Friday, June 10, 2011

More stuff from the past

There will likely be a whole set of posts that I'm moving from the Electric Velocipede blog to this one. I'll post them every few days instead all at once. This one was originally from March 22, 2005.

Are you, like me, going to Library School? Or are you perhaps, a working librarian? We should get together, you and I, so I can look over the classes offered at my school and see how you would think they fit into what goes on at a library. You see, Michael at Library Dust posted recently about Truth in Advertising about the ALA, library schools, and the forever coming glut of library jobs. One of the interesting things that Michael talks about is how library schools tend to create librarians in the same way that education schools create teachers. Having a wife who just received her Master’s in Education, I know exactly what he’s talking about. However, Michael wonders if this is good practice:
One difference between the two situations is significant: the market for schoolteachers is enormous compared to that for librarians (the census bureau puts the figure at 6.2 million, as against about 122 thousand librarians of all types). Obviously the greater number of teaching positions means considerably more market flexibility—there are simply more places to go, more opportunities available. An individual’s investment in library training is therefore a riskier proposition from the outset. To add to that, when the market stalls, the impact falls greatest upon those who have the least marketability—new graduates with little or no experience.
I agree. Teachers with Master’s degrees, even those with little experience, are still hireable since the teaching profession is in constant renewal. People leave the profession, move, have children, etc. And, while a ten-year teacher has skills and knowledge that a new-born graduate doesn’t have, the ten-year teacher is paid at a higher level than the new-born graduate. In the library, all the librarians (as opposed to library staff) have Master’s degrees. Hiring someone with ten years of experience as opposed to a new-born graduate isn’t about saving money as it is with teaching, it’s about bettering the library. Yes, the library won’t hire someone over-qualified for the job, or someone looking for too much money, but the library is not required to pay on a scale like a school is. Michael again:
The folks at the receiving end of this crisis occupy the lowest ranks of the industry; in point of fact, most of them occupy no rank at all, being neither student nor librarian but in a kind of limbo. The schools are done with them and the employers have no relationship: one wonders, who will be their champion?
What can a new-born librarian do to make him/herself more marketable, or as I like to say palatable, to potential employers? I wonder if something can be done on the side of the library schools. Are there practical classes for one to take that will assist one when interviewing for that library job? From the comments on Michael’s post:
There is often also a mismatch between what is taught, what the student chooses to take (known here as the “majoring in Thursday syndrome”), or thinks he or she might do, and what employers want.
Hmmm, that’s interesting. I think there’s also a mis-match in what library schools offer and what libraries want people to know. Sure, they offer a lot of classes, but the schedule is geared for people already working in a library, available any of time of day. On the other hand, let’s say you work full time. And you don’t work in a library (you’re planning on switching careers). And a class that would be beneficial is offered, oh, 9AM to noon on Wednesday. I doubt many employers would be happy with the idea of people working a half-day on Wednesdays. Well, it’s not important to me you say. If switching careers was that important I’d give up my job to take my class. That’s a nice thought, but I have bills to pay, and that gets accomplished by working where I am, not by taking an $8 an hour part-time job. Well, since you’re switching careers anyway, take the class when you decide to leave your job since you will at some point anyway. OK, so let’s say the class is offered one semester a year (I know, crazy thought) and you won’t have a chance to take it.

Is that my fault? Is it my fault that I want to keep working so that we can pay bills and set money aside for a family and a house and for grad school (I have no loans and no school debt, paying it out of pocket and going to school full-time) and be able to afford life when the time comes and I have to leave the job I currently have and then I find out that despite that it’s my last semester the class I really should take is offered next semester? There’s a class I’m supposed (ok, highly recommended) to be taking right now, but it’s during the day, during the week. My employer has told me that taking classes during the day is not an option. I understand that. They didn’t hire me because just anyone can do my job. Losing me for half a day would not be easy for them. And making up the time would be difficult for me since I am in school and much of my current outside of work time is spent on home work. No, to take classes during the day is going to take the commitment to stepping away from my job and scrimping and saving. But that’s wandered away from where I started.
How many of you out there do something different on the job from what you learned in school? How many classes did you take that you never use? Do the library programs near you offer choices that would be useful to the new librarian? I think the library schools do a great job of fleshing out an existing librarian, but for those of us switching careers it is not as strong. I don’t feel that I have much a voice in these matters.

As Michael asked, who will be my champion. Will you be my champion?


  1. Bill S. says:
    It depends on the sort of library you want to get into, I think. I want to work in an academic library, and have found that nearly all the positions I apply for prefer some experience with instruction. I have some (secondary) experience, but I haven’t taken a course in library instruction. I regret that now.
    I’d read job postings for jobs you would be interested in (on, for example), see what they’re asking for with positions (unfortunately, most commonly this is experience, which the school can’t provide, outside a practicum), and tailor your classes accordingly.
    However, throughout my experience in library school, I heard a lot of librarians say that they had prepared for one type of library (academic, special) and ended up doing something library-related that was entirely different — working as the director in a medical library, for instance. It’s a good idea to choose classes that could be useful in a variety of settings.
    As for the course during the day: whenever something like that happened in my program, the listserv would suddenly be overrun with complaints, and everyone knew that the higher-ups in the program read the listserv. But sometimes the schedule depends on money, the availability of professors and facilities, et cetera. Sometimes there’s not a lot that can be done, especially once you’ve completed the core classes. But I’d see if there isn’t someone in the program to whom you can make your dilemma known.
    One thing: because of budget cuts, a few of the classes I took were taught, not by professors, but by working librarians. While family and friends thought I was being ripped off, this was actually beneficial, in that working librarians tend to be a lot more pragmatic, and they are faced with library problems every day. I really appreciated those classes, although their teaching styles were widely variable.
  2. John Klima says:
    Bill, I constantly hear stories of people who followed one course of study during their MLS time and end up doing something else when they get into the field. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened to me. I’m currently looking at systems librarianship to make use of my technical skills, but maybe once I’m in place I’ll shift to somewhere else in the library.
    I completely understand that the classes available at my school are dependent on the expertise of the staff. And while I like evening classes because they fit into my schedule, I don’t like losing my evenings, and I suspect that the faculty feels the same way.
    I’ve had a few courses taught by adjuncts. My cataloging class is taught by someone who catalogues for a living (or did, I think she manages more now than catalogues) but she has the real-world experience of what I should learn about cataloging.
    Mostly, just like the list servs, this is me voicing my personal complaints. And hopefully getting corrected by people in the know. I realize that the schedule of classes isn’t devised by pulling numbers out of a hat and the people that put it together spend a lot of time on it. You can’t make everyone happy.
    It’s interesting that my library themed posts get comments while my science fiction ones do not. Of course, it could be that my library thoughts are less informed and need more correction! :)
  3. Bill S. says:
    When it comes to science fiction, I pretty much sit back and see what other people say about it; I don’t actually feel like I can offer an opinion with any confidence. I also don’t feel like I have the critical vocabulary to express what I think about — well, any fiction. While I’m not actually employed as a librarian (yet), having just completed library school, I’m chock full of fully-formed opinions that I share with people who usually have little or no interest.
    I didn’t mean to sound like I was correcting you: I’m just offering my experiences in the field, such as they are.
  4. John Klima says:
    Sorry Bill, I didn’t mean to imply that you were correcting me; but I would hope that anyone who reads my posts and finds mistakes in them is not afraid to let me know.
    This is particularly true with library oriented things where I have limited to no experience of my own. My thoughts and opinions are going to be very one-sided and naive. I’m sure I’ll look back on these things some day and wonder what the heck was I thinking?

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