you might not be doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better.

Part One: Education

I’ve been reading Steve’s posts over at Go Librarians about the changing role of reference librarians and degree relevance and I actually started leaving a comment on one of them when I realized it was going to be a huge chunk of text, and decided it deserved to be it’s own blog post instead.

It was this line that sent me off the deep end: “The MLIS is the minimal requirement and should be regarded as such. Its sustained relevance and its value to developing librarian positions is the onus of library school administrators. They’re smart people. I trust them.” (Emphasis mine).

Oh, lucky people who had a rigorous, edifying library school experience. I was not so lucky. Sure, some of my classes and professors were great; but when you’re paying as much as I did for my degree, I think every single class should be above and beyond excellent. My intro class in library school was taught by a last minute hire who’d never taught a class before. We spent the entire time looking at awkward power point presentations and joke websites– I remember there was one about the danger of water or oxygen or something, and it was supposed to be an example of how we need to tell valid information from invalid. Which is fine, I guess, except in every subsequent class, when a professor said “As you learned in your intro course….” I often had no idea what s/he was referring to.

I just went through the course catalogs of four of the top library schools (according to US News) and the school where I got my degree, and I was unimpressed. One school offered a class on making mobile apps. I think that, and a class about access and advocacy in youth services, were the most interesting classes that I saw. The top curricula still rely heavily on the old standbys of cataloging, reference, reader’s advisory, and materials for children and young adults. Which–don’t get me wrong–is fine. Like the title of the post indicates, you might not be doing it wrong–but you certainly could be doing it better.

Children and teen librarians need to take courses in Child Development. The one class period spent during a materials class is not sufficient. In addition to Child Development courses, we need courses on using music with children, using art with children, and working with special needs kids. Children’s librarians need to know that forty-five minutes is generally too long for a preschool story time, that 100 kids in any storytime is too many (yeah, way to be popular, but that’s not developmentally appropriate), that four year olds should be able to cut with scissors and that three year olds should be able to follow two step directions (pick up your bean bag and put it on your foot). We need to know how children learn to read, how they learn to write, and how to disperse this information to parents and caregivers. When a parent has a concern or question about their child’s development, we would be much better equipped to help them find resources and refer them to social agencies if we knew about child development ourselves.

All librarians should have the option to take theater courses so we’ll have the ability to improvise, think on our feet, and shed our inhibitions. The library world needs performers and teachers, and not just in the children’s department. Wouldn’t booktalks be all the more exciting if you could really act the parts?

And maybe, just maybe, we should suck it up and instead of hiring social workers, librarians should be able to have a specialization in social work. It’s happening anyway– we’re helping people look for jobs, apply for jobs, search for government assistance and apply for that assistance, why not take the next step and be experts in finding what they need and how to get it?

While I’m at it, I’d like to see more library school professors who are actually still working in a library, so that they’re better able to have their curriculum address the realities of working in a library.

If I had my way, people would get a master’s degree with the option of adding a certificate of library and information sciences. So, you’d have someone with a Master’s Degree in Child Development, or Film Studies, or Social Work, with an LIS certificate; perhaps the LIS certificate would be broken out into Public, Children’s/Teens, Academic, and Special. But the MLIS as it stands today? Boring, borderline irrelevant, and doing a pretty mediocre job at preparing people for actual library work.

But that’s just my opinion….what do you think?

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19 thoughts on “you might not be doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better.

  1. I certainly wish I would have had the option of taking Child Development and some other classes on early childhood education while in library school instead of some of the ones I did take. I didn’t have an undergrad background in education so I was skeptical they would let me take graduate level courses in the education school (which I could have counted toward my degree).

    And I totally agree that I wish I had had more professors with even one iota of a clue of what life in the actual field was like.

    I tell people that my master’s was like a “union card.” Something I had to get in order to get hired at the kinds of libraries I wanted to work in, but that was about it. My program didn’t (I think it still doesn’t) require a thesis, comprehensive exam, or any sort of final project to demonstrate the knowledge I was supposedly to have gotten. I can think of maybe one other person I knew while I was in graduate school (I attended on campus, full time) in a different department who did not have some sort of rigorous task to complete before earning their Master’s status.

    While I may have learned how to find what I was looking for, I’m the librarian I am today because of my personal drive toward excellence, passion for what I do, how I do it, and the families I serve, and belief in the services libraries provide–not because of that degree I’ll be paying for until I’m 35.

    I couldn’t be where I am without it, but I definitely think it could stand to be much improved. In other countries, I remember learning (in one of those less relevant classes) that librarianship is an apprentice program like other trades are here in the United States. That model seemed to make much more sense to me. Mix a little bit of self-study and homework with lots of practical hands-on learning under the mentorship of a (hopefully) wonderful librarian– sign me up for that!

    • The “union card” comparison is apt, and one that I’ve heard time and time again– and my idea of a library “certification” ties closely to it. I also like the idea of an apprenticeship, since so much of being a librarian is hands-on experience, and tailoring your position to serve the unique needs of your library and community.
      I envy you if your degree will be paid off by 35! I think my education debt will haunt me until I die, and maybe then my student loan holders will give up. Maybe.

  2. Honestly, all of what you’ve just written here is exactly why I have refused to get my MLIS. I don’t want to go even further into school debt for a degree that is borderline useless in terms of real world application. It could just be me, but I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars just to belong to a club that lets me apply for jobs which I am already well-qualified and well capable of rocking people’s heads off while doing.

    Sadly, this leads to me being one of those dirty “paraprofessionals” (and don’t get me started on how I loathe that patronizing terminology) who the “qualified” people come to for advice and help. However, even taking this into account, I don’t see myself pursuing in an MLS until there is a radical rethinking and restructuring of the programs. In other words, I refuse to invest in something that isn’t worth the investment.

