What Exactly Do We Train For?

That’s essentially the question I have this Sunday, to which I feel that I don’t have enough data to provide an answer. If I was formulating a hypothesis on the basis of what I’ve observed in terms of both national and state conference programming, continuing education classes within my own state, and what I’ve managed to pick up over the years, I would say that the library profession is extraordinarily keen on training people on tools like databases, websites, and other information retrieval or organization tools.

While to some of you this might seem like a no brainer (“It’s what we do, Andy.”), I find what isn’t offered speaks louder. There are very few marketing and advertising opportunities (including demographic and population analysis, something that got classroom time at my MLS program). Any customer service practices program tends to be about policy rather than people, and considering that body tone and expression rank higher than words spoken I would think some basic body language or facial expression reading classes might be in order. A couple of years ago I would include advocacy oriented sessions, but that seems to be a cyclical offering for the bad budget years.

While talking about the “Best YA Books of 2011” is certainly a good conference session, there is less talk about how to advertise, display, or otherwise even provide an ice breaker for approaching the YA audience about these books. These presentations are very nice, but without something to draw in the patron to them, they are going to collect dust on the shelf.

There is a big push to proclaim that libraries are a people oriented endeavor, but our training seems to belie that priority. (I would say that our policies in general do as well, but that’s another argument.)

So, what exactly are we training for?

In taking a look at your library or library system, state association and conferences, what do you think we train for? What do you see offered versus what do you think should be offered?

(Follow up question: Are terms like marketing, advertising, branding, and their kin bad words in the librarian profession? What’s the aversion?)

8 thoughts on “What Exactly Do We Train For?

  1. I hate to be a downer, but I’m not sure the MLS programs are training us for anything. There seems to be a critical waffling between “this is practical, hands on education!” and “this is a theory based, academic curriculum!” that puts most of us into a no man’s land. Meanwhile, the MLS degree is mostly a sticker-stamp of authority that doesn’t even have much social prestige.

    Not to say that such projects as HackLibSchool and individuals like you aren’t working to change that, because change IS happening. But I’ve absorbed a lot of what Swigger wrote in “The MLS Project” analysis and I feel he’s pretty spot on: the MLS project has failed to meet objectives, and in the lurch, we are still trying to figure out *what* Information Studies is supposed to be.

    I think that terms like marketing, branding, etc. leave a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths because of the idea that libraries are supposed to be “above” that sort of thing, like museums and schools. But nothing is, these days, and I believe you are on target with the concept of librarianship as a people oriented endeavor which needs marketing and branding in order to reach our patrons and potential patrons.

    My (always contrary!) 2 cents. <3

    • To be fair, I was not talking about MLS programs. I was talking about continuing education and staff training that is offered after the program. I don’t think there is really any change in any MLS program unless it comes at the accreditation level. And that’s a whole different ballgame.

      In short, for the complaining about the MLS program, there doesn’t seem to be a workshop, training, or other continuing educational system program in place to offset this complaint.

      And, quick point of information, museums have been in advertising for a long period of time. I don’t really see how they are above it.

  2. Thought-provoking and difficult (can you really have one without the other?). I pursued by theoretical and practical education for my MLS, and find myself in a job that really incorporates very little of it, except education theory, and whatever time I spent presenting. I don’t have any answers. If an MLS really addressed what was needed, it would be an extremely long program that made it even more unaffordable on librarian salaries. When someone asks me why a master’s degree, I tell them it’s because this, in combination with a bachelor’s, tends toward a more rounded person. Why do we teach non-people things? I can only assume it’s because they’re much easier to teach, and much less ambiguous. But I’m just guessing.

  3. I work at a mid-sized academic university in Illinois, and I think our Professional Development Committee has done a great job planning practical training sessions. They are usually a fairly broad topic, since not everyone needs detailed instructions on how to use certain databases. Many of them center on customer service, like how to deal with difficult patrons or draft professional e-mails.

    To be frank, the programs I’ve attended at ALA and state conferences have been hit or miss. Some of them have been enormously useful, but others are too generic to be of any applicable value. I agree, Andy, that marketing is really vital, and it would be great to have more detailed, practical training sessions available. I have a particular interest in this topic, but many of the sessions I’ve attended have been well-meaning but flat.

  4. Good questions, Andy. I sometimes feel like I am hearing the same stories over and over again at conferences, which steers me towards more informal opportunities like unconferences. Those sorts of spaces tend to attract very passionate and engaged individuals and I find the discussions rewarding in terms of brainstorming new ideas and fleshing out details.

    As for marketing/branding, those are concepts I work with daily in my position as an academic outreach librarian. However, I still find a lot of aversion, which astounds me. Why would more communication be a bad thing? Why would more visibility be negative? It’s often challenging to get buy-in — not so much from campus partners, but from internal staff.

    I’m totally up for collaborating on some kick-ass professional development opportunities with you if you’re ever interested!

  5. And with the beginning of school the day after you wrote this, I’m just now catching up.

    Continuing education/training for some special librarians is amazingly horrid. I spent a week at a conference this summer and learned exactly 2 things: I’m slow at keeping up with the conference gossip on Twitter, and that it is possible to most of a city while your employer pays for it. I spent long hours listening to people mumble/rant/prattle on about how “this is awesome/sucks” without how to use it, market it, put it into practice.

    At another conference this summer (yes, I was lucky enough to attend 2 conferences!), I learned quite a few things. Two sessions stands out as giving me the tools (websites, search tools) to find a specific type of information. These two sessions were standing room only, which, if I was a conference planner/training manager/continuing education honcho I would take note of. To me, continuing education gives me some tool, some thing or idea to take back and use. I’d like to see more training on how to use these fabulous tools, just like these conference sessions.

    Training should encompass some of the “this is how we do that” type dialogue as well as some hands on “thing.” For example, if I were presenting on how to create an effective marketing plan, I would start with “this is how my library did it, this is how we measured success.” Then, I would have the audience start drafting a marketing plan, collaboratively. The attendees would have some tangible item to walk away with that has furthered their education.

    And marketing should not be a bad word! I got around using the “m-word” by telling my superiors we need to “engage and inform” our library users. This made most of my marketing ideas palatable and approved for implementation.

  6. Those are great points, Andy. I wish that library schools would devote an entire required course to the reference interview because that interaction, whether at a reference desk or somewhere else, is fundamental to what librarians do. The class would draw in content from psychology, sociology, social work, education, communication, rhetoric, human-computer interaction, and any other related area to provide a well-rounded look at what we are doing in a reference interview and how to understand the patron, put the patron at ease, and remove the barriers to effective communication and instruction between us.

    • (Didn’t finish that before I sent it!)

      …but because almost no one (if anyone) got that sort of in-depth background in library school, it would be great to see library conferences actively seek out professors and professionals in those other fields to come talk with us about how insights from those fields can help us better understand and perform reference interviews.

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