NMRT May Online Discussion: What I Didn’t Learn in Library School

By: Laura Birkenhauer

What I Didn’t Learn in Library School

ALA-accredited master’s programs preparing students for employment in the field of library and information science (LIS) offer degrees with a variety of names: Master of Library Science (MLS), Master of Librarianship and Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS), to name a few. Sometimes these programs are informally referred to as “library school.”

Beyond required foundation courses, these programs may allow students to choose from electives of interest or enroll in select courses based on a preferred career or type of library. But, what happens when a student, say, can’t fit a course into their already packed schedule or doesn’t realize they need knowledge in an area until they’ve graduated, are job searching or have already been hired? I asked NMRT what members wish they’d learned in library school (and what they did about it). Here’s how discussion participants responded:

Cataloging

“I wish I’d taken more in depth cataloging classes. I just took the intro course.” (Boniface, 2021)

“I did take cataloging in school and struggled so much in the class. I learned to catalog on the job and it was so much easier than class for some reason […]” (Puzier, 2021)

Collection Development

“[…] I acquired this knowledge [collection development] while working at my first librarian job.” (Blakowski, 2021)

“I took a collection development course in my program, but I wish it focused more on how to build a collection with limited funds instead of approval programs and no real budget. My first job outside of grad school, I was a collection development librarian with a very tiny budget and had to somehow balance multiple subject areas and competing voices.” (Cull, 2021)

Customer Service

“[…] I wish I learned more about hands-on customer service. How to deal with difficult patrons, different familial issues, ways to best approach situations etc. […]” (Mroczek, 2021)

“[Customer service] would have been a great class to take. I learned the hard way when working in a pharmacy. There were always difficult people to work with […]” (Bowman, 2021)

Instruction

“I never took a course on library instruction in school, and I very much learned to teach on the job, by reading up on the topic, observing coworkers teaching, and by taking webinars/continuing education on the topic! If I could go back in time, that would be the course I’d take if I could do it all over again.” (Birkenhauer, 2021)

Printing and Technology

“[…] a practical, “How to fix printing issues, etc.” because when you are working in a small library, you are the IT person responsible for helping students figure out how to make technology work and function properly.”

Research and Publication

“I wish I had learned more about research methods! I’m in a tenure track position, and I felt very overwhelmed the first couple of years when I went to write articles. I luckily have several colleagues who walked me through how to get IRB approval, craft a survey, etc., but I would have loved to take a class where all of this was explained to  me ahead of time.” (Wilhelm, 2021)

“[…] I would have liked to learn more about the publication process and scholarly communication in general.” (Puzier, 2021)

Learning After Library School

Whether you advocate for library school curriculum reform or just wish you’d made the time to take a key course during your schooling, it can be helpful to go beyond venting and also share what you did about your post-library school knowledge gaps. I asked NMRT: how did members approach learning what they feel they missed out on in library school?

Experience

Whether through internships, contract work, volunteering, or on the job, many discussion participants shared about learning through work experience. Skills may come from previous, non-library work or in many cases are acquired after being hired into a professional position in the field.

Continuing Education

Webinars and conferences were named as excellent options for continuing education after library school. Another great (and free) option: take advantage of the library where you are employed or libraries near you and keep up to date with the current literature! Checkout books and access journal articles on topics you’d like to learn more about.

Connections

Participate in mentorship programs like those offered through ALA or local associations. Stay engaged with professional communities, like NMRT, and cultivate professional relationships. If you can’t attend a conference in person to connect, take the initiative to reach out online (by email, on Twitter, etc.) to those who presented on topics of interest to you.

