by Nicolas Resteiner, Head Editor, INALJ Mississippi
What is Library School All About? (Written by Someone Still in School)
I recently saw a forum posting that made me pause and think about what most students expect from library school. The poster in question lamented that he only went for a library degree because it “seemed more marketable than his MA in English”. He also mentioned that he did not like technology, and found his courses to be far too technology-focused. To me, this person went into library school with a preconceived idea of what a librarian is and failed to research the present state of librarianship (not an especially attractive quality for a future information professional). It is important to realize what exactly library school is before committing the time and money. Based on my experiences, here is what library school is and is not:
Library school is very generalist. Library school is by necessity, very broad. It caters to people who want to become metadata librarians, public librarians (like myself), or medical librarians. Library schools offer many classes that provide introductions to several specialist topics, but these only scratch the surface of the profession. Though they provide the theoretical foundation, the profession is simply too big to be taught exhaustively in two years of graduate school.
Library school is what you make of it. I have written about this before in my previous articles, but library school is not a magic bullet. You cannot simply attend classes and expect to be competitive in the job market. For some people, they already work as a paraprofessional or similar position in a library, and this will make things easier. For the rest of us, internships, publications, participation in local and national library organizations, and part-time library jobs or volunteer are necessities in order to get valuable experience.
Library school is all about collaboration. I have mentioned the amount of group work before, but it bears mentioning again. So many projects, including many final projects, are collaborative in nature and require each team member to pull their weight. The days of librarians working alone are gone (if they ever even existed in the first place) and the new librarian works on so many committees and in so many groups. If you do not like working in groups or with others, this is the wrong profession for you!
Library school is not a magic bullet. This ties into one of the previous items on my list. The previously mentioned person thought that a degree in library science would make him more marketable than simply having an MA in English. Simply getting a library degree does not make you any more competitive without the skills that come from hands-on work. I am not saying that it is impossible to get a job without previous library experience, internships, or volunteering, but it is an uphill battle. Librarianship is a competitive field, and a degree does not guarantee a job.
Library school is not what it used to be. When we were discussing library school, my manager mentioned that she had been trained in LCC. While I have used Dewey and LCC before, I have not noticed library school making any effort to educate me on any specific cataloging method. I have had to learn metadata principles of METS, MODS, and Dublin Core, but learning in-depth about each metadata standard is a separate class. Library school is preparing students to learn new systems by giving them overviews of the most widely used and the principles they follow, but not necessarily the particulars of systems that are rapidly changing and being superseded (the transition from AACR2 to RDA for instance). Library schools are teaching students how to be flexible and technology-savvy, something that will be important for our future in an era defined increasingly by budget cuts and computers.