Career Counseling

June 26, 2007

I had two conversations last week that ended with enormous headaches…mostly from me banging my head against the wall. There is a lot of conversation about the state of LIS programs and education. Is the MLS really necessary? Are the programs worth the price of tuition? Are we teaching relevant subjects, information and using the right tools? I think that all of these are valuable discussions and I have already discussed some of my feelings about MLS education and programs.

The first conversation I had was with someone who asked me if I thought they should go to library school. When I asked what they wanted to do with their lives and future, they responded that they like working in academia and that they plan on sticking around [the academic library they currently work in]. Then I was treated to a 10 minute lecture about all the talents and skills and ideas that he has to offer the library and why he (and his skill set) are necessary. I am all for tooting your own horn and confidence, but this was more about how us lowly, technophobic, change averse, idiot librarians need his groundbreaking creativity, intelligence, and mad tech skills in order to be relevant. I wish I could write that this is the first time this gentleman has proven that he has no respect for librarians, our work, our education, or our skills or talents, but I can’t.

So what did I tell him? Well, I know firsthand that this is a person who routinely does not listen or pay attention to the wants and needs of his customers – be they internal or external, and that he is a firm believer of “my way or the highway.” Naturally I told him that he should skip the MLS and go straight to law school.

The second conversation, while less annoying still stung a bit. After 6 months, Mike and I finally met our downstairs neighbors at a pool party last week. In the course of the usual getting to know you conversation, I mentioned that I was a librarian to which I received the statement that makes every librarian cringe: “I should have my daughter talk to you about becoming a librarian, she loves to read.”

Why people? Why!?!?!?!?

I actually laughed out loud since this was one of the moments I had often heard about, but had never before personally experienced.

So I got to thinking a lot about this. Why does someone who thinks they are God’s gift with a demonstrated disregard for customer service and someone who loves to read think that librarianship is the perfect profession for them? Where are we going wrong and how are we attracting people like this? Really, it’s a rhetorical question since I think the answer is that people still have no idea what we do all day.

I am the first person to say that not every position in the library requires an MLS. I have said that I am thrilled that in my department I can hire based on talent, skill and experience and not have the lack of an MLS be a deal-breaker. However, I do take slight offense at the notion that once getting the MLS, you are automatically qualified to work in a library.

My solution/suggestion: we should take a page from the physical therapy education playbook and require library school applicants to have a certain number of volunteer hours in a library. Part of those hours (my vote would be 50%) should be spent in front-line public services (circulation, reference, instruction). This way, applicants know what they are getting into before they begin a program and possibly those who have no interest or inclination in working with the public, in teams, collaboratively with co-workers, etc. will be weeded out.

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11 Responses to “Career Counseling”

  1. I worked in a library before I went to library school. That is how I knew I was hooked on the profession!

  2. othemts said

    I worked in the library before and during library school. It helped to have personal experience to make all the theoretical talk in school more meaningful.

    I like the volunteer idea. We do need to come up with ways to better promote librarians and library staff.

  3. Alan Stephens said

    We have a program where students in Emporia’s online MLS program that live in our area can have one of our librarians mentor them. Unfortunately, and I think that it is the students’ loss, the only front-line service they get is at the reference desk and they don’t get to spend a lot of time there.

  4. Lisa Wiecki said

    I just had to LOL hearing about your experience w/ the mother of a prospective library school student who loves to read! I’ve had many people when they hear that I am a librarian exclaim “you must love to read!” Um, actually, no. I do read but I’m hardly a voracious reader and really in the job I have as a manager in an academic library… it really wouldn’t make a difference in my ability to do my job if I never read another novel again. I think the mistake a lot of people make about our profession is that they don’t associate it w/ the business world when in fact running a library is like running a business. You manage projects, budgets, people. You have to satisfy customers, market yourselves, your resources. Reading the library literature is crucial in order to stay on top of trends in the profession but I don’t need to read the new Harry Potter in order to be qualified to be a librarian.

  5. Alan Stephens said

    I think that when parents reccomend librarianship to their children who are voracious readers that it isn’t necessarily based on a misunderstanding of what a librarian does but rather an act of desperation. When a child shows minimal interest in anything but reading parents start trying to find a career path for their child that might in some possible way take advantage of their love for reading. The usual answers are author, work in a bookstore and librarian.

    There was stretch in my pre-teen and early teen years where my parents recommended all three but that changed not because the amount of reading I did decreased, it actually increased, but because I began showing interest in things that led to more concrete career paths. The funny thing is, after a long and torturous path here I am with a career in a library — maybe my parents really did know what they were talking about when I was thirteen.

  6. I never thought of it in that way, Alan. Perhaps you’re right. I will add that this young lady, through my brief interaction with her, seems painfully shy. So I can possibly see this as being the parents’ motivation behind the comment. However, as we both can attest, being severely shy and not enjoying interaction with others is not the best quality for a librarian.

  7. Alan Stephens said

    I beat the shyness out of my library aides by putting them in charge of the circulation desk as soon as they’re trained, sometimes even before they’re completely trained if I think a bigger stick is needed.

  8. I am pretty fortunate that my current staff is pretty extroverted. We have a lot of personality, which is a great thing. But I have used training by fire in the past. It can work really well.

  9. Alan Stephens said

    Our full time staff is great but we’re dependent on Work Study Grants for our aides so every fall we have to train between ten and thirty new library aides. We have three new supervisors and a new librarian over access services who have never gone through a fall training here so they’re all going to get a trial by fire of their own in a few weeks.

  10. marycarmen said

    Yikes!!!!!! That is a lot of turnover every year. Fortunately there is a wealth of really great library supervisory, management and training literature available that can assist in times like these. (I am being really sarcastic today – lack of sleep.)

  11. Alan Stephens said

    We’ve noticed the lack of literature out there but hopefully we can add something to it. We’re revamping our training procedures this year and our new librarian is encouraging us to prepare something for publication when we get finished.

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