References

Birkenhauer, L. (2021, May 15). RE: Online Discussion Forum May 2021 Topic: What I Didn’t Learn In Library School. Message posted to https://connect.ala.org/nmrt/communities/community-home/digestviewer

Blakowski, E. (2021, May 5). RE: Online Discussion Forum May 2021 Topic: What I Didn’t Learn In Library School. Message posted to https://connect.ala.org/nmrt/communities/community-home/digestviewer

Boniface, E. (2021, May 6). RE: Online Discussion Forum May 2021 Topic: What I Didn’t Learn In Library School. Message posted to https://connect.ala.org/nmrt/communities/community-home/digestviewer

Bowman, S. (2021, May 12). RE: Online Discussion Forum May 2021 Topic: What I Didn’t Learn In Library School. Message posted to https://connect.ala.org/nmrt/communities/community-home/digestviewer

Cull, K. (2021, May 6). RE: Online Discussion Forum May 2021 Topic: What I Didn’t Learn In Library School. Message posted to https://connect.ala.org/nmrt/communities/community-home/digestviewer

Mroczek, E. (2021, May 3). RE: Online Discussion Forum May 2021 Topic: What I Didn’t Learn In Library School. Message posted to https://connect.ala.org/nmrt/communities/community-home/digestviewer

Puzier, L. (2021, May 13). RE: Online Discussion Forum May 2021 Topic: What I Didn’t Learn In Library School. Message posted to https://connect.ala.org/nmrt/communities/community-home/digestviewer

Wilhelm, J. (2021, May 6). RE: Online Discussion Forum May 2021 Topic: What I Didn’t Learn In Library School. Message posted to https://connect.ala.org/nmrt/communities/community-home/digestviewer

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Perspectives – Nicollette Davis

Perspectives, an interview series that will highlight the work of librarians in different fields and professional specializations. Our series will focus on the experiences of our participants, what they do, what they have learned, and offer advice to those interested in librarianship and various fields. To our readers, our committee hopes this column will highlight the valuable labor these individuals perform on an everyday basis. Our interviews will provide perspective on what labor in these fields entails and current issues that affect librarianship, employment, etc. On behalf of the Communications Committee, we hope you find this new column illuminating, informative, and inspiring!

Nicollette Davis (she/her) is an Adult Services and Circulation Librarian with the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. She earned her MLIS from Louisiana State University in 2018. Her professional interests include community engagement, diverse community programming and inclusive practices for technological instruction in public libraries.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

There are many aspects of my job that I enjoy, but there are two that fall at the top of that list: Issuing library cards and working with both internal and external customers. Currently, I’m a Circulation Librarian. I remember when I was young and feeling almost a sense of embarrassment when I owed a fine or if I had misplaced a book. As a teen, the public library was one of the first places I was allowed to go alone. It felt like a big responsibility. I interacted most with the Circulation staff who would check out my items or inform me that my card was expired. I encountered many kind library staff (and some not so much). I want to pay those positive experiences forward. Even if someone owes a fine or has misplaced their card, I want to be able to do what I can to make their experience a positive one! Secondly, I enjoy working with staff. I am passionate about my work, but also compassionate about the people I work with. My colleagues are great and I learn from them everyday!

Can you describe a memorable moment in your career?

Just before Covid, I had managed to speak with a local middle school STEAM faculty about hosting their film presentations. It was absolutely rewarding because it was so great to make strong connections within the community. Around the same time, I was contacted by someone from a local high school who wanted to host a prom dress giveaway. We had planned for all of these splendid programs to happen, but then Covid struck and put an end to all of the work we put into it. While this might sound like a sad ending, it was rewarding because connecting with the faculty was priceless. It felt great to know that they wanted to utilize the library and we welcomed them with open arms. I am hoping that maybe next school year we’ll be able to connect again.

What kinds of professional development do you do?

Quality professional development can be expensive and/or inaccessible all around. Covid-19 has brought about many changes inside the field and across the world in general. I am thankful that many library-related conferences were virtual in 2020 and 2021. Accessibility is so important! I haven’t had the opportunity to attend many in person conferences. I love logging on to Twitter and seeing a Zoom link for a fellow library workers’ lecture or webinar. If I see a topic I’m interested in, I just sign up! I would just like to take a moment and say that all conferences and lectures should be accessible (physically and financially) and readily available!

