Do not go to library school. Librarianship is a dying profession.

Hill School, May DayThis 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:

Reference librarians

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)

2

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

√ Grant Writing
√ Programming (Coding)
√ Web Design/Usability
√ Metadata
√ Research Methods
√ Information Behavior
√ Outreach
√ Marketing
√ 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?

We recently hired an Instruction Librarian and were looking for candidates with a strong technology background. Very few candidates had any sort of technology experience. Seems they are not learning necessary technology skills in the library school.

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)?

I expect a new hire to learn reference service and other “librarian skills” on the job. I want new hires out of library school with strong technology skills and an overall view of the profession and of higher education (for academic librarians). Searching databases and knowing where to find information will depend on the library’s resources and can be taught in-house.

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

√ Library work experience
√ Other presentation
√ Other publication
√ Teaching assistant/Other instructional experience
√ Other: Technology

Which library schools give candidates an edge (you prefer candidates from these schools)? Are there any library schools whose alumni you would be reluctant to hire?

I see no discernible difference in library schools. It is really all about what the candidate did while in school. (i.e. classes taken, skills learned, job experience)

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

Do not go to library school. Librarianship is a dying profession. But if you are going to go, get as much technology training as you can and get a wide array of experiences in a library so you know what you want to do and have a better understanding of how libraries work.

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

I think it would make an interesting study to compare the curriculum of library schools today to the curriculum from previous decades. I am not sure too much has changed. I think library schools spend too much time on “librarian skills” (i.e. how to use a gazetteer) than on skills needed in the modern library. A disconnect exists between library schools and practicing librarians.

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.
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45 Comments

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

45 responses to “Do not go to library school. Librarianship is a dying profession.

  1. I’m sad that this person has such a narrow view of what is possible with an LIS degree. Libraries may be the primary destination for LIS grads, but it isn’t the *only* destination. To suggest that someone shouldn’t go into LIS because librarianship is dying (which is debatable) shows a very narrow and possibly outdated understanding of the breadth and reach of this field.

    • southernLib

      Also interesting that the complaint seems based on the pool for a recent hire. I went to a school where we spent very little on “traditional library stuff” and few of my colleagues with the strongest tech skills wanted to be librarians. Many of them are at Amazon, vendors and other corporate jos. In fact, when I took my current position as an academic librarian, I had a corporate offer – but I’m a sucker for students. It could just be that the students with skills aren’t as interested in what appears to be a very small southern school environment.

  2. Todd Pierce

    This interview post supports what a tenured academic librarian told me during an interview for an internship. That is, this librarian said that library search committees at the university are more interested in hiring applicants with strong technical backgrounds rather than those who have academic bacgrounds with MLIS degrees. So I think this librarian is reflecting the realities of the current situation for librarians…especially at the universtiy.

  3. I suspect it’s an indication of a particular library organization / librarian to think technology skills are the one thing librarians can’t learn post formal schooling. That, to me, betrays deep insecurity about his/her relationship to technology and capacity for taking responsibility for learning about it. Constantly. That stuff changes, you know.

  4. Jess

    I wish the interviewee (and others) would be more clear in what they mean by “technology skills.” That’s so broad and non-specific. Do they mean comfort with learning new technology? Coding or programming? So-called web 2.0 like creating a blog or a screencast? Teaching online? It’d be helpful to have more information.

    • Johnnie R. Blunt

      I agree with Jess. I wish the interviewee had defined “technology skills” and had shared criteria to evaluate such skills. Do “strong technology skills” include hard core programming/ coding or just the ability to locate the “on” switch on a computer? Does the ability to design and implement computer networks count as a strong technology skills? Are candidates who can build and administer databases with SQL (Structured Query Language) considered to have “strong technology skills”?

      To be frank, candidates who can do all the above and more most likely wouldn’t consider a librarian position, especially since they can make a lot more money at a tech job.

