This anonymous interview is with someone who works in a public library who has been a hiring manager and a member of a hiring or search committee. This person hires the following types of LIS professionals:
Depends on the committee. I’ve done everything from library assistants and pages to librarians.
This librarian works at a library with 200+ staff members in an urban area in the Northeastern US.
Do library schools teach candidates the job skills you are looking for in potential hires?
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?
√ Grant Writing
√ Project Management
√ Library Management
√ Collection Management
√ Programming (Events)
√ Programming (Coding)
√ Web Design/Usability
√ Readers’ Advisory
√ Services to Special Populations
√ Soft Skills (e.g. Communication, Interpersonal Relations)
√ Field Work/Internships
√ Other: Networking; self-promotion; flexibility and willingness to change
Do you find that there are skills that are commonly lacking in MLS/MLIS holders? If so, which ones?
As a general rule, there’s a vast disconnect between what it is taught and what is actually used. While the categories above, in theory, are absolutely vital to a successful career you have to weigh the context in which they are taught. Metadata, digital collections and archiving are only useful to someone who wants to seek that as an actual profession. So for an everyday job, none of those are even remotely relevant. Take tagging for example, yes tagging is important, but realistically tagging is counterintuitive to the Type-A personalities that we all seem to develop in graduate school. Because these students were all taught to think a certain way and given an antiquated view of the profession through theory, there can be nothing else. Deviation is discouraged because they will be doing the profession a disservice. It’s entirely unrealistic. Schools need to teach flexibility, personality and personableness if we want the profession as a whole to continue for the foreseeable future.
In all actuality, a class needs to be taught on all the things they didn’t teach me in library school. Talk to Directors, security personnel, and all levels of employees and ask genuinely what their library experience has been like. Ask questions and teach them the realities are that you’ll have to solicit funds from the strangest places, that you will have to negotiate with your city for funding and simple things like changing light bulbs in a regular fashion. There needs to be an accurate representation of what libraries are and not what we think they are. Usually the two view are polar opposites. I, personally, will not hire someone who has never worked (or volunteered) in a library within 5 years. Yes it’s a catch-22 but you could have been a page to get a general overview. There’s no excuse if this is the profession you want to join and you have no idea what they do.
Teach professionalism as an addendum, how to dress, how to act, how to interview, how to hold a conversation. The vast majority have some idea how to do some of those things but they can’t master them all. As a profession, we are terrible at marketing ourselves. Teach them young and instill that point in them.
Business skills. How to manage effectively, how to budget (what is a budget and why do I need one), Human resources practices and knowledge. Even a cursory knowledge teaches you the characteristics that you want in an employee and how to manage them. Mentorship
[Note: This person may have been cut off by the form]
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)?
Marketing, negotiation, budgeting, accountability, hiring the right person for the position, communication
Which of the following experiences should library students have upon graduating?
√ Library work experience
√ Internship or practicum
√ Student organization involvement
√ Professional organization involvement
Which library schools give candidates an edge (you prefer candidates from these schools)?
Experience–One internship does not work;
Social media skills – Continued social media presence;
Thinking outside of the box – Conventional ways of marketing and fundraising are outdated and probably won’t get results;
Business acumen – from management to budget to hiring to HR practices like performance reviews and negative reviews.
Are there any library schools whose alumni you would be reluctant to hire?
Not that I can think of.
What advice do you have for students who want to make the most of their time in library school?
Take theory with a grain of salt. It is a good foundation, but it is and always will be theoretical and not practical. Get a mentor and actually listen to them. Most library students leave school thinking they know everything because they have all this book sense. Realize that 25% of what you learned in school aside from search methodologies will help you in life. You will fight low program attendance for no reason, you will fight people who threaten your institution at every turn, you will have to plunge toilets and do flood management more than you truly want to admit to outsiders. Recognize that this profession can be what you make of it, not what others think it is.
Do you have any other comments, for library schools or students, or about the survey?
The educational system is partially responsible because there is no way to update the system to correlate with the real-world and I understand that. It’s not that universities aren’t trying, but it is hard to keep up with anything. Remind the students that this is theoretical and a foundation, but it will have to be adapted to the environment in which they pursue. Again, do as much as you possibly can to get the experience and use that knowledge in a practical way. Diversify. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and think because you went to library school you’re entitled to a job. There are 75 others with the same mindset who applied for the same job. Figure out what separates you from the pack and run with that.
This survey was coauthored by Brianna Marshall from Hack Library School. Interested in progressive blogging, by, for, and about library students? Check it out!
Special Note: From December 6, 2013 to October 24, 2014, the ALA will accept comments on the Draft revised Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies. More information about the process of changing these standards is here. If you have opinions about what people should be learning in library school, here’s a way that you can influence change.