How to Dissuade

19Feb11

This has been on my mind since reading Andy Woodworth’s ill-fated but provocative Sunday Speculation this week.  I’m not talking about retirement though, I’m thinking about how to stop ill-equipped students from completing the MLIS program in the first place.  We certainly can’t count on the library schools to do it–they need to get paid, but oftentimes you encounter someone so completely wrong for the profession, who you know will never be able to find a job, that I just wish there was an easy way to talk him or her out of it.

This idea was broached by a colleague of mine at my alma matar’s re-accreditation future planning meeting that I attended last spring.  The purpose of the meeting was to solicit feedback from practicing librarians as to what they think graduates need to know to find success after graduation–how to build the best librarians.  Overall, I think it went well, but when my colleague posed the idea that oftentimes we find people in library school who have no understanding of the profession, who have no customer service skills, who don’t really subscribe to the core beliefs of the profession–maybe we need a nice way to show them the door.

Perhaps that sounds a bit harsh, but in this economic climate, isn’t it kinder to discourage those who are likely going to struggle to find work after graduation before they spend money on a degree they won’t use?  I’ve been saying all along that this economic downturn is an opportunity for the profession to reinvent itself, for the best and brightest to advocate and remain competitive in the age of google.  If people who aren’t going to do that aren’t going to self-select out, perhaps they need a little nudge.

Miss Information was recently called upon to serve on a committee about revamping the technology classes at that same alma matar.  I use the words technology class-es because technically there are two, but only one is required, and the other sounds like a cataloging class, so no one really takes it.  Just like the required technology course, it is very basic stuff, often people already know it and it’s just a question of coasting along until grading time.  She and I spent the day g-chatting about what students in other programs are learning, what we use most often in our day-to-day and basically what we would like to see new colleagues equipped to do once they join our ranks.

As we were conversing, a woman came up to the reference desk and chatted with my co-worker for a bit.  He went to the back room to get something, and she turned her attention to me.

“You must be a recent graduate too.” She said.

“May ’09.” I told her, “When did you finish?”

“Oh, I’m only in my second semester, I’m working two job just to pay for it and can only take one class at a time.”

We talked a little bit more, and I learned that she wants to do something with information literacy instruction, but she was very unimpressed with the required technology course.

“It is very basic.” I agreed.

“No, it’s not that, it’s good that it’s basic.” She insisted, “I’m technologically illiterate and the kind of librarian I’m going to be doesn’t really need to know all that stuff.  I don’t think it should be a requirement for everyone.  Plus, they don’t do anything for the people who don’t already know all about computers, we’re just left to flounder.”

It was at this point where I kind of shut up because to say what I wanted to say would have taken hours probably, and not been well-received.  In a nutshell, what I wanted to tell her was this:

  1. ‘The kind I’ve librarian I’m going to be doesn’t really need to know all that stuff’  is not true.  There is no kind of librarian that can do his or her job without knowing how to use a computer.  Also, in this economy, you will most likely not wind up being the kind of librarian you set out to be.  Just among the handful of writers of this blog, the only one who is the kind of librarian she set out to be is Madame Lawbrarian, and that’s because she has a law degree.
  2. You’re in grad school.  If you are incapable of getting up to speed with the rest of your classmates, or unwilling to teach yourself until you are prepared to take the class, you have no business being in grad school.  You wouldn’t start an MBA program and whine “I don’t know anything about microeconomics!”, you would either learn or fail.  The technological competencies for the course of study are extremely basic and are posted on the department’s website and in the syllabus for the required technology course.  There’s no excuse for acting like this is a shock.
  3. If you want to teach information literacy instruction, you need to know how to use a computer.  You’re not going to be teaching students how to read a book, or just how to locate materials on the shelf, and the students certainly aren’t going to listen very well if you just get up there and talk to them without showing examples, or knowing how to use the online catalog.
  4. The internet has been around since the late 1960s, and popular since the 90’s.  Html, which is what is taught in the required technology course (I told you it was basic), has been around since the 90’s as well, and what’s covered in this course is basically learning how to make headers and bold things.  If you can’t master that, you’re screwed; and if you thought this doesn’t apply to me, you need to learn more about your profession.

This woman was also talking about how difficult it is for people, especially those without any library experience like her, to get internships.  If she’s having trouble getting an internship and has no real experience, she will not find a job.    Even if it takes her five years to complete the program, she’s will not be able to compete against the tech-savvy and well-rounded people looking for full-time work, like myself.