      • pigbitinmad

        I believe it is a very deliberate attempt not to be specific so that hiring managers can claim a skills shortage. No, I don’t know C++ or Java, but I have built a lot of web sites and can learn almost any techie thing out there (I recently took a course in XML and found it fairly easy). However, I am still unemployable because when I get called in for an interview they don’t want someone in their 50’s. I guess they don’t believe that someone my age actually does know this stuff and finds it easy.

        About ten years ago, I worked in an academic library and none of the librarians there had better technical skills than I did (I was only a clerk). I couldn’t get promoted there because it was university policy never to promote from within. It was simply “not done.” It was like an “untouchable” daring to enter the ranks of the Brahmins.

        So, yes, I understand the need to be adaptable to technology, but usually there is an entire IT department for worrying about servers and that sort of thing.

        This is why we will never get a straight answer to this question because if you could prove you were tech savvy enough, you would be able to sue for age discrimination. If I had known how bad it was I would never have gotten my degree. I had the image of libraries as more welcoming to older women. NOT SO. I will probably still end up a greeter at Walmart.

  5. Richard

    This is truly a sad commentary on the state of leadership in the profession of Librarianship today. What I read into this is … “we don’t need another traditional librarian, they have ME. So we need someone that can come equipped to deal with all these computers since they weren’t here when I started and I never learned to deal with them.” Technology is not a skill, it is a set of tools real librarians use to help their patrons unlock the value of information. It isn’t the education of applicants that is broken here. It is the vision of the hiring librarian. I would hate to work for or with them.

  6. I actually find myself inclined to agree with the interviewee. The tech skills I saw in my cohort of LIS grads were not, as a general rule, sufficient for what is, in my mind, a very technical field. However, I know some of my perspective comes from sitting on the techier end of librarianship and spending time supporting colleagues who aren’t as comfortable with technology.

    I will say, the not-in-libraries work that an LIS grad could do will ABSOLUTELY require technical skills–better ones than they can build within an LIS program.

    Modern LIS education doesn’t seem sufficiently modern to me, and I am a [fairly] recent grad. There are interesting information problems out there, that we could be solving, but we aren’t; and we aren’t really prepared to do so.

  7. i wanna party with this person
    JP

  8. I wrote a response detailing my thoughts about the validity of this guy’s opinion. http://wp.me/srNJL-meh

  9. Hmarks

    I don’t think it’s a dying profession. The technology skills we obtain are very transferable to IT. Plus, it’s all what you make of it.

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  13. The academic librarian position will die if we do not reinvent the service we provide for our colleges/unis. In the general education outcomes of every school I have worked at for the last 15 years, there has been some token gesture at the importance of information literacy. But very few academic libraries actually DO anything about it. I mean, we teach the one-shot classes, develop the collection, and answer research questions…but that doesn’t translate into students being more information literate or performing better on assessments. The traditional paradigm of library instruction does not allow us to teach students anything but the most basic, functionary research skills. We don’t have time in one hour English 102 visits to teach all that the field should encompass. We need to press for full-semester, 16-hour information literacy classes as part of every curriculum. Not only would our students be better served, administration would see us as an a revenue generator instead of a cost sink.

    • me

      Librarians aren’t the only ones that teach IL. In fact, we have less of an impact than the faculty have on students’ IL skills.

      Are the library schools preparing students to be “full-semester, 16-hour IL class instructors?” No. An advanced degree in Education would probably provide better prep.

      • Not at my school. Perhaps you should work to change the way your school views librarians and information literacy.

      • Perhaps it was easy for me to do it because I have past teaching experience, but my library degree required coursework in instruction, which was training for being a teaching librarian. In the future it might be useful for library programs to include more instructional requirements. You suggest that classroom teachers from other departments have a greater impact on students’ information literacy skills. Why do you suppose that is, and do you think the present state of things at your schools is for the best?

      • me

        @UnofficialFactChecker

        We are a large university, and we don’t have nearly enough librarians to teach IL to all students in an effective, integrated, holistic way (even if our librarians had the necessary background in pedagogy, which they do not).

        Most learning is indirect/incidental learning – students are developing IL skills as they engage in other activities. They find, evaluate and use information for assignments in many of their courses – whether they know it or not, faculty are teaching IL.

