Discussion topic: What I wish I’d learned in library school (or: What’s the story with LIS Education?)

Day 29: Studies by Snugg LePup. Used with permission CC BY-NC 2.0

Day 29: Studies by Snugg LePup. Used with permission CC BY-NC 2.0

What I wish I’d learned in library school.

Is there a topic closer to librarians’ hearts? However, it’s not unique to librarians – ask any professional in any job from journalism to veterinary science and you will find most have something to say about the value of on-the-job learning over theoretical training.

The way you become a librarian varies from country to country but usually involves some sort of formal education (a diploma, undergraduate or masters degree), often before you start working in libraries.

“What I wish I’d learned”, or a variation of it, has been popular on library blogs for many years. From a 2008 rant by the Annoyed Librarian about office politics (rebutted nicely on the ACRL blog with a list of things that the author had learned in library school) to an offering about the need for library instructional training from earlier this year, there is no shortage of material on this subject.

For the next two weeks, we’d like you to consider (and share with your partner):

  • What sort of library training have you had? Maybe you’ve learned everything on the job and don’t have any formal training. If that’s the case, do you wish you had formal training?
  • How well do you feel that training prepared you for your first library job? What about your most recent library job?
  • Do you find yourself drawing on your theoretical knowledge at work?
  • If you could recommend one thing to a new LIS student as a ‘must learn’,  what would that be?

We will be exploring the area of LIS education during this topic and will hear from current LIS students as well. There’s also a twitter chat on this topic coming up during the next 2 weeks, so plenty of opportunities to have your say!

As always, if you would like to join in the conversation, you can leave comments below or follow us on facebook or twitter (use hashtag #interlibnet so we can find and track your comments).

Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2015B and tagged , , , .


  1. I agree wholeheartedly with Agnes, LIS training should include literacy instruction practice. My course was heavily theoretical… I wish it had included more mandatory prac training, within a library. I volunteered locally which taught me a lot. For someone who did not work in a library I really needed hands-on exposure. For example, LIS schools could have agreements with certain libraries to take a number of students for a period of OJT. Just like teacher trainees. Perhaps some are doing this, I’m not sure.
    Now, as an intern, I wish I had started an internship earlier, even while studying. I realise that I still have loads to learn – from story-time approach, to dealing with contracts; staff management, maker spaces, resource displays, marketing…you name it. In short, dealing with the human (pretend that last word is in italics) approach to the profession of serving fellow humans. Of making a library a space where people WANT to hang out.

    • Hi Sandy

      It’s interesting isn’t it – where I work now (a large university library) we don’t do information literacy instruction in a traditional face to face sense so I no longer feel like I need the pedagogy training.

      I also didn’t work in a library while I was studying so my practical placement was crucial in giving me exposure to the type of work I might expect in a job and in fact was the biggest single thing that helped me get my first job – Clare

  2. I suggest lots of volunteering in libraries: I have always loved the library. I volunteered in my son’s school library many years ago. I had many volunteer jobs in libraries before getting a ‘real’ job in a library. Some of the volunteer jobs were cataloguing for the state geographical society and the women’s resource centre. My formal training (Masters of Library and Information Management) did help A LOT. Other volunteer jobs in libraries – delivering books to home-bound residents and running book discussion groups – where my training did not matter. In my current job, in a school library, I don’t believe much of my training has been useful. Cataloguing for schools is done by a professional organization – SCIS. (I have had to do some original cataloguing – but it has been very basic) The management courses that I completed are a bit to ‘professional’ for the role I am in currently – but it may develop into more management. But my knowledge/ training in knowledge management and human resources has been helpful in the way I deal with teachers/ staff.

    At my position level, it is assumed I have had NO formal training. So I have to really watch what I say and do. Sometimes I have not be so careful and I have gotten myself into trouble. I assumed the leadership team was treating me as an professional in my field, but found out they wanted me to just do my job and not question or make suggestions.

    I wish in my studies we had the option to focus on school libraries – learning more about the curriculum and pedagogy. There is so much to learn in these areas to help support teachers.

