Ever heard of a Librarian who doesn’t read? – or – What I’ve learned in Library school so far.

No Books - Image from Photobucket user dark_x3r0

I know. This is like the worst confession of all time. I can’t remember the last book I read, and I’m ok with that. Its not that I’m anti-books, I just have other interests. And it was those other interests that led me into Library and Information Studies. I will say I am gaining a different appreciation for books through this degree, but not enough to make me as voracious a reader as many (all) of my colleagues. I can already hear fellow library school students, and future employers fuming “So, why do a degree based on a professional love of books if you don’t care about books?” Simply because, as I have begun to learn through the degree, Library School is much, much more than training in booksmithery.

I would like to borrow a format many of us are familiar with to lay out my reasoning here. This is my “Top 10 Things I learned in Library School (so far)” list. Please hold all comments until the end, and give me the benefit of the doubt before writing me off as a fool. In no particular order —

Top 10 Things I learned in Library School (so far)

  • Libraries are extraordinary institutions in the fabric of society, especially in America. The phrase that resonated with me when taking a library history course with Dr. Wayne Wiegand was “Free and Open to All,” an informal creed adopted by many public libraries. I did a Masters degree in American Studies prior to beginning Library school and as an academic I am fascinated by the institutions and ideas that have created the modern American mind, and this concept is one that is subversive enough to be important to our past, current and future historical context.
  • Collection and organization of information is a skill that can be learned. Despite the fact that I hate math, abhor sciences, and can barely stomach ideas like “data,” I am beginning to understand that the study of information is fundamental to librarianship. The ability to assess the information needs of a population group and also accurately approach data as research are tasks of the trade, and learning these I am becoming a more effective info-conduit for whomever I end up serving.
  • As I already kind of alluded, a major realization in my studies is that libraries are greater than the sum of their books. Concepts like “Information Laboratory” and “Media Center” can almost more accurately describe some libraries these days. Being a media/tech guy myself, this has been incredibly attractive to me considering a future in this field.
  • Following that point, there is not just one type of library. This blew me away as a new student in the program. What the hell are the differences between a public, academic and “special” library? My interdisciplinary radar went off when I realized I could kind of create my own path through the library world. With my background I am hoping to end up in an art library, special collections or museum setting. Being around cultural heritage objects and collections makes me happy.
  • Library 2.0! Emerging technologies are becoming more and more integral parts of the library world, and being a user/proponent of those technologies makes this another exciting selling point for me! One of the best courses I have had thus far was Digital Media Concepts and Production with Dr. Lisa Tripp. Blog for class? OK! Start a Twitter account and connect with other information professionals? Yes, please! Learn and use digital media software to create multimedia projects? Done and Done!
  • The stereotypical librarian is an urban myth. Sure, there are still glasses and cardigans (but that’s just because librarian-chic is “in” right now). The people behind the desks are multi-varied in their interests, cultural and educational background, and most often they are incredibly excited to help out. The shushing, boring old lady-type is not a majority, and in fact I’d argue that many more librarians are open-minded, young (in body and at-heart!), and invested in sharing knowledge and information with patrons at any cost.
  • Libraries are complicated. The multitude of programs, initiatives and staff involved in running a library are astounding. I had considered for a second pursuing a focus in Leadership and Management, but I’m not sure I’d want to take on what some administrators have to deal with! In addition to running the building itself, libraries are always fighting for support from their benefactors, be that a university, the government or private funders. Library advocacy and lobbying is unfortunately an integral cog in the wheel that makes these great institutions function. So, support your library!
  • There is this really weird, community connectedness that comes along with librarianship. I’m not sure if this is the same for other career tracks… like do lawyers really get together and have Library Cart Drills at their annual conferences? Yeah, we are all about to be fighting for the same few jobs (watch out for me!), but there has been a general feeling of camaraderie in the library school that I hope continues into my professional life.
  • Library school is great training for work in a variety of areas. Being forced to think about how websites are constructed from raw code, or how best to meet the real/percieved needs of groups of people through books, media, info-literacy skills, searching techniques, etc, can prepare one to be effective in many careers. I am consistently surprised at the possibilities that exist for some who has better than average understanding of organization, technology systems, and media, which are all basic principles taught in library school. Don’t fret fellow students if the library market looks slim, you’ll just have to start now thinking about other ways to utilize your skills and sell that to an employer.
  • Best of all, I am learning that the faculty in library school, especially at FSU, are invested in our success. They are all expertly trained, and are here to write and research but also to ensure that we leave with the knowledge and connections necessary to do well in our professional life. Am I sucking up? Most definitely. I am young and naive and can get away with a little schmoozing, right? Regardless, I appreciate the time and help offered by my professors and I hope that all MLIS students have as much investment in the relationships they are building as they do in the skills they are acquiring.

