What is Library School All About? (Written by Someone Still in School)

by Nicolas Resteiner, Head Editor, INALJ Mississippi

What is Library School All About? (Written by Someone Still in School)

Nicolas ResteinerI 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.

  2 comments for “What is Library School All About? (Written by Someone Still in School)

  1. Rahni K.
    June 5, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Good job in pointing out the what library school is and not about. However, I would like to comment on the rationale behind each one.

    “Library school is very generalist” is solved by “Library school is what you make of it”. This is very true by the nature of the profession and by the coursework alone you can’t learn many of things you may need. So use outside opportunities to turn a general degree into what you need it to be,

    We all know that librarianship is about collaboration. But I don’t think it needs to go as far as telling someone not to get into librarianship if they don’t like working with people. I’m not a people person and I knew that before I started library school. Through coursework, I have learned to work better with others and have challenged myself to lead in projects when I can. So I think that someone should use library school to turn this weakness into an asset.

    Yes, library school is not a magic bullet. It can only give you opportunity and doesn’t guarantee anything. However in the case of the MA English person, getting an MLS does somewhat make them more marketable than someone with just an MLS or MA alone.

    The profession demands that someone know a little about everything rather than focus on a few specific things. But again, using outside resources and opportunities are the way to center on what you think you need more experience in.

  2. Heather
    June 4, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    I completely agree that library school is what you make of it. I did some internships, I did some volunteering, I attended a few conferences, and I made lasting friends and connections – but I’ll be the first to admit that I was pretty laid-back and not any kind of go-getter. My more ambitious classmates did more work than I even thought possible, and while I did great in library school I couldn’t have kept up with them if I tried. I grew a lot in library school and put myself out of my comfort zone, yet while I set myself up well to qualify for and excel at some library jobs, I’m definitely not going to be landing any rockstar spots or blazing trails as an international library mover and shaker. That’s my nature, and I own it.

    I have some regrets about getting a library degree. The “make me more marketable” rationale hit close to home. Fresh out of undergrad with a BA in English, I had no idea how to make myself sound marketable or if I even was at all. I chose to get another degree on that same logic – I absolutely used the LIS program at least partly to postpone putting myself in the job market. I didn’t do my research and see what skills and experience were requested in job listings for positions I was interested in. I didn’t really know what I was interested in and wanted to try everything. I have some experience in academic, public, archives and vendor work now, but I find that for many positions I’m missing pieces. Such is the fate of the generalist.

    Looking back now, at 30 and out of higher ed for good, I realize that the only thing that makes you more or less marketable is you. At 18, going into college, I had no idea what I was doing, and still didn’t know how to apply my skills or what skills I had when I got out. None of that was taught. Had to learn it the hard way by virtue of retrospect, and while I am glad I took that adventure, I’ll be paying for it for decades. Younger me could use to have been a bit more business-minded.

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