The Vast Majority of What We Do in Librarianship is Learned on the Job, Not in the Classroom

John FeltsJohn Felts is the Head of Library Technology and Systems at Coastal Carolina University, at a library with 10-50 staff members in a city/town in the Southern US. He has been a member of many hiring or search committees, and a search committee chair. He says,

I sit on a variety of search committees for all kinds of librarians, but most recently for hiring information literacy librarians, and technology-related librarians (systems, e-resources, etc.)

Mr. Felts has worked in library technology for over twenty years, and is a former patent holder and co-founder of Journal Finder, the first OpenURL Resolver to go into production in the United States. He has been a forerunner in identifying and implementing innovative uses of technology in the provision of library services, acts as a consultant for commercial information content providers that serve the library community, and has been an active publisher and presenter. His current interests include providing library services and resources through mobile technologies and applications, next generation library catalogs, and patron-driven acquisitions collection management models. He is also a jazz trumpet player. You can find him on LinkedIn.

Do library schools teach candidates the job skills you are looking for in potential hires?

√ No

Should library students focus on learning theory or gaining practical skills? (Where 1 means Theory, 5 means practice, and 3 means both equally)


What coursework do you think all (or most) MLS/MLIS holders should take, regardless of focus?

√ Project Management
√ Collection Management
√ Programming (Coding)
√ Web Design/Usability
√ Research Methods
√ Marketing
√ Instruction
√ Soft Skills (e.g. Communication, Interpersonal Relations)

Do you find that there are skills that are commonly lacking in MLS/MLIS holders? If so, which ones?

So many applicants I review don’t seem to take the time to obtain actual library experience before they graduate. I can’t think of one excuse not to exhibit some kind of initiative in obtaining any level of practical experience in a library before you graduate. I don’t even look at an application if an applicant hasn’t even made an attempt to work in a library before graduation – even if it’s a volunteer situation.

Too, learn how to write a decent cover letter. If I’ve served on numerous search committees with hundreds of applicants for each position, don’t you think I can identify in about ten seconds a boilerplate letter where the applicant just changes a few variable fields of information then sends their letter? It’s very, very obvious. And take the time to translate whatever skills and experience you possess and tie these into the position for which you are applying. I receive these laundry lists of projects you’ve worked on in library school which is nothing more than a list to me and tells me very little and does nothing to make you better than fifty other applicants – everyone in library schools across the country essentially take the same classes. Listing the classes you took tells me nothing in regard to why you would be an excellent candidate for a given position.

Why should my institutionI be willing to spend over $1,000 to fly you in and pay for all of your expenses to interview with us if you’re not even willing to take the time to craft a cover letter specifically to the job for which you’re applying?

When deciding who to hire out of a pool of candidates, do you value skills gained through coursework and skills gained through practice differently?

√ Yes–I value skills gained through a student job more highly

Which skills (or types of skills) do you expect a new hire to learn on the job (as opposed to at library school)?

The vast majority of what we do in librarianship is learned on the job, not in the classroom. What I’ve seen lacking in new hires is maturity, experience in any kind of job as opposed to just being in school from the first grade through grad school, and a remarkable lack of knowledge of how to even behave in a professional office environment.

The job is not school. When you arrive on the job it’s time to quit acting like you’re still in school. Be a professional, act professionally, show initiative, be a self-starter and resourceful, and learn to think on your feet and creatively solve problems. If you have to be told what to do every day instead of taking the initiative to learn and chart your own path, then you’ll just be a chronic liability to your boss.

Also, learn how to actually *do* projects instead of talk about them. Learn simple project management skills. Identify goals, research, seek solutions, implement timelines, allocate time and resources to a given project, then execute. Talking an idea or potential project to death achieves very, very little.

Which of the following experiences should library students have upon graduating?

√ Library work experience
√ Other: Library work experience, simple project management skills, ability to code a simple web page, the ability to effectively communicate with colleagues and supervisors, etc.

Which library schools give candidates an edge (you prefer candidates from these schools)?

I won’t state specific schools in this forum, but there are those that typically graduate very underachieving graduates with marginal library-specific skill sets. I will say, and it pains me to say this because I’m a fan of technology and online learning, but exclusively online programs don’t seem to graduate the same caliber of students as those who have at least some on-site matriculation. Plus, there’s no substitute for creating relationships in the classroom that you’ll carry with you your entire career.

Are there any library schools whose alumni you would be reluctant to hire?

Again, I don’t want to state specifics here, but there are schools who consistently graduate students who just don’t fare well in comparison to their peers.

What advice do you have for students who want to make the most of their time in library school?

– Obtain experience.
– Learn simple project mgmt. skills. Learn how to take on a project from early research, through implementation and into full production. Talking without doing achieves nothing.
– Get some technology skills – the more the better.
– Learn how to write a good cover letter and take the time to do so. – Learn how to write an effective, coherent Vitae.
– Network, get to know people, develop relationships.
– Learn to effectively communicate, try to learn to speak without every other phrase being “it’s like” and try to learn to not to talk with your hands.
– Learn to behave professionally. The office isn’t the classroom. When you graduate, it’s time to be a professional. And please quit talking about what you did in library school. It typically has little relevance to the tasks at hand.

This survey was coauthored by Brianna Marshall from Hack Library School. Interested in progressive blogging, by, for, and about library students? Check it out!


1 Comment

Filed under 10-50 staff members, Academic, Southern US, What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School

One response to “The Vast Majority of What We Do in Librarianship is Learned on the Job, Not in the Classroom

  1. Pingback: The Vast Majority of What We Do in Librarianship is Learned on the Job, Not in the Classroom | Gab & Graffiti

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