So, You Want To Be A Librarian/Archivist: A Portrait of the Librarian as a Young(ish) Woman #libday7

When I applied to library school several years ago, it was not because I specifically wanted to work in a library or that I had dreamt of becoming a librarian since I was a wee lass, or that I had to work with books in some capacity and becoming a librarian would fulfill that and other bookish desires.
In truth, I applied to library school because a lot of jobs I wanted to apply to when I was finishing my first masters were requiring a MLIS or equivalent and they were not in the traditional library setting. I saw obtaining my MLIS as a means to an end, not to fulfill long held craving.
Now, if you talk to my mother, she will tell you a different story. She will weave you a tale of my interest in libraries and books stems back to when I was knee high to a grasshopper, when during the summers I would pack my lunch, hop on my bike and ride to our local library, get my books for the day(s) and spend most of my time reading/writing on the banks of St. Clair River before coming back home in the early evening.
She will probably then go on how when I was footless and floundering about in my 20s that she knew I needed to go to library school and begged me to go because it was my destiny. During these stories, she will interject that my love affair with reading is generational and ordained and if my brother is there, he will pipe in that my world has always been in ink and vellum, never of this current plane.
In the ways of Rashomon, all of these stories are true. Reading and books, were (and on some levels, still are) these ultra sacred spaces for me and me alone. I’ve built up a pretty turret with my fine cavalcade of books and who are you to traspass, uninvited, onto my sacred space? I was deathly afraid that I might lose my passion for books and reading if I were to make a living from it in some capacity.
This seems to be the opposite advice of what most will tell you when they start sprouting those pithy, borrowed unoriginal commentary of “DO WHAT YOU LOVE!” when it comes to job advice. I didn’t necessarily want to share my passion with the world, when along with my Ted E. Bear, had been my sole companion and comforter since I was young. 1 On some levels, these are lines of bullshit. I did toy with going to library school several times during my undergrad and during my first masters, but it was not at the top of my list of future career prospects.
I did not find, as I may have previously suggested, that working in a bookstore for four years to diminish my love of books and reading. It, in fact, enhanced it significantly, more specifically when my employee discount was applicable to bargin and used books. Connecting people with new authors, new ways of doing things was terribly exciting. I loved doing Reader’s Advisory on the book floor because I often got an education myself from my customers, which in turn allowed me to enhance the stores fiction collection with titles that were previously not stocked. I met a lot of amazing people. I was able to create programming that was geared for our community and those programs were well attended. And lastly, working in a bookstore (sans all the bullshit body politic) was fun and on a lot of levels, I miss it greatly. So when people come to me and ask me about whether or not they should attend library school, I get this awkward feeling inside. Who am I to dispense myths and wonder when my own myriad of job career paths was hardly the place for attribution. I love the idea of library school as a figurehead but the actual going to and ultimately obtaining the MLIS degree?
It’s a joke and here’s why:

  • As academia moves slow, so too does library school with their course structures – therefore many of what is being offered is either no longer relevant or is losing relevancy to the real world; education is fast tracked on the job or in addition to it
    Almost every librarian I have talked to on this subject over the years has said that most of their education was done on the job or in relation to their job in some capacity, and was not necessarily obtained in the library school environment. Several had said privately to me that their own degrees were, on the education received, worthless. These same individuals also conferred that they only reason why they had attended, and eventually graduated from, their institutions was because having MLIS after their name gave them better recognition professionally and a pay boost to do essentially the same job they were doing before.This is of course not to say that this affects ALL programs, but it is to say that there is much to be said for the splitting of library programs from the traditional to iSchools. In my experience where iSchools tend to concentrate more on theory and research, traditional library schools are still lagging in the days of card catalogs, paper indices and manual typewriters. There does not seem to be a program, that I have found at a least, that offers a blend of the cutting edge with relevant theory and practical application.My alma mater attempted this blend, as they needed to stay relevant to compete with a huge iSchool located on the same side of the state. But wehre as the iSchool might teach human interaction and computational behaviors in relation to user searching behaviors, we got classes that taught Silverlight and using Microsoft Office. On several mailing lists I’m on, a recent conversation took place on Lita-L within the last year, there is loads of posts on this topic as more and more hiring managers and directors were getting frustrated with the lack of quality students being churned out – namely because what libraries seek (across the board) for new employees is NOT being produced by these programs. This does not mean that students, new graduates and the currently employed should not be doing professional development – far from it, but it DOES mean that library schools needs to start taking responsibility for what they are producing in terms of graduates, concentrate more on quality over quantity and putting together comprehensive programs that blend theory with relevant course applications that can be applied to the real world.
  • Chances are the professors who are teaching you the ways of the library have probably never worked in a library themselvesĀ 
    Now I will freely admit this may be something that is more of a Lisa-quirk rather then a legitimate complaint, but I don’t really think so. When I started looking for mentors within my program, with my particular interest in technologies, the advisor I was assigned to was absolutely nice guy. Very lovely man – but his interest and expertise was specifically with Microsoft Development software. He had never worked in a library, had no (to my knowledge) interest in working in a library but yet he was teaching at a library school. Hired, I would assume, for his technical expertise in a specific subject rather than that expertise as applied to libraries. Nice man, very lovely but had no clue about what libraries were dealing with in terms of technology needs or requirements.2

1. This also applies to writing, in some capacity. It is not that I do not handle rejection well, but, that perhaps I get defeated far too easily.
2. He was the reason, I believe, behind why Silverlight was being taught in the web development classes geared for libraries.