    What I would suggest to new LIS professionals – get out and volunteer in a variety of roles and be open to new ideas – experience lots of different environments, before deciding on what area bests suits you.

    • Hi Lisa, I volunteered in my kids’ school library too! I remember SCIS entries 🙂 I agree about the volunteering, whether it’s in a library proper or in a PD way like getting involved with a local group or chapter of your professional association. It’s all about the exchange of ideas – Clare.

  3. I wished I had learned more about teaching as well as fee based services with which to generate funding for my library especially in this economically lean times for libraries. – Jane

    • I like the analogy that sometimes running a library can feel a bit like running a small business with a limited budget. I’m lucky enough to work in a fairly well funded university library at present but I agree that in my previous role, a better idea of the ‘how to’ with budgeting and funding would have been really, really useful – Clare

  4. Most of the library training I have experienced has been on the job. I started working in libraries as a Circulation Assistant (clerk) and that employer offered very little in the way of formal training. Thankfully, I had a customer service background and was very comfortable with the computer, answer phones, typing, and dealing with patrons of all kinds. My next job was as a Circulation Supervisor at a much larger library. This library offered more formal training. I had one week to work in the back learning their process and procedures and then I shadowed a person on the desk for one week before being let loose into the wild. Out of the two libraries, I think the second one offered a better chance for success for its staff. I felt confident in what I was doing. They also had a thorough procedure manual (which I copied and use at my current library). Since I took over in my department, I have created a more formal training process for new hires. There were no training processes before my arrival. I have had staff who worked at the library for years if I would re-train them.

    The training I had at the second library prepared me for my current position. It gave me the chance to see the success staff can have when they are training properly. Also, my former supervisor gave me added responsibilities and training, which made being the head of a department much easier for me.

    I absolutely find myself drawing on theoretical knowledge at work. I share much of what I learn in my classes with my work mates. I also share a lot of what I learn at work in my classes.

    If you could recommend one thing to a new LIS student as a ‘must learn’, what would that be?

    This is a tough one. So far, the class I found very helpful in my work life was the Interpersonal Communication Course. It was helpful for me at work and in my personal life. I think it would be a good class to take no matter what your focus is. We all could use tips on better communication!

    • Thanks for such a considered response. I’ve learned so, so much on the job – and from the extra curricular work I’ve done since in writing and presenting. And of course from working on the ILN 🙂 – Clare

  5. Reblogged this on Dominican University LIS 750 and commented:
    Having spent the first 30 working years of my life as an engineer I may have a different perspective on the expectations many current students (and hiring managers) have for post-graduate education. You see, I was hired as a process engineer after spending five years as an undergraduate earning a BS in Chemistry and a BChE in Chemical Engineer. I went to work in a nuclear facility, where fuel was processed for weaponry and the waste product was stored because we had no better technology to figure out how to handle it. There was absolutely nothing I learned in school to be able to solve these complex problems. And my employer didn’t expect me to solve them myself. What I did learn in school was how to approach problem-solving, how to work with other smart people in teams where we would solve problems together, and how to be curious and tenacious to make sure the problems got solved.

    Do new hires today have the latitude to learn to navigate the work environment? To apply their intellectual acumen to work problems? To join with their new colleagues to apply the latest theory (what they learned in school) to a real life work situation (what their work colleagues have learned from the cultural, financial, and management environment they are in)? This creative tension is what brings about higher level value so we don’t succumb to the “we’ve always find it that way” trap, nor do we fall for every new and potentially impractical idea that comes along.

    Graduate school is not training. There is no substitute for experience. Growth happens when you do new things, typically outside your comfort zone. Trying new ideas require accepting some risk. And all of this is quite okay, I’d even say necessary.

    Join the Twitter Chat tomorrow, Wednesday September 16 at 12:00pm CDT (8:00pm GMT+2). What do you wish you learned in Library School?

  6. I have not worked in a library prior to joining the University library i currently work in. I wish my LIS education had a lot of practical sessions and internship than theory especially on marketing library resources, coming up fundraising activities and promoting literacy programs for the public.

  7. Pingback: Twitter chat reminder: don’t miss out! #interlibnet #libraryschool | Karen's 23 Mobile Things

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