Ten Things You Won’t Find On Your LIS Class Syllabus

I generally try to avoid posts comprised of a list but every now and again I get inspiration to put one together. I give credit to Jill Hurst-Wahl for providing a catalyst with her blog post “What I want LIS students to know”. In doing my own reflection of the last couple of years, I’d like to offer my own advice on this avenue. So, without further ado…

1) Don’t buy into the “Old vs. New” librarian generation meme.

At its most basic form, it is the idea that young librarians are just wishing for older professionals to die or retire to make room for them in the job market. In its advanced concept, it is the notion that older professionals are resistant to change and are actively engaged in the prevention of new ideas from being heard, implemented, or otherwise considered.

This is bullshit.

I wouldn’t rule out that the “get out” idea hasn’t passed through the mind of a new librarian. It’s a normal upward pressure felt when new members are trying to make room in a field that is crowded. Nor would is it completely unlikely that an older professional squashed, outmaneuvered, or otherwise dismissed an idea from a young or new librarian simply because they are set in their ways. But to me the embracing of the meme means two things: first, that older professionals are an obstacle to the development of younger librarians; second, that the older generation is incapable of handling change. That, simply put, is asinine shortsightedness. Without the older generation of librarians, there are no mentors, no guides, and no retained professional intelligence that can be passed onto the next generation (and likewise when the current young group becomes the older hands). Nevermind the notion that the older librarians cannot handle or manage change; it’s a rehashing of the saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. There is no age limit on being a progressive librarian. One cannot pass around a video of a woman over one hundred years old using an iPad or learning a new dance and praise it while then saying that older librarian generation cannot handle change.   

Don’t get caught up in this meme. It’s a waste of your time.

(Some people will have a problem with the use of the term “progressive”, so I define it as someone moving towards new services, materials, and policies that better reflect the needs of the communities they serve. You may now argue it from there.)

2) The mission is static. The implementation is dynamic.

It’s an oversimplification, but the mission of a library (any library, either public, school, academic, or special) could be summed up in a simple phrase such as “to provide service to a community”. Along with other core librarian values, they do not change regardless of the setting.

As it relates to how services are rendered, collections are maintained, and policies are outlined, that is a whole different train of thought. Furthermore, it is highly influenced by the circumstances under which the library operates. What works at one library may not scale to another. It doesn’t mean that it is wrong or a bad idea, but that it just doesn’t fit or apply to another situation. Be open enough to recognize the differences in libraries and how different approaches work towards similar outcomes.

Libraries are not a ‘one size fits all’ prospect, but they are operated under the same philosophic ideals and principles.

3) Libraries are not information vaults, but information launch pads.

Like Mrs. Hurst-Wahl stated, the profession is in flux. It is a paradigm shift from being one of few source of information and literacy to one of many. Libraries are not the end of the line for knowledge, but now a gateway to the greater intelligence networks of the world. Communication and computation have made global sharing of collected wisdom the new reality of a connected world. That is the concept that we have moved towards: the people who can make the connection between a person and the information or literacy that they seek. It will be the evolving measure of success for the library and a key element to future measurements of library effectiveness.

4) Service matters.

The passive service model in which a person sits at a desk and waits for inquiries is half dead. While there is merit to having someone on hand to answer patron’s question, it is up to librarians today to provide service remotely. Whether it is by phone, email, chat, text, mobile, or website, people are going to be looking for information on other platforms. It’s up the profession to provide additional reasonable access venues to meet these emerging or established means.

In becoming more connection oriented, the emphasis on customer service has never been greater. It is about creating, cultivating, and maintaining a relationship with the patron community. For myself, I think about the kind of service I like to get at store and restaurants and put that into my efforts to help my patrons. I want them to leave not only with satisfaction, but the desire to come back.

5) Advocacy is the new norm.

In my opinion, advocacy is now integral to librarianship. The days in which the library did not have to sell itself to its community are past and gone. While marketing library services, materials, and programs is important, it is important that the profession be able to articulate and demonstrate the value of libraries to their communities. It’s not simply a matter of reaching those who come to the library, but reaching beyond to those who do not but still support the mission of the library. Whether it is politicians, adults, students, superintendents, provosts, or corporate officers, the ability to show value for the investments placed within the library is an ongoing and important endeavor. In times of need, it is integral to have the ability to call upon supporters.

6) Politics is not a dirty word.

This is simply not limited to elected officials, but the social politics that exist in other settings. While there has been a distain for engaging in such lobbying as we pride ourselves for being neutral and objective, I find there is an important difference between offering information objectivity and being active in the politics of those who make decisions regarding the fate of the library. There is no taint to creating and maintaining relationships with decision makers. I would argue that there is no conflict of interest; in fact, it would be in the best interests for the continuation of the library to curate these friendships.

Politics (as political science or social politics) is something that librarians have been involved with in one way or another for many years; this end of the spectrum should be utilized to the best advantage of the library.

7) Professional development is in your hands.

While there are great libraries and systems out there that provide excellent monetary support for attending continuing educations classes, workshop, and seminars, it’s up to you to find the resources that will further your career. They may send you to the state or ALA conferences, but it’s up to you to attend the programs and talk to the people who share your interests. Beyond that, I’d suggest delving into other professional outlets, whether it is trade publications, academic publications, or online in the form of sites, forums, blogs, and/or social media.

