What I Should Have Learned in Library School

by Emily Guier, Head Editor, INALJ Wyoming

What I Should Have Learned in Library School

emily.guierLike me, my sister is a librarian. Unlike me, she’s gainfully employed (minor detail), and so I like to live my librarian life vicariously through her. She was recently telling me that her boss wanted to put something together entitled, “What I Should Have Learned in Library School.” This got me thinking, what would I include under this heading? From my time in student affairs and Sarah’s experience as an academic reference librarian, we came up with a few examples:

1) How to Deal With Patrons Viewing Questionable Material on Public Computers: I worked in the student union at UW where there were banks of public computers throughout the building. Periodically, there would be people using the computers for more than checking their email (wink, wink). Though not a library, the Union is a public building and there isn’t much one can officially do to stop this kind of behavior. Shouldn’t there be a library class in how to respectfully yet forcefully glare at someone to get them to shut down the porn?
2) How to Deal With Creepy Patrons: Maybe there should be a universal safe word for librarians, something to alert coworkers that you need some back up when a patron is a little too much. A class in how to keep a reference interview firmly on track, or one in how to deflect in strange interchanges would surely be helpful.
3) How to Encourage Lingerers to Leave: Lingerers are a different animal from creepy patrons, they are the ones who may be very nice but overstay their welcome. Working at the reference desk, Sarah will talk to people who don’t always understand that just because her desk is in a public place doesn’t mean that she has endless time to shoot the breeze. As information professionals, I think we’re all committed to helping patrons in need, but we also need to be able to shoo those people on at some point.
I know there must be others out there who have topics they would include in this list, so I’m asking you, the community of seasoned INALJ professionals, what do you wish you would have learned in library school?

  16 comments for “What I Should Have Learned in Library School

  1. Carolyn
    July 4, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Not a course so much as I wish there had been more career development advice and support. My college does a fantastic job of helping provide contacts and connecting you to other alums in your field. I feel like I graduated, and it was “so long”. Even getting a letter of recommendation is an ordeal.

  2. July 3, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Addressing the issue of body odor with a patron. We had a policy, and had received a complaint, so I had to follow the script and tell the patron. I cannot think of a more uncomfortable policy conversation to have. I could have used more guidance.

    • July 3, 2013 at 7:18 pm

      I have wondered about this too. My default is to make it seem like perhaps something got on their clothes- deflecting and making it seem like something that happened To them versus something that they are (stinky)- but I am curious what others have to say too.

  3. Jeannine
    July 3, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    I was wondering if any LIS programs offer coursework in writing grant proposals. I didn’t have that available to me when I attended LIS school & when I asked a librarian recently if she ever had done that, she told me her employer doesn’t allow the librarians to do that. That would’ve been an invaluable class to have, especially coming from the perspective of someone who has worked in librarianship. I’m finding that the books I have picked up from the library don’t apply to what I had in mind.

    • July 3, 2013 at 2:57 pm

      Though grant writing isn’t covered here I do like the range of their classes at Library juice Academy http://libraryjuiceacademy.com/

    • July 4, 2013 at 11:16 pm

      The Syracuse University iSchool offers a 1-credit course in Grant writing. Go here: http://my.ischool.syr.edu/ClassSchedule/Index/1141/Graduate/Online
      and look for the section of IST 600 … it’s a distance learning course so anyone with an Internet connection (and tuition) can take the class.

    • Kim
      July 8, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      I’m taking a grant writing course at Rutgers now. I’m not sure what their policy is on taking course if you’re not actually enrolled in the degree program though.

      • July 8, 2013 at 4:26 pm

        Yay Scarlet Knights!

  4. Heather
    July 3, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    How to politely cut off a phone conversation when the desk is busy and the patron wants to chat. We recently had regional roundtable discussions this spring specifically with the topic “How Far Do You Go?”

  5. Alison King
    July 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    How to fire someone. No, really, I had to do it in my second week on the job and had no idea what I was doing! Good old Google helped some, though.

  6. Susan Stanko
    July 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    How to deal with rude patrons.

  7. VBR
    July 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    I have dealt with all of this and more and agree that library management courses could be more effective at addressing real-life situations that require sensitive professional solutions. I have a particular patron who always tries to come behind my desk and view my desktop and I have specifically asked her not to do so because library records are private. Perhaps part of the difficulty is that libraries can be so varied in their resources and values; for example, does your library have a setup to make each screen more private, do you serve adults only, public or academic, etc.

    For a few of the situations mentioned here, however, it comes down to learning how to deal with a wide range of interpersonal styles. I feel like I’m halfway through becoming an expert in managing various levels of social nuances, especially in patrons who are on the spectrum and do not take nuanced hints that their behavior is unacceptable or otherwise difficult to manage. I think having a social network of experienced fellow librarians to brainstorm solutions with is as valuable (or more) than a class. Perhaps you can bring it up as a topic for a staff seminar or local library conference.

  8. July 3, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    How about how to deal with internal politics in academic libraries?

    • July 3, 2013 at 12:28 pm


    • ryan
      July 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      let me know what answers you come up with. I think politics happens in all organisation

    • July 4, 2013 at 11:23 pm

      You deal with this the same way you deal with politics everywhere else: understand the issues, understand the relationships, know your position, and connect the dots. Know your own position and what you want to get out of a particular situation. Be careful in what you say, listen carefully. This is not a complete list. :)

Comments are closed.