It’s as if library schools have given up on public libraries altogether

Library Staff, c1990s, LSE LibraryThis anonymous interview is with a public librarian who has been a hiring manager, a member of a hiring or search committee a human resources professional, Library Director. This person hires the following types of LIS professionals:

technical services (cataloging) librarians, children/teen librarians, adult librarians, outreach librarians

This librarian works at a library with 10-50 staff members in a suburban area  in the Midwestern 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
√ Library Management
√ Collection Management
√ Programming (Events)
√ Reference
√ Readers’ Advisory
√ Outreach
√ Marketing
√ Soft Skills (e.g. Communication, Interpersonal Relations)

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

I find that the most basic library skills are lacking in MLS/MLIS holders. It’s as if library schools have given up on public libraries altogether. It is exceptionally rare that I find an applicant who has any practice with general reference/reader’s advisory or library programming and outreach, which are the bread and butter of the public library. I don’t expect a new graduate or rookie librarian to be an expert, but I do expect that they will know how to use reference tools (beyond Google) and understand that the majority of their time will be spent at the reference desk working closely with patrons.

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)?

Situational cataloging (the nuances of how my library does it), fine tuning the reference interview (learning to get to the heart of the matter), programs/outreach that works in this community

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

√ Library work experience
√ Internship or practicum

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

Any student who went to a live, in person (not remote) program. The difference between on campus and distance ed students could not be more stark. There is so much to be gained working with your peers in a physical classroom setting that cannot be mimicked by an online class. Librarians have to work closely with one another and the public all day everyday, and having the classroom experience to show that they can do that gives them a huge advantage in my mind. As far as I’m concerned, the school doesn’t matter, but the format absolutely does.

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

I have not been impressed with graduates of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. They are way too focused on online education and niche academic topics. They have no real world skill when the degree is finished.

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

Get as much actual library experience as you possibly can. Take a clerk job, do internships as often as possible, volunteer in different areas of the library. Even if you believe you are called to be a Children’s (teen, adult, outreach, fill in the blank) Librarian make a point of working in areas outside of your comfort zone. Most libraries in the United States are small to medium sized public libraries where librarians are expected to not only be generalists as far as librarianship goes, but also to pitch in where ever and whenever necessary to get the job done. Be realistic about how difficult the degree is. The last staff person I hired worked 40+ hours a week at two different libraries while getting their MLIS. Not only did this person have broad academic underpinnings, they had the experience to be able to hit the ground running and succeed early and often in the new position.

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

Please make sure you are doing the degree for the right reasons. I meet so many library students who have never worked in a library or have any experience with a library other than “liking books”. Getting a Master’s degree in any field should be done because it is a passion, not because you don’t have anything else to do. I see many more applicants for positions who fit into the second camp. I will never, ever hire someone for a professional job who has never worked in a library before. That is a sure recipe for disaster for both the library and for the applicant. Library schools need to wake up and train students to do what needs to be done in the real world.

For some context, take a look at the most recently published summary of responses to this survey, or specific analysis of the responses discussing online school, the amount of coursework students should take, and preferences/reluctances for candidates from certain schools.

Do you hire librarians?  Tell us your answer to, “What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School?”:

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, Midwestern US, Public, Suburban area, What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School

3 responses to “It’s as if library schools have given up on public libraries altogether

  1. Rural Librarian

    This all sounds too familiar. I have an employee who has been working on her online MLIS for the past 1.5 years. She is learning by being an employee, but I have not seen one improvement come from her schooling. I was very optimistic she would grow and mature as an MLIS student, but sadly nothing could be further from the truth.


  2. pigbitinmad

    But I had a clerk job in a library and did not do an online MLS and I am still not considered good enough. I think the real problem is that I am over 50.


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