Is there one piece of advice you have received in your career thus far that stands out the most (that you carry with you in your work)?

Write everything down in great detail and create boundaries for work/life balance. Both of these will carry you far!

What are some things you know now about your job/librarianship, that you wish you had known before entering the field?

Prior to becoming a librarian, I was a library technician and before that a library page. When I became a librarian, I thought I had to know everything about everything as a librarian and as a supervisor. When I didn’t know the answer to something, I was very critical of myself. I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to not know, and also there’s definitely a way to communicate it properly. If someone is coming to you for information they might be at a dead end and not sure where to go. It can feel like a lot of pressure! Even if you don’t know the answer, you can kindly inform the person and ask for time. In that time you can collaborate with others or find other resources that might not have been handy in the moment. This is true for both patrons and staff that you supervise. Reassure them that you’re working on it and stick to your word.

What do you think some misconceptions about librarians/libraries/librarianship are?

I think one misconception is that librarianship is a flawless and simple career. While librarianship seems like an easy career path, it actually has many of the same challenges of other fields. It’s nuanced and requires some thinking outside of serving patrons and developing collections.

What professional advice would you give to graduate students who are about to enter the field?

I think graduate students should invest some time in critical librarianship. I didn’t learn about critical librarianship until after I had earned my MLIS. Libraries are not above critique and the only way that we can improve is by being brutally honest about our past as well as our future. Libraries are changing, but the change is slow and sometimes it feels like there’s even regression. It’s important to take some time to learn about critical race theory, bystander training, and critical assessment of your library space. When you get that first library job, ask yourself, “Who is excluded and why?”. Lastly, In library school, a lot of us didn’t learn much about leadership or supervising people and of course, many librarians begin their careers in leadership, whether it’s formal or not. I think it’s important to self-educate about supervising and leadership. This involves some internal, personal work as well as professional work via webinars and courses. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at We Here’s Community School! All in all, my most solid piece of advice is to always lead with compassion and warmth.

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Academic Libraries: Finding a Job During the Pandemic Thursday, June 17, 2-3PM Central Time

https://ala-events.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_5wZ90lZ1SYWUVS0Ny2YoJQ

Join New Members Round Table in a candid webinar about job searching during the pandemic. There will be a panel discussion among recent hirees and hiring professionals about tips to improve your job search with a Q&A at the end of the discussion. This panel discussion will specifically focus on job searching in the academic library field and it will not be recorded.

NMRT-Event2-Poster1

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NMRT Call for Volunteers!

NMRT is looking for committee volunteers to begin serving from July 2021 to June 2022. NMRT committees can be found here, as well as a brief description of what each committee is responsible for http://www.ala.org/rt/nmrt/oversightgroups/comm.

No experience is required and a perfect way to get your toes wet in ALA work and in committee work! More information can be found in the link below!

http://www.ala.org/rt/nmrt/nmrt-committee-volunteer-form

Thanks for your consideration!

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NMRT Annual Social – Sunday, June 27th at 5:00 Central

NMRT Annual Social 

Sunday, June 27th at 5:00pm central

Join the NMRT for virtual happy hour socializing and games! 

We’ll have trivia, Jackbox games, discussion rooms and even door prizes. Meet and network with your NMRT and ALA peers. All are welcome but space is limited, so sign up soon!

https://ala-events.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwkfuqprjkrG9bXv-g3beS2yManoDEoKcWu

https://tinyurl.com/w3zzehd9
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NMRT April Online Discussion: Getting Involved in Library Service

By: Joy Dubose

Service and volunteering are a great way to become involved in any profession, and library science is no different. Whether you are interested in volunteering at a state, regional or national level, it can be a good experience and provide you with a unique perspective. However, it can be confusing to know just how to get involved in committees, how to get involved in leadership, and to know which committees are best for new members.