  3. This absolutely reflects my experience at a top tier (again, according to US News and World Report). I desperately wish I’d had a class on childhood development and literacy skills. I’m doing my best to pick up on those things via reading, conferences, etc., but it’s not the same thing as being in a class with assignments focused on, say, designing age-appropriate programming with pre-literacy skills in mind. Or designing ANY kind of programming, for that matter.

    My personal experience with library school administrators has taught me that they don’t care much about libraries. At least at my program, the administration was pushing the sexy tech stuff- commercial app design, for example, and UX, IR, etc, – at the expense of more “traditional” libraries, even though there’s plenty of sexy tech stuff going on in libraries of all kinds. In my opinion, the administration at my school couldn’t care less about supporting people who are going to librarians, particularly children’s/teen librarians. That’s partially my fault for not throughly researching schools before hand, but like you said – when you’re paying big money for school that says it will train you to be a librarian, you kind of assume that’s what will happen.

    A GREAT post – thank you!

    • Thanks, Emily! I’m sorry to hear about yet another sub-par MLIS experience, but I am certainly glad to hear that I am not alone.

      Part two is going to be about what all librarians need to learn from children/teen librarians. I’m pretty excited about that post, too.

  4. I picked my school because it had a rep for great youth services (yes, one of those “top schools”, I was offered an assistantship which would slightly offset the tuition, I was impressed by one of the professors, and the school was set in a town with AMAZING public libraries. Sum of my experience – the impressing professor taught a GREAT storytelling course which I still use. A couple other professors who had been or were actual public librarians taught great courses. Other than that, pft waste of time and money. I’ve got the piece of paper that entitles me to get a job which will probably never pay enough to enable me to pay off my student loan. My school didn’t teach me how to do marketing, storytimes (my youth services professor had been in a public library for two years before deciding she couldn’t handle it and fleeing back to academia), early literacy or deal with a stream of mentally disturbed and just plain nasty people. They didn’t teach me how to build a good summer reading program, deal with a staff resistant (to put it mildly) to change, or do collection development for ages 0-18, for a service population of 25,000 on $800 a month.

    I learned that through the internships I created for myself and the amazing local public libraries. I learned those things – the hard way – by making mistakes and trying new things. It would have been nice if my degree had focused more on reality and less on theory, but I wasn’t particularly disappointed – I have never been a fan of institutionalized education.

    • A lot of any education is taking advantage of the resources at hand and getting what you need from them. In my case, it was seeking out the most lauded professors, getting a lot of part time jobs in the field while I was still in school, and talking to the Dean about what I felt were gaps in the degree (mostly the fact that children’s librarians don’t get any education about child development). And yes, I love my job and profession, but until I decide I’m willing to be a manager or a director, I will never, ever make enough money to pay off my educational debt.

  5. I believe librarians would greatly benefit from Child Development classes or an Early Childhood degree. My teacher friends are invaluable! If a degree isn’t possible at the moment, I would recommend Early Childhood Conferences. They are amazing!

  6. My experience getting MLIS was about 50% wonderful, 25% mediocre, and 25% why on earth am I taking this class? I learned more in my internship at Oak Park then I ever learned getting my MLIS and even more actually doing the job! I’ve been debating going back for some early childhood classes but lack the free time/money to do so so I’ve been self-educating with my library’s parent-teacher collection and TED talks (http://www.ted.com/talks/tags/children and http://www.ted.com/talks/tags/education). It isn’t quite the same but it’s keeping me in the game!

    • Ooh, I’ll have to check out those TED talks! Thanks for the tip, and thanks for reading. I did an internship at Oak Park, too! It was an amazing experience, and definitely a big help on the old resume. I wish more libraries would offer that kind of opportunity for kidbrarians to gain experience.

  7. “All librarians should have the option to take theater courses so we’ll have the ability to improvise, think on our feet, and shed our inhibitions. The library world needs performers and teachers, and not just in the children’s department. Wouldn’t booktalks be all the more exciting if you could really act the parts? ”

    Brava! I have a background in theater myself, and have been saying this for years. Classes in improv and stand-up couldn’t hurt, either.

    You have some wonderful ideas here. I hope more and more library school students will take an active role in their own development and not just settle for subpar classes. At my library school you had the option of taking courses outside the MLIS program that could count for the degree, and faculty actively encouraged us to do so. Given how heavily the deck is stacked against the MLIS student, both curricula-wise and job-hunting-wise, the grads who will prosper are the ones who get mad as hell and refuse to take it anymore, instead designing their own inventive solutions to these deeply entranched problems.

  8. SO many things I could say, but I’ll restrict my thoughts to three:

    1. The disconnect between library school curricula and job duties is the reason I started my blog. It started with a lib sci graduate student I knew and with him telling me about learning the command line version Dialog that semester. !!! That was out of date when I learned it in my MLIS program in the early ’00s, and here he was learning it about a year ago.

    2. What about a dual degree? I ended up getting an second master’s degree in adult education to learn how to be a better teacher.

    3. This disconnect is also why I voted for Gina Millsap. No offense to her competition, but I’d rather have a practitioner in charge of ALA.

  9. Okay, thought of one more thing. Our last round of hiring, we said something like, “master of library science or other related field.” The MLIS is not the be all end all anymore. A good start, but just a start.

  10. […] I was posting a comment on my classmate’s blog The Academic Librarian and realized that it was quickly becoming a rant! So here it is as a full grown blog post! We have been talking about the value of an MLIS and this is actually a hot topic across library blogs and discussion boards. It seems that quite a few MLIS graduates are unhappy when they get out into the field. Check out Loans for Library School and You Might Not Be Doing it Wrong, But You Could Certainly Do it Better. […]

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