So, have I redeemed the fact that I am not a book person? I will argue that I read a ton, and I enjoy it very much, but most of what I am reading is online and better suited to my interests in emerging technology, social media and digital humanities. What do you think? Is there room in the library profession for “non-readers”? What are the most valuable things you learned in Library School?
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I’d love to make this a series of guest posts, so if you are interested in sharing your experience please contact me!

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7 thoughts on “Ever heard of a Librarian who doesn’t read? – or – What I’ve learned in Library school so far.

  1. I think you make a very good argument on why you shouldn’t be chastised for your lack of reading, though I think a good book here and there would do you good. It is difficult to keep up with the changes and developments of technology and to try and do so, like you do, is very time consuming. It’s undeniable that libraries are moving forward into the digital age and soon enough they’ll be scrambling for people like you to get them there.

  2. hey, I came across your entry via ALA twitter – would you mind if I linked to this in the FSU ALA student chapter newsletter? or, if you have the time, would you be interested in condensing this to about 400-500 characters & I could include your words directly?

    also – yay, another FSU MLIS person going to ALA! maybe I’ll see you there!

  3. Thanks for the comments.
    Mrs. Vandie – I’d like to read a good book every now and again. Perhaps when I finish library school, I’ll have some free time to do so!

    Teresa – I’d love to contribute to the FSU ALA newsletter. I’ll email you a condensed version of the post ASAP. Also, I wish I were able to go to ALA this summer, but didn’t have the $ to register yet. Hoping to be able to work it out!

  4. Read books! You will never have time to read books! I am a school librarian with a MLIS from the University of Southern Mississippi. I just finished my ninth year in the field. Contrary to popular belief, librarians rarely, if ever, read at work. And——–much of your “off time” is spent thinking about what you need to do for work. I DO try to read professional journals, library feeds, blogs, etc. The constant need to fund-raise, keep up with technology and figure out new ways to draw in patrons can be all-consuming.

    Please do not misunderstand; I doooo love the field. But you do not have to be a constant reader to be validated as a real librarian. As a school librarian, I manage the facility and serve 850 high school students and 70 teachers and staff. That entails so many aspects (all) of librarianship. I rely on reviews and the kids to tell me all about the great books.

    Much of your collection development will be comprised of titles that your patrons request, award-winning books and bestsellers. Even though I CANNOT get through the Twilight series, I can still get very excited about them and promote them for the students and adults at school. I do not feel guilty that I have not read them; and I participate fully in the their promotion.

    Just my thoughts on the reading thing….

  5. Pingback: {Guest Post} A Bespectacled Look at the MLIS. « The Infornado

  6. Interesting post. I have a question for those of you who are more involved in technology than books.
    I s there still a place in the library field for someone whose primary love and source of information is still books?

  7. Hi Pat – thanks for the response. I do think there will always be a place in the field for people who came in for the love of books. However, I do think that technological skills will become much more useful and perhaps even people who love books will end up working more in historical societies or special collections as library materials move digital. It is a strange time for the field and it is adapting quickly.

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