Committees of all types are necessary for the effective functioning of library associations. The American Library Association (ALA) is one of the largest associations for library professionals. ALA incorporates smaller regional associations and even smaller state associations. By researching these different associations, it is possible to explore many of the current committees. Committees from these different associations, allow for different opportunities. By serving on a state committee, it is possible to be more aware of certain professional problems of your state, like libraries not having enough catalogers. Serving on a national committee allows you to see problems around the country and see solutions others might have developed for problems that you may encounter.

The best way to get involved in any committees is to first decide which ones you are interested in. Then, contact the chair or current members to see when the committee is open for new members. Some committees are annual and renew every year with new members, and some are standing committees that people can join at any time. If you do not see a committee that you might be interested in and have an idea for one, do not be afraid to reach out to the association with the idea. They may point you to a committee you missed, or eventually create one if there is sufficient need.
ALA and its subsidiaries are not the only library associations. There are plenty of others. It is also important to talk to your co-workers. They may be involved in associations and committees that you might not be aware of. There are also plenty of email listservs for library professionals to join. Post your question on a listserv, and a peer may be able to point you to a committee that interests you.

Once you get involved in a committee, you may be interested in serving in a leadership role, such as its chair or vice-chair. Many committees will have “volunteer” calls and ask people if they are interested in serving as a chair or vice-chair. However, these generally happen only once a year. While some have these open calls for volunteers, many other committees have elections and will call for nominations. These may happen once a year, but some may happen every few years. Again, it is important to research the committee and see what the leadership process is. Larger positions, like heads of the association, will be voted on. A nomination committee may be in charge of its election process. It is possible to contact that committee and find out when elections are for positions like secretary or treasurer.

For those that are new to the profession, all of this can be quite daunting. However, there is help at hand. Most associations have a New Members Round Table group, NMRT. This can be just one committee or a group of committees. For ALA there are several committees that fall under the NMRT umbrella. Also, you can only be involved in NMRT for a certain amount of time and then you are graduated out. This allows newcomers to the profession to meet others and learn and express ideas. If a national association seems too foreboding, many regional and state associations have new member committees. The NMRT allows newcomers to get to know the profession better and hopefully have some mentoring/mentored moments with others within the association.

While getting involved in professional associations can seem daunting and confusing, it can also be greatly rewarding. Serving in committees allows people to grow, come to new ideas, and meet people from different backgrounds. While committees vary and do require hard work, the rewards certainly outweigh the cost.

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Perspectives – Ray Pun

Perspectives, an interview series that will highlight the work of librarians in different fields and professional specializations. Our series will focus on the experiences of our participants, what they do, what they have learned, and offer advice to those interested in librarianship and various fields. To our readers, our committee hopes this column will highlight the valuable labor these individuals perform on an everyday basis. Our interviews will provide perspective on what labor in these fields entails and current issues that affect librarianship, employment, etc. On behalf of the Communications Committee, we hope you find this new column illuminating, informative, and inspiring!

Raymond Pun (he/him) is a librarian in the Bay Area, California. Originally from New York City, he has previously worked in public, academic and school libraries. Ray is currently the Vice President/President-Elect of the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA). 

Tell us about your current job and what about your job you enjoy the most?

I really enjoy working in teams and collaboratively identifying opportunities and solutions together. I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of the work we do is centered on relationship building and collaboration. 

Can you describe a memorable moment in your career?

One memorable moment in my career was when I organized and hosted a webinar for ACRL back in Spring 2018 and we featured three distinguished speakers on the issue of free speech on campuses — Dr. Joan DelFattore connected me to UC Irvine Chancellor Dr. Howard Gillman and UC Berkeley School of Law Dean (at UC Irvine School of Law at the time) Erwin Chemerinsky. Dr. Gillman had an emergency and couldn’t join us but we had Dr. DelFattore and Dean Chemerinsky to talk about interpretations and implications of free speech on colleges today. It was well attended and I was honored to have organized such an important webinar discussion.

