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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Sometimes I think the one thing that could make this job infinitely more awesome would be if we could listen to music while working the circ desk.  How could you not smile while helping patrons then?