        In an ideal world, students encounter repeated, authentic opportunities to apply, and in turn, strengthen their IL skills – this has to happen in all classes…and therefore cannot be the responsibility of librarians.

      • Oh, we don’t have time to thoroughly teach everyone; however, by making a 16-week course available you certainly get the option of teaching more than we would otherwise. It does eat away at time for other librarian duties, as there are only 3 full-timers here, but I think in the end it is worth it both from the instruction end as well as from the angle of making us more relevant to the administrators. If administration is spending money on your collection, space, and equipment but not recouping any of it, then the business model that academia has come to fetishize in recent years dictates that you are a cost sink (general “you,” btw, nothing personal), but if you have students enrolling in your courses the library looks like a better investment.

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  15. Brian Tata, MLIS

    “Do you have any other comments, for library schools or students, or about the survey?
    “I think it would make an interesting study to compare the curriculum of library schools today to the curriculum from previous decades. I am not sure too much has changed. I think library schools spend too much time on “librarian skills” (i.e. how to use a gazetteer) than on skills needed in the modern library. A disconnect exists between library schools and practicing librarians.”

    Thank you University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for teaching me EVERYTHING that I needed to know back in 2002 when I recieved my MLIS: this survey taker is DEAD WRONG and I feel that I can do anything based on my education and experience. What a terribly narrow minded view of a needed profession. MOST LIS Graduate schools and graduates are not only prepared to rule the world, but should be ruling the world!

  16. To my mind this is less of an indictment of library schools/programs and more a commentary about the results of a really poor approach to recruiting the right, qualified candidates for your academic library job.
    Too often, libraries fail to understand that THEY are in a competitive environment. If you want to attract the best and brightest applicants, you have to go after them. Case in point: recently we recruited for an open position. Our marketing campaign was ambitious, our messaging was surprising, and our job ad was written to entice the kinds of professional librarians who will succeed in our environment and culture. Hard work stepping outside the norm for recruitment? Yes. Worth it? You bet! We attracted more than 7,100 views of our job ad inside of four weeks. This was the strongest pool of candidates I’ve seen in my 20 years in the profession.

  17. Anonymous

    Sadly, I think she might be right. I received my MSLS in 1992. Technology was in it’s infancy. I read many job postings. Most, if not all, want technology education and experience. I wish I had grant writing experience and computer programming. I believe I would be more marketable, at least here in the Detroit area. These thing were never in my program. I do value the Library Science degree very much. The fundamental skills I have attained through libraries is important. I just feel LS should be expanded as a discipline and course of study. The degree should evolve with the times, not just die out.

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  20. Laura

    Interesting and realistic points are made in this interview, but I wish that the person hiring would have been more specific about the technology skills that are needed for library positions. Perhaps this would be a good question to add to the survey.

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  23. Lesley

    The problem isn’t with what’s being taught at library schools. The problem is there are WAY, WAY, WAY too many library schools, and it’s WAY too easy to get a library degree. The whole country only needs about 10, and those top ten are more than teaching sufficient tech skills. Heck, UCLA had a programming prerequisite before you could even attend. The lower end (and especially the online) schools are spitting out 3 graduates for every 1 job and because of this, you now practically have to have another masters, know three languages, and have 3 years experience as an IT professional in order to even get a library job. This is making employers overly picky and unwilling to train anyone to do anything. All the *need* is placed solely on the shoulders of new graduates. If companies or universities need these skills so much, they should be willing to teach them to candidates with potential, but they don’t because they have so many applicants, they expect if they wait long enough somebody will solve all their problems for them. It’s not really my job to already know everything there is to know before I get a job, especially a first job right out of school. (Even if it was, it’s not humanly possible). It’s my job as a good candidate to be extremely good at learning, efficient, and to have initiative built on a solid understanding of foundational skills and to be eager and dedicated to applying all that to benefiting the goals of my new employer. The arrogance in this post is the same arrogance I see oozing out of a lot of employers these days. They expect 150% perfect matches by having candidates anticipate every skill they would need. They want a candidate to tailor their training in such a way as to invest maximally in the company so the company can avoid any and all investments in employees.

