than I ever expected it to be – not just in terms of advocacy with external agencies such as municipal councils and local library boards but in a variety of other ways as well.  As someone told me, “In libraries, everything is political.”  And if that's true, this is a very valuable course to have!

2. 746 – Collection Development
I still stand by the argument that I've made a few times on this blog – if FIMS was to add one more required course, this should be it.

3. 501 – Information Theory
As one experienced librarian explained to me (probably when I was complaining about the lack of practical training), “library school gives you the framework to make decisions – everything you do at the practical level comes from that initial framework about librarianship's core values.”  And 501 is the course where you get this framework most fully and directly. 

4. 613 – Public Libraries
This class was pretty core to where I wanted to go (and where I did manage to end up thankfully) and it gave me many of the  slightly more targeted skills and knowledge that furthered my foundation within the specific world of public libraries beyond what I got from my core classes. 

5. 645 – Management of Special Libraries
I've said before that the main reason I took this was because I heard it was everything that 506 – Management should be (but which it wasn't for my cohort unfortunately.)  Many of the skills I learned here are ones I've put to use already and not surprisingly, as a rural librarian in charge of a network of 46 branches, that segment on library planning and layout has come in especially handy as a few of our branches have either moved to new buildings, contemplated doing so or done renovations and re-workings within their existing space, even in the seven months I've been here. 

Honourable mention…
…goes to 502 – Cataloguing and 503 – Reference – two other  required courses which only missed the list because I don't use either of these skill areas in my current position as much as I might in a job that was specifically focused on one or the other type of library work. 

Comments 4

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I do wish I could have taken collection development, but didn't really have the chance. I think I'm gradually picking up the things I would have learned in that class, though.
    A couple memorable ones you didn't mention (er, probably because you didn't take them!)…Website usability I found to be–retroactively useful; that is, I wish I could have taken it before my coop, but I'm glad I had the chance to take it after, and I'm sure it will be useful in future. Also, financial management was a great class, and while I haven't made use of it yet, I expect to eventually (good practice in proposal writing, among other things).

    Posted 14 Nov 2007 at 7:17 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I know I've mentioned that the one I regret not taking was “Instructional Strategies” with Jennifer Noon. I heard so much good about it plus I think that's one I would've found useful no matter what type of library I ended up in.
    I was advised by an alum not to take any class at library school that I could take at the local community college or University or whatever (“Take library-related classes at library school”) which is why I didn't take a lot of the management-type classes – HR, Financial management, or web design classes.
    I'm beginning to wonder if this was wise advice as I think those types of classes would come in handy right now – especially the management stuff – but again, it depends so much on the prof for the class and how good they are. Plus you simply can't know what types of skills will be needed for wherever you end up.
    The other advice I got was “take whatever sounds interesting to you – nobody hiring asks what classes you took, they're mostly concerned that you have the degree.”

    Posted 15 Nov 2007 at 11:06 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Until or unless you get the common interview question: “How did your education and previous work experience prepare you for this position?” (or some such variation). I was glad to be able to draw on Readers' Advisory and Collection Development, as well as Storytelling and Children's Lit. So, employers care a little about what you take. Just not how well you did (!).

    Posted 16 Nov 2007 at 5:41 am
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    True. I didn't phrase that very well – the courses you took can come up at times, especially for the interview question Barb mentioned. And marks too – I was under the impression that nobody asked for transcripts in public libraries but I was asked for one for the job I'm currently in. There was no further discussion (“can you explain why you did so poorly in Reference?”) so it wasn't a big deal but that request caught me a bit off-guard.
    I don't know how HR and hiring librarians approach it – I wrote somewhere about the “hypothetical reality” of library school so I think I might weight my own hiring decisions more heavily to real world experience – both work and otherwise. But who knows?

    Posted 18 Nov 2007 at 3:54 pm
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