I’m not in the habit of crushing dreams, but doesn’t it seem like in the case of this woman that she is wasting her time completing this program?  Unless she has a vast change in attitude, and starts landing part-time library gigs while taking classes, there is simply no way anyone will hire her.

Even though I’ve titled this blog How to Dissuade, I don’t really have a magic bullet, or know if this is something that others in the field agree with.  It seems radical and cruel to tell someone else “You picked the wrong profession, try again,” but it’s cruel to be kind.



18 Responses to “How to Dissuade”

  1. 1 bri

    I vote no on dissuasion. (I don’t think you meant it literally?) It feels akin to parents of grown children telling them “We know better than you do how to live your life.” Even if that’s true, we’re all adults. The matches will get hired, the misses will move on. Maybe they’ll feel accomplished for completing a grad program. Maybe that’s enough.

  2. I graduated a year ago myself and felt pretty equipped to not only deal with the traditional librarian responsibilities but also with changing face of what a librarian has to be. In our program, we blogged, constructed wikis and talked about using social media in a variety of ways. And then I went back to the library where I work as a paraprofessional and dealt with an outdated webpage, a county mandate against social media and a staff of librarians that seems fairly ok with all of the limitations. It’s disheartening as I’m trying to find a professional position but it’s left me realizing that I want to work in a library that gets the tech aspects and embraces them just like the rest of the world has.

  3. 3 donut

    My MLIS program is a mix of those with jobs/careers in the library field and wanting to better themselves or get the degree so they can get promoted, second-career students, and then those who, well, I’m not sure why they are there or how they got it. I fall into the first two categories – already working in the library profession after changing jobs and getting the ALA-accredited club card. There is a wait list to get into the program. When I see students in my classes that are set in their ways, or, let’s face it, probably aren’t made of grad material, I feel that it diminishes my degree. If that person graduates and is applying for jobs with the same degree stamped on their resume, how does that affect the other MLIS-holders from the same school? Yes, if I get an interview, I should be able to prove my competency just fine, but with so many MLIS holders competing for the same jobs, a bad experience with a couple of University X students will throw the other X students’ chances out the window.

    That sounds a little whiny and prejudice, but I got into the discussion with a coworker while we were manning the reference desk over lunch. We were talking about the BA degree at a neighboring university, and since they coddle the students so much, employers regard that BA as a GED.

  4. I agree. LIS schools shouldn’t be factories producing scores of grads whose key qualifications is that they were able to pay for two years of classes. It waters down the value of the degree. If you don’t have basic computer skills, you should find a way to get those skills before entering the program in the same way a med student might have to take pre-requisites like anatomy and physiology before entering med school. And a med school would never graduate someone who said “well I shouldn’t have to learn about anti-biotics… I want to be a psychiatrist.” That professional degree demands well-rounded experts–why should the MLS professional degree demand less? This isn’t a problem with the student base, it is a problem with the admissions, the grading… we need to raise the bar.

  5. 5 shinyinfo

    Personally, I don’t know why anyone who has never worked in a library in a non-professional position would suddenly decide to want to become a librarian. A good number of people in my LibSchool intro course, when asked why they started the program said, “I like to read” or “I like books.” UM WHAT?

    Books are great and giving good readers advisory IS a skill but librarianship is about so much more than books. One of my directors told me straight out, “In an interview, if someone tells me they want to work in our library because they like books then they won’t get hired. It’s not about books, it’s about people.” When people who have ZERO library experience start LibSchool I seriously have to wonder if they know what librarians actually do and what challenges libraries really face. If they knew all of this ahead of time, would they be applying for the program?

  6. 6 ASneakierMailman

    I never flat-out judge (to their face, anyway) some one’s choice to go into Library school, however, I will have very frank discussions about the state of the job market when I graduated 3 years ago, the current state of library funding, and the lengths I had to go to just for interviews. In other words, you may be great, but you may not get hired anyway. Are you willing to deal with that? A degree in library science is far from a guarantee of viable work in even a related field.

    And Miss Information, if we’re talking about the same graduate school, I’ve served on their accreditation feedback committee and gave them some very pointed responses about how not nearly enough technological expertise is demanded of incoming (and then graduating) students. