In an attempt to be more streamlined and focused in Library School given keeping house and raising two children I decided to map out the remainder of my degree of required coursework and suggested courses for my chosen career pathway.
Though I’m not committed to working in a set environment (I love academic, public and school libraries equally) I am specifically interested in Youth Services as a pathway.
I am a student at San Jose State University (SJSU) iSchool. SJSU’s core courses for every pathway are as follows:
- INFO 203 Online Learning: Tools and Strategies for Success
- INFO 200 Information Communities
- INFO 202 Information Retrieval System Design
- INFO 204 Information Professions
- INFO 285 Research Methods in Library and Information Science
- INFO 289 or INFO 299 Culminating Experience (ePortfolio or Thesis)
In addition, my chosen pathway of Youth Services has the following foundation course requirements/suggestions:
- INFO 285 Research Methods in Library and Information Science Suggested Course section: Youth Services
- INFO 260A Programming and Services for Children or
- INFO 261A Programming and Services for Young Adults
I have a strong feeling that Library School is what you make of it. Sure, I could take my “straight 43” and just take the 43 total credits I need to graduate, but I want to take courses that interest me and are valuable to the profession.
So what coursework/experience is important to the profession? I scanned the Hiring Librarians blog for the coursework that hiring managers want in MLIS graduates. I scanned the posts from December 21, 2014-April 24, 2015 (the most recent post in this area) and tallied the coursework under the question “What coursework do you think all (or most) MLS/MLIS holders should take, regardless of focus?” This resulted in 28 posts being tallied, though one post did not have this question answered with the list of coursework. Here’s what my informal survey revealed, in order of occurrence:
- Soft Skills-21
- Project Management-20
- Collection Management-20
- Research Methods-19
- Information Behavior-15
- Web Design/Usability-15
- Library Management-13
- Grant Writing-10
- Digital Collections-9
- Event Programming-9
- History of Books/Libraries-8
- Reader’s Advisory-8
- Services to Special Populations-6
- Vocabulary Design-3
- Data Management-1
- Vendors/Vendor interactions-1
I’ll concede that many of these skills are rolled into other courses. For example, I learned about the history of libraries, copyright and information behavior in one or more of my core classes. I took a course in Library Management and it covered marketing and event programming. I’m surprised that cataloging isn’t a core course for my program, given how high it ranks on this list. In fact, of all the most mentioned coursework, only one is a core course for my program-Research Methods. I’m glad it’s there, since my Data Services course proved that the majority of graduate programs are lacking in research methods and statistics.
I’m also saddened to see outreach and services to special populations so low on the list. Outreach and Services for diverse patrons should be embedded in all library instruction.
Back to our original query-what should I learn in library school? I’d say from this list everyone should take cataloging, reference, collection management and an internship (if possible). Soft Skills are basically customer service skills, you can take a course in it (there’s one in my program) but soft skills are something that can also be developed from previous experiences in the workplace. If you’ve never taken an interpersonal communications course or worked in a service position, take one, but otherwise I’d say that it’s one that isn’t required per se.
One question really stuck out for me on the questionnaire: “Which of the following experiences should library students have upon graduating?”
Twenty-Two (22) respondents said that students should have “library work experience.” To me this says that library students should already be working in a library while in library school, or have previous library experience when looking for a position. This is a frequent caveat in the library world: the entry level job that requires 3-5 years of experience. No one wants a newbie for a newbie job and often volunteering or an unpaid internship doesn’t count towards that experience.
I volunteer in a library and I have two years experience from a decade ago when I was in undergraduate. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to get experience because I’m a non-traditional student.
From those years in undergrad (4 years at half-time) that I worked in the library I knew it was all I wanted to do. Life got in the way of me getting my education. And now it seems it will get in the way of me having a career. Before getting my MLIS I couldn’t get a library job (I applied for every opening that came up) because I didn’t have the degree (and nearly every applicant for even a library aide had an MLIS) or enough experience (because mine was only 2 years FTE) and now that I’ll be getting my degree, I can’t get a library job because I didn’t already have a library job.
So what do I do? How do I become a desirable candidate? First step is that I’m taking coursework that maximizes my desirability to the profession. Second, I’m actually trying to learn a second language (or a third if you count that I can effectively communicate in fingerspelling in ASL). Third? I’m trying to be involved in as much as I can be that will provide me with experience and skills: volunteering, reaching out to professors to be a research assistant, participating in professional experiences, taking free webinars on Infopeople. I’m also looking into any opportunities at my school to be engaged such as working for the student research journal, or being a graduate assistant for professors.
Many hiring managers don’t trust online education. In addition, my program is frequently cited as a school from which they would not consider candidates. As this post is already running long I won’t get into that issue right now. I will say that it’s challenging enough to stand out among the multitudes of other job seekers with the same degree, it’s up to the candidate to make themselves stand out in any way possible. Using resources like Hiring Librarians can help you tailor your education to the profession’s needs.