but they didn’t teach me that in library school!

If you haven’t participated in — or at least read — a “things they didn’t teach you in library school” thread on a listserv or a discussion board or in the FriendFeed LSW room or somewhere, I am concerned that you have not spent nearly enough time mucking around on the internet.

Such threads are ubiquitous: every few months, someone clearly feels the need to explain that they never learned how to troubleshoot laser printers in library school. Other frequent items include

  • dealing with difficult patrons (especially if they’re intoxicated and/or asleep)
  • “project management” (I have no idea what this is, but everyone seems to think it’s a skill librarians need and one they should have been taught in school)
  • management anything
  • ditto leadership
  • budgeting
  • technology (just name one)
  • web design
  • graphic design

As these threads go on, they tend toward the absurd (“how to stamp books” “Chinese”), and at the end, you’re left with this baffling list of stuff that’s sort of all over the map, most of which will never get incorporated into any library school curriculum anywhere, for reasons of bureaucracy and intransigence and in some cases sheer impracticality.

Aaron Schmidt and Micheal Stephens have a piece in this month’s Library Journal that throws user experience (or UX, if you’re hip) into the mix. They’d like to see library school students learn to interpret and employ user research, to conduct usability testing and run focus groups, to design effective library buildings and graphics.

Now I am pretty down with that whole list. Every building I’ve worked in has major design flaws, and far too many of them have had terrible signage and brochures full of bad font choices. And of course I’m a big fan of usability testing. It all sounds good to me. Good, but unlikely.

I get a little irked with these lists of “things that should be taught” because they strike me as both useless and whiny. My how to improve library school plan has always been short and sweet: Admit smarter people and teach them more stuff. It doesn’t really matter to me what you teach them — if you get the first part of that equation right, they’ll end up learning stuff regardless.

And I guess that gets me to my real point. We’re lucky enough to be in a profession that encourages learning and that is full of helpful people who want to teach you things. If you’re in library school and you’re not learning stuff, then go out and find some things to learn on your own. (Trust me, your coursework will not really suffer, and nobody in later years is going to care what kind of grades you got anyway.)

You can teach yourself to do all sorts of things. You can read blogs and books and articles. You can talk to people. And you can realize that you actually already know a lot of stuff because of other things you’ve done.

Expecting library school to teach you everything you will ever need to know about being a librarian is somewhat akin to expecting your parents to have taught you everything you’ll ever need to know about life by age 18. It’s just not going to happen. And in libraries, as in life, sometimes you just have to learn the hard way.


5 thoughts on “but they didn’t teach me that in library school!”

  1. Thank you, thank you. The “what they didn’t teach” whining–which I read a just another variation of the “this program isn’t practical” whining–was old to me before I even finished library school. Self-directed learning is a huge step that not enough people embrace. Working/interning/volunteering/shadowing and finding a mentor is another thing people can do to help themselves, but nobody’s going to spoon feed you experience or knowledge! I’m all for admitting smarter people to library school, but I’d also like to see schools also look for people with initiative and drive.

  2. I must admit to always finding those “what they didn’t teach” threads baffling. I find myself wondering where these people went to library school. Of the things you mentioned (which I, too, have seen mentioned elsewhere) my library school had coursework that I took on: management, budgeting, web design, dealing with difficult patrons and UX. And those were just a few of the courses I took!

    As for self-directed learning… I have seen more instances of librarians sitting on their butts demanding “training” then any signs of self-directed learning in my years in the profession. But perhaps that is my cynical nature leaking out.

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