What kinds of professional development do you do?

I really like to organize events and programs (in-person or online). I believe that professional development can enhance one’s personal and professional opportunities; expand their networks and connect to new and different topics. At the moment, I am looking at how to teach special collections online/virtually or in hybrid roles effectively. These areas include looking at digital pedagogy and technologies to consider. It’s an opportunity to bring special collections in virtual environments. 

Is there one piece of advice you have received in your career thus far that stands out the most (you carry with you in your work)?

You can say yes to everything but know that you are saying no to something else. Saying yes to opportunities can feel great, and can create new experiences or networks; however, this may also prevent you from working on something else. Keep that in mind because it is an opportunity cost. 

What are some things you know now about your job/librarianship that you wish you had known before entering the field?

I wish I had known that joining associations and being active in associations was key in expanding networks as an early career librarian. I thought if people attended conferences, that would be sufficient but that’s not the case necessarily. People get to know one another through committee service work. Consider joining as an early career/as a student if you can. 

What do you think some misconceptions about librarians/libraries/librarianship are?

I think people in general tend to assume or have a misconception that libraries/library workers and the field are universally supportive of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in everything we do. We are to a certain extent but there are so much more work to do in expanding DEI values in our framing as library workers, in what we do, what we collect, share, uplift — how we recruit/retain Black/Indigenous/People of Color (BIPOC) folks and other underrepresented folks in the profession; and how do we truly center DEI work in our practice? — This also includes accountability – how do we ensure that we are practicing what we are saying. Saying we are “open” and “supportive” in statements or websites might not be sufficient to actually engage in intentional DEI work.  

What are some current professional obstacles in this field that upcoming professionals should know about?

What I am seeing now is a huge shift in how we are thinking about our work — and the resistance that comes with it. So when we are talking about new values or opportunities, we have to ask ourselves, how do we expand them for other folks? Who is not included in this discussion? Who should be in this discussion? Like any other industry, upcoming professionals need to recognize that there will be challenges in the profession – so for example, if we are aiming to promote DEI values, there will be resistance (intentional or not) whether these barriers include policies, systems, lack of resources and/or personnel — we need to recognize that how and what we are reframing to do can challenge our own perspectives and values. This takes time and I think we need to acknowledge that any kind of change will take time. 

What professional advice would you give to graduate students who are about to enter the field?

Be involved in association work, learn and meet people online (if you cannot attend conferences due to cost and covid at the moment) but this is where you can learn and connect with others who can tell you more about XYZ job, position, region, etc. I think it’s helpful to learn that you’ll always be evolving your practice. It’s always good to take charge of your learning and be proactive in seeking and managing your professional development opportunities. Even after you obtain a job or a job of your choice, always stay in touch and get engaged. 

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NMRT Membership Sponsorship

The New Members Round Table (NMRT) is excited to sponsor a limited number of ALA memberships and NMRT memberships for those who qualify for free registration for the upcoming ALA Annual Conference. Anyone who has recently been furloughed, laid off, experienced a reduction in paid work hours, or otherwise unemployed as a result of the global health pandemic is invited to complete the application to request a sponsored ALA and/or NMRT membership. Students are eligible for both an ALA and NMRT membership; other library workers are eligible for a sponsored NMRT membership.

If you would like to have your ALA membership sponsored by NMRT, please complete the application (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HYXZZC7) by Friday May 21, 2021. Recipients will be notified by Tuesday June 1, 2021.

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NMRT Student Chapter of the Year Award 2020/2021!

The results are in! On behalf of NMRT, the SCTOYA -Student Chapter of the Year Award- Committee would like to congratulate the University of Hawaii at Manoa as our 2020/2021 winner! Congrats are also in order to Kent State University’s student chapter for finishing as a runner-up! A big thank you to all student chapters who submitted an application!

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NMRT March Bulletin

NMRT-Issue-21

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