Where there are opportunities, utilize them. Where there are not, make your own. Only you can advance your career.

8) Know your library’s basic maintenance.

For anything that has more than a handful of moving parts, requires electricity to work, or has a computer within it, I’d highly recommend learning as much as you can about it. Whether it is a computer, toilet, fish tank, printer, fax machine, copier, or electrical/plumbing system, you don’t need to know how to repair it, but should have an idea of what to do when things go wrong. Stopping a bathroom from flooding due to a leaky sink, helping graduate students from losing their minds when the printer isn’t cooperating, or being able to figure out what to do if the lights go out or the fire alarm malfunctions, these are the things they don’t talk about in an LIS program. As someone working in the library, you are a first responder to these issues and you should prepare yourself for these situations.

For myself, I’ve learned how to read and reset the fire alarms, reboot and reprogram the phone systems, check for sewage or other plumbing problems, who to call for animals in the library, and the basic fixes for all of our printers, copiers, and a few of our testier computers. No matter what the library setting, knowing your building is an important bit of knowledge to possess in my opinion. Under the right circumstances, this advanced knowledge and preparation can save the day.

9) Be yourself, no matter what they say.

There will be trying times. There will be trying situations. There will be obstructive people, whether they are coworkers, administration, or patrons. The important thing is to remain true to who you are as a person and what you believe in about the profession. Everything else will follow after that. And if you can’t be who you are or follow what you believe, then it’s time to hit the trail in search of a better fit.

That’s it. Be yourself, no matter what they say.

10) Have fun.

For myself, I love what I do. I enjoy what I do for the community I serve. I also like to have fun with what I do. Over a year ago, I started the “People for a Library Themed Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Flavor”  Facebook group because I thought it would be fun to do and to promote. It has serious undertones that relate back to advocacy and awareness, but the first impression was meant to appeal to people’s sense of fun. Same thing for last year’s librarian online gift exchange (which I will be doing again this year, just working out details/logistics) and with the #andypoll stuff on Twitter. Look at what my fellow librarians and friends Justin and JP did with the Project Brand Yourself A Librarian over 8bitlibrary; they had people getting tattoos!   

The bottom line for me is that I can act in a professional manner, enjoy what I do, and have some fun at the same time. I think people forget that last aspect at times, but I hope that this will remind them. Take what you do and bring some joy to it. Trust me, it is totally worth it.

Now, go forth and change the world. Or your little corner of it.

16 thoughts on “Ten Things You Won’t Find On Your LIS Class Syllabus

  1. “3) Libraries are not information vaults, but information launch pads.”
    “5) Advocacy is the new norm.”
    “6) Politics is not a dirty word.”
    “9) Be yourself, no matter what they say.”

    All good, liked this in particular. Well said!

  2. Great post. I’ll graduate in May and the main thing I’ve picked up from *my* department is that practically everyone is a technophobe. This scares me since as a profession, everyone in school right now should be okay with a patron handing them the latest gadget and wanting to know what it is. This is not to say that every librarian should know how to identify and use every single tech toy, but they shouldn’t freak out and start crying in the middle of class because we’re using Photoshop*.

    *True story

    • I think I need to know a little more about your coworkers before I can say anything. Photoshop can be a bit intimidating to say the least, but I had an former coworker who cried at the training for email. She did not want to use a computer which makes even the most basic of job duties (such as checking books in and out) rather strenuous.

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  5. Perhaps as an addendum, I’d add not buying into “Old vs. New” service models. There’s a lot of people in the field who are either dogmatically obsessed with or dogmatically opposed to any given thing. Rather than buying into the “If you’re not on Twitter, retire” or “Twitter is single-handedly destroying people’s ability to communicate” bandwagons, see if it makes sense, for you, and for what purposes it might be useful.

  6. I am one of those olde’ librarians w/ over 30 something years of exp. wish I had those items to read when I went through Lib.School. Loved the bathroom a’la plumbing- how about the leftover kids at closing, the problem patron’s, etc. and so forth,.. I am still in the trenches – yet! adding new help when $ is av.

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  8. I don’t quite understand what people think library schools are teaching these days. Between blog posts like this and the Hack Lib School project, it seems people think we’re being handed only outdated concepts or learning how to “shh” all day long. Nothing could be further from the truth. Numbers 2-5, for instance, have been covered in almost every class I’ve been in.
    It’s still a refreshing and relevant post. I do sort of wish they would teach us how fire alarms, printers, and copiers work :) Sometimes that’s the hardest part of working behind a reference desk.

    • I’m glad to hear that your school is covering these issues. I’ve gotten a mixed feedback from people who (like you) are going ‘this is old news!’ to the other end that say ‘they never told us this!’

      But I’m glad you liked it. When I get more time, I’d love to help out with the hacklibschool project.

  9. Hi Andy,

    First time reader and commenter and I know this post is a bit old but I have to say I absolutely love it. I’m more on the “they never told us this” end of things, but I’m a pre-professional and I learned stuff about printers, copiers and maintenance on the job early so I hope that helps.

    • Thanks Jon. The lesson I’m getting out of this is that it depends on where you go to school. Some people have said that they get this kind of coverage on topics, others, well, not so much. Thanks for commenting!

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