  24. I believe the library profession is alive and well! I have been a librarian for 37 years. I worked as a Chemical Librarian for PPG industries for 2 years. I then worked for Shell Oil as a librarian for 25 years and retired. Then I created a new Engineering and Environmental library at Harris County Texas where I have been working since 2004. The need to organize and find information is greater than ever. The world has more information than ever and more people trying to find information than ever before. People need to recognise the simple fact that our profession is about organizing and finding information. We are practioners of an ancient tradition that dates back to the ancient Egyptian libraries at Alexandria. The big secret that people don’t know is that you have to understand the techniques used for the entire period to know how to find everything. The only place you can possibly learn all the techniques is in a very good library school.
    Librarianship is a skill based profession. Google is great but it has less than 2 percent of the information in the world. If you can find what the customer needs and organize what is important to the customer, the customer will take care of you! In a world of information that is growing at an exponential rate skilled librarians are more important and more valuable than ever before! Ed Lyden

    • I have been a librarian for 8 years and have seen the many changes, especially as it concerns technology, that have taken place in terms of how we serve our clients. We are in the information and knowledge era, which has created an even more urgent need for library/information professionals to help individuals navigate through the overwhelming amount of information and knowledge being created on a daily basis. I am a young academic librarian, and loving it! There is so much you can do with your librarianship training, based on the courses that were taught in the programme. I really enjoy my patrons, from the tech savvy ones to those who still fear the computer. I love when I help, and it helps! I am glad I did librarianship, it has tremendously contributed to me being a rounded person.

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  26. robert

    I work in a library and agree with most of this. Frankly, my experience of libraries is that those with library degrees can be some of the least skilled staff in the organisation (if you have a library degree and that doesn’t describe you, congratulations, but I don’t see that very often). Often find that the best ‘librarians’ are simply library assistants with (far superior) degrees in other fields. I think the field of libraries would be far better served by just hiring smart people with the right skills and aptitude, and then giving them on the job training. I did a library degree and I’ve never seen a course which was that out of date and padded out.

    Certainly there are some specialist skills. Someone working in cataloguing obviously has some specialist knowledge they need to acquire, but we need a greater variety of roles available to people in libraries, and we need to stop calling every role a ‘librarian’. All the time I see jobs advertised for “social media librarian”, or “learning librarian”, or “customer service librarian” roles and the like. In a big library, these jobs are really specialised and don’t actually involve a huge amount of specialist ‘librarian’ skills. Drop the librarian part, because all we’re doing is counting out the real learning and customer service and social media savants from applying, and instead we’re hiring people with library degrees who also happen to have a tiny bit of experience in social media, or customer service, or teaching. If it’s a customer service manager job, libraries should be able to hire the best customer service manager that they can find. Obviously they also have to be able to handle the library stuff, but it’s not rocket science. All we’re doing is creating a culture of mediocrity. Bleak.

  27. mathilda

    I found this by googling “you don’t learn anything about libraries in librarian school.” this explains a lot. academic librarians, who for the most part don’t work in libraries, don’t believe that librarian skills are relevant to libraries. goodbye money 😦

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  29. I graduated from Library Scholl in 1999. As MILS students, We were required to complete a number of technology course including web design.
    We were not trained as IT personnel. A number of library jobs today, pay so little, and expect us to come fully loaded. I have met a number of librarians over the years with strong “technology” skills. I have never met a an IT employee who could double as a librarian. The profession is devolving into one that seems to favor techies over information scientists. This is an unforunate development to say the least.

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  32. AngelaB

    Tech is important, but I feel more and more that public librarians need more of an education focus than a tech focus. It’s one thing to know tech, it’s another thing to teach it, and many public librarians find themselves teaching information literacy, even if only informally to patrons. I didn’t go to library school to program computers–I went to share my love of reading and learning with others.

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