What to do with the, “What I didn’t learn in library school…” conversation.

Sometimes it’s just meant as a helpful conversation starter. “I didn’t learn this in library school, but now I know….”. Sometimes it’s a statement of fact. “I didn’t learn this in library school.”. Yet often it seems as a criticism of the LIS education experience.  It’s a complicated discussion among librarians, expressing both disappointment and frustration with the ways in which MLIS programs educate future librarians. I’ve witnessed and participated in these discussions via social media, discussion boards, and listservs over the past few years since I left librarianship (oddly enough, not when I worked as a librarian).

There are so many crucial things you don’t learn in library school that become part of your day-to-day life as a librarian. Some days you have to serve as replacement janitors. Other times you are dealing with a local political figure who is hell bent on cutting your budget and staff. Maybe you need to find businesses to sponsor your library’s Summer Reading Program or run into rude and critical patrons. Who learned about that in library school? Why did I spend time reading about information science theory, information architecture, and information ethics if I couldn’t even manage patron relationships or create a storytime?

As a young librarian, with a brand new, framed (by my parents) MLIS diploma (and student debt), I found myself becoming confused and overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know about librarianship or library work. Despite having spent the majority of my life either patronizing, volunteering, or working in public libraries, I felt completely lost. Politics is a thing? Community assessment? Outreach and marketing? While programs vary, there is a lot that left out of the library school experience. But is it a LIS graduate program’s responsibility to teach the nitty gritty of librarianship?

To me, no. An LIS program should (ideally) lay the theoretical and philosophical groundwork of librarianship and the provision of library services. These programs provide us with a better understanding of not only what our field encompasses; but also the history of our profession and its framing (You know, Ranganathan, Buckland, John Budd, Marcia Bates, Kuhlthau). The models and theories created by these information scientists inform how we conduct an reference interview, deconstruct information needs, assess an information request, and even view the profession.


Another question is what should MLIS programs teach? Obviously, there’s no such thing as the perfect program, the perfect course schedule, or the perfect faculty. More practical versus more philosophical versus somewhere in-between. So much of the practical, day-to-day library responsibilities and tasks you learn on the job through mentorship, experience, or sometimes just plain failure.

Within the library community there is also the recurring argument about whether a master’s degree is necessary or if an ALA-accredited MLIS really matters. Recently, I’ve considered applying to be an external review panelist just to learn more about the accreditation process. There is obviously a lot of work to be done to regarding LIS education to make coursework more relevant to contemporary issues and questions.


Librarians Wanted!

I know there are so many library workers who disagree with me. And I understand their arguments. Grad school is expensive; both financially and time-wise. Especially if you’re doing it as a distance without the possibility for graduate assistantships to help with tuition and expenses. Or if you’re already working full-time and looking for a new career path. Taking courses one at a time, at night. None of this is easy.


There are other barriers that exist for some of those interested in pursuing an MLIS. There’s a serious lack of diversity in librarianship. This is an overwhelming problem that must be addressed. Also working in libraries often times doesn’t pay well. Depending on where you live, what type of library work you do (academia, school, public), the changing nature of state and local budgets, etc., you may struggle just to pay for daily necessities. The clichéd statement that you don’t go into the libraries for the money is kinda true but also kinda terrible to tell MLIS students and young librarians (actually any library worker).

I’m not the only voice in this discussion (I kinda pointed that out at the beginning). What am I missing or overlooking? What other questions, opinions, or insights should I be thinking about?

Here are a few other interesting posts on the topic:

I Need a Library Job: “Why do you need a master’s degree to be a librarian?” Crowdsourcing an Answer for an Irritating Question

Locked in the Library: Why Does a Librarian Need a Masters Degree?

Bookriot: On the MLIS: Why I’m Getting the Library Degree

Thank you for reading!