I don’t think most cataloging classes really teach people how to deal with the variety of materials

Alma Public School - opening of new playground for infants departmentThis anonymous interview is with a federal librarian who has been a member of a hiring or search committee. This person hires the following types of LIS professionals:

Reference librarians, catalog librarians, electronic resources librarians, technical services librarians, access services librarians

This librarian works at a library with 10-50 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?

√ 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
√ Vocabulary Design
√ Project Management
√ Library Management
√ Web Design/Usability
√ Metadata
√ Digital Collections
√ Research Methods
√ Reference
√ Outreach
√ Marketing
√ Instruction
√ 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?

It seems that a good number of MLIS candidates are coming into it as a second career with no actual experience in a library. That can lead to inflated expectations about what the work actually entails. Lack of experience also puts them at a real disadvantage when they apply for professional jobs and other applicants have the MLIS plus experience. In this age of job cuts, a lot of managers simply do not have the time to train a new hire from the ground up.

I would say, based on things I have seen at one local library school, that the program seemed to lack real technical courses and was too much based in theory.

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

√ Other: It depends! Maybe the skills gained through coursework are more up to date and sophisticated than something done in a student job. However, I have a bit of a bias for real-world skills.

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

I don’t think most cataloging classes really teach people how to deal with the variety of materials a cataloger works on (I’m a cataloger). Same is true for reference–I think that conducting a reference interview in real time is something that can’t really be taught in a class.

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

√ Library work experience
√ Internship or practicum
√ Other: Some of these experiences would be very good for people who want to work in academia (presentation experience and publications), but I wouldn’t expect someone right out of library school to necessarily have those skills.

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

None that I can think of.

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

None that I can think of … except if the program was entirely online, I would be a bit hesitant. I’m old school enough to think that there is real benefit in at least some face to face time with the instructor. There is a real benefit in a live classroom experience in terms of learning to work in teams (because librarians are constantly working together in internal working groups and so on and you have to learn to play nice). I am not saying that the classes all have to be held in person, but I do think that at least some classroom attendance is a good thing.

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

If you don’t have any experience, get some–as a volunteer or in a paid position, no matter how humble. If you cannot get this experience, then a practicum/internship is absolutely a MUST. Take all the technical classes offered … and for Pete’s sake, take cataloging classes even if they are not required! The one database that every library has is the catalog–it is just as important to master as Lexis or ProQuest. Plus, you might well end up in really small library where you HAVE to be a jack of all trades. And if someone is interested in cataloging, be sure to take taxonomy and metadata courses.

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

The job situation now is completely different than when I graduated from my MLIS program in 1985. There are a lot of MLIS graduates now who got into a lot of debt to get the degree and cannot find a professional job. It’s really sad. I guess the big thing is, be REALLY sure you want to do this before getting taking on a lot of debt to get the degree. Talk to librarians and find out what the work is really like if you haven’t had any experience before getting into the program.

Also, being geographically flexible is essential, certainly at first.

This survey was coauthored by Brianna Marshallfrom 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.

Do you hire librarians? Tell us, “What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School?”: http://tinyurl.com/hiringlibschoolsurvey

1 Comment

Filed under 10-50 staff members, Northeastern US, Urban area, What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School

One response to “I don’t think most cataloging classes really teach people how to deal with the variety of materials

  1. Pingback: 5 Things Thursday: DAM, Special Collections, Primary Sources | MOD LIBRARIAN

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.