Library School Should Prepare You Not for Your First Job, But for Your Last One

Jonathan HarwellJonathan Harwell is the Head of Collections and Systems at Rollins College, where the Olin Library is a 2013 winner of the ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award.

Mr. Harwell has been a hiring manager and a member of a hiring or search committee for the following types of LIS professionals:

Reference librarians, serials & e-resources librarians, discovery & systems librarians, archivists, digital archivists, collection development librarians– all librarians & archivists here serve as liaisons and provide reference, instruction, & collection development.

In a prior life, Mr. Harwell was a teacher in Albania. You can find him on Facebook.

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

√ Depends on the school/Depends on the candidate

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?

√ Cataloging
√ Grant Writing
√ Project Management
√ Library Management
√ Web Design/Usability
√ History of Books/Libraries
√ Research Methods
√ Reference
√ Readers’ Advisory
√ Instruction
√ Field Work/Internships
√ Other: Licensing & administrative metadata

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

Interlibrary loan, original cataloging, project management

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

√ No preference–as long as they have the skill, I don’t care how they got it

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

Familiarity with specific URM, ILS, or ERM software

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

√ Internship or practicum
√ Other presentation
√ Other publication
√ Professional organization involvement
√ Teaching assistant/Other instructional experience

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

Any ALA-accredited schools

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

Non-ALA-accredited schools

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

Find any way you can to get experience in teaching/presenting, and to get some sort of hands-on library experience. Volunteer to get involved with the USA’s only professional organization for library employees, the ALA-APA; or if in Canada, get involved with CAPAL. (ALA exists only to promote libraries; it’s not a professional organization.) ALA meetings can be helpful, but seek out smaller conferences to attend if possible– state library associations, the Charleston Conference, the Acquisitions Institute at Timberline Lodge, the American Theological Library Association, etc.

Do you have any other comments, for library schools or students, or about the survey?

I agree with my mentor professor, Dr. Marcella D. Genz, whose philosophy is that library school should prepare you not for your first job, but for your last one. In other words, you should have a theoretical and ethical grounding that will ultimately serve you as a library director.

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


Filed under Academic, What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School

7 responses to “Library School Should Prepare You Not for Your First Job, But for Your Last One

  1. Nancy Bolt

    This is exactly what I tried to say last week. Library schools need to train people to be library leaders, not to get their first low level job. There are talented support staff all over the place that can do entry level MLS work in a library and more as well. We need to train professional librarians to be leaders and not worker-bees.


  2. I honestly feel that my library school did an excellent job training me for a successful leadership position. Unfortunately, those seem to be in short supply.


  3. Nancy Bolt

    Where did you go?


  4. Pingback: Your Move: What’s ahead in your library career? | AzLA College and University Libraries Division Blog

  5. Pingback: Your First Job But Probably Not Your Last: On Becoming a Professional | Rule Number One: A Library Blog

  6. Pingback: Your First Job But Probably Not Your Last: On Becoming a Professional | Rule Number One: A Library Blog

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