Posted by: Maria | January 7, 2009

Library School Reflections

Library school:  we all had to endure it in order to get where we are today, but did we like it?  Was it useful?  Experiences vary from person to person, of course.  I feel pretty great about my library school experience.  I am a graduate of Pitt’s MLIS program, where most of the classes I took were interesting, engaging, and useful.  The courses with practical applications are the ones that stay with me to this day, still taking up residence in the corner of my mind devoted to library school.  (It is a dusty, disorganized corner, with various LC subject headings scattered around, intermingled with discarded “Interview A Librarian” assignments, papers discussing Lawrence Lessig, a pretend grant proposal and strategic plan written for an imaginary library, and a never-once-opened guide to using Dialog.)  For example, those infamous Search and Seize exercises my reference instructor made us do were brutal, but I have found that forced engagement with reference tools to be invaluable in my work at the reference desk.

It makes sense that as a reference and instruction ibrarian, the things I learned in my reference class come immediately to mind as the most useful.  But what about that management class I had to take?  One of the core classes in Pitt’s program, LIS 2700 (Managing Libraries and Information Systems and Services in Changing Environments) was definitely an interesting course, and I learned all kinds of stuff, but it wasn’t immediately clear to me when and if I would ever enact these things I learned.  Because I wasn’t going to be a manager any time soon, right?  But oh, how wrong I was.

Being a worker in a library means that you have to work with people.  You have to communicate with people.  You have to participate in the running of the library.  You have to deal with change and change with it.  You have to make decisions, alone or in groups.  And all of these things are the very things management is concerned with.  So even though I am not a manager in any way, I am a person working with people in an organization.  Management, by necessity, must matter to me.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I must report that through the magic of distance learning, I will be team-teaching LIS 2700 at Pitt this semester.  If you had told me four years ago that I’d be doing this, I’d laugh in your face.)

What library school classes were most useful to you?  Least useful?  What would you do differently, if anything, if you could redo your degree?

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Responses

  1. First up, congrats on the teaching gig! Most excellent.

    Useful library school classes? I’m right there with you on the search-n-seizes. Getting your hands on the reference books/databases is the only way to go. More than that, though, those assignments teach you HOW to approach a reference question — I find that whenever I’m asked something, I’m trying to figure out which of the many tools in my arsenal would be most appropriate…

    A general element of library school that was most helpful was all the group work. If you had told me that all those group assignments would be excellent preparation for committee meetings, task forces, talking to vendors, etc., I would’ve laughed. But not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for them.

    Leigh Anne

  2. I had a class on classification theory with Barbara Kwasnik at Syracuse that literally changed my life forever. It was riveting while I was taking it, exactly the kind of rigorous intellectual challenge I wish I’d gotten more of in library school, made me feel for the first time that there might be an intellectual home for me in this profession, and has influenced my ‘research agenda’ (if I may be so bold as to attach that phrase to my dithering about) in ways Prof. Kwasnik would likely not believe. I should probably call and tell her that, now that it’s obvious I’m not grade-grubbing.

    We need to engage more high-level theory in library school!

  3. Hi Maria! Congrats on the teaching gig! I’ll never forget those Lessig assignments but agreed, those Search & Seizes were transformative for me at the time and as a Reference & Instruction Librarian now proved mighty useful.

  4. I always have to plug my library and book history classes. They’re the only ones that actually made me do serious research. And that’s how I learned to use the library, the catalog, subject headings, indexes, etc.


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