TALK TO A PRACTICING LIBRARIAN!!! Preferably more than one!

school children 1954This anonymous interview is with an academic librarian who has been a hiring manager and a member of a hiring or search committee. This person hires the following types of LIS professionals:

catalogers, collection development, special collections

This librarian works at a library with 10-50 staff members in a city/town in the Southern US.

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
√ Budgeting/Accounting
√ Grant Writing
√ Project Management
√ Library Management
√ Collection Management
√ Metadata
√ Archives
√ History of Books/Libraries
√ Research Methods
√ Reference
√ Information Behavior
√ Outreach
√ Soft Skills (e.g. Communication, Interpersonal Relations)
√ Field Work/Internships

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

Understanding the bigger picture (perhaps that only comes with experience). Understanding the importance and significance of cataloging and our online catalogs — those are our most frequently used reference tool, and frequently new MLS/MLIS grads don’t have enough respect for and knowledge of the design and vocabularies behind those catalogs.

Also, print resources are still valuable in many fields–print resources may be the ONLY way to obtain information! Unfortunately students rarely get exposure to a really fine reference collection anymore, particularly with so many online MLS/MLIS programs. 😦

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)?

*local practices (for example in cataloging, database management, policies, etc.)
*local collections (non-electronic and electronic)
*local management hierarchy

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

√ Library work experience
√ Internship or practicum
√ Professional organization involvement

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

Indiana University
Simmons College
University of Illinois

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

University of Missouri
Florida State University

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

*work in a library
*get practical experience — something you can call your own and that will set you apart from other applicants
*do more than the minimum required for courses in your area of expertise
*map out your coursework carefully so you don’t resort to taking something to fill out your hours that may not be the best choice for your path.
*listen to practicioners. Find out which professors have practical experience and take their courses.

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

*read job postings BEFORE you go to library school
*look at the requirements and compare your qualifications and skill set against the desired jobs
*then assess how you will obtain those qualifications — if it’s not possible, then reassess your career path
*TALK TO A PRACTICING LIBRARIAN!!! Preferably more than one!

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

11 responses to “TALK TO A PRACTICING LIBRARIAN!!! Preferably more than one!

  1. Special note again to hiring managers- just because I went to school online does not mean that courses did not require us to use print resources or familiarize our selves with them. Also many of us worked in libraries while attending online schools 🙂


  2. A successful academic librarian with an online degree!

    This particular librarian needs to get off his/her high horse, because librarians from online schools are equally as qualified as those librarians who have gone the traditional route.


    • magpielibrarian

      Agreed. I didn’t go to an online school, but I went to a state school that people might look down on. In any case, I was surprised at the snobbery.


      • Carol Perryman

        Aspirant librarians reading this anonymous interview would do well to fact-check for themselves. As we’re meant to give credence to authoritative and transparent evidence, I’d be cautious to accept this single interview as fact.

        As a reader, do you think it’s true that *all* graduates of the two programs named should be avoided? That’s a very broad brush, and insults many fine graduates and educators. A finer-grained concept is that all programs graduate varied individuals, and that some individuals do a better job than others of benefiting from their experience.

        We get out what we put in. We select programs based on our own circumstances and need.

        And once we’ve graduated, we enter a lifelong learning stage. This lasts as long as our careers – and needs to, because libraries are changing as we speak.

        Another finer-grained concept is that you could ask library managers at every single institution in this country what they sought in their new hires, and you’d get as much variation as there are people.


      • Part of the reason I post each response is so that people can see just the concept you describe in your final paragraph. Each hiring manager has different needs, standards, and biases. Florida state university has shown up in both the “preferred” and “reluctant” categories.


  3. Debi

    Wow, online MLS/MLIS students don’t get exposure to a “really fine” reference collection? Mmkay. And this observation is based on…? I worked in a major public library (with a really fine reference collection) while in online library school and had ready access to a large local university library (with a really fine reference collection) whenever needed.


  4. Hmmm. As a professor at FSU I’m really curious! I’ve got lots of practical experience, as do most of my colleagues; I teach our required info org class (and we do also have a cataloging class AND a metadata class AND an info architecture class AND an information retrieval class AND… so on :-)); and as an advisor the things I tell my advisees and students track very closely with what this (single, anonymous) hiring manager has to say about getting tons of practical experience, keeping on top of current trends in practice, etc.

    We are always happy to hear feedback about our MLIS program (my contact info is all over the place online, so feel free to reach out), but for us to be able to be responsive to the profession, it has to be clear. (Oh, and I learned to teach online at Illinois, where I got my Ph.D. and where I was one of the first 2 TAs in their online program starting in 1997…).


    • If I were rewriting the survey, I would have added “and why” to that question. Sorry! FSU does show up as a preferred school for other respondents.


      • No need to apologize — hindsight is always 20/20 in research instrument design :-). I’m proud of our program, our students, and our alumni, so naturally, I had a moment! But it’s also true that we LIKE feedback and like to be responsive, so anytime I see an opportunity to learn about what we can do better, my curiosity is piqued too. Thanks for the response.


  5. As a current student, I’ve taken both online AND live classes, and I can assure this hiring manager that there is no difference in the exposure to quality references! I think this person should educate themselves about online courses, and readjust his thinking.


  6. debra

    where did she go to school? and she stated she didnt care where their skills came from, just that they had them so why would there be a school preference? I have taken online and live classes and I found the online sometimes were the ones that I got most out of because I had to study more and put a little more responsibility for what I learned on myself. I know alot of graduates and students of FSU …it is a great school. My daughter is a student there in library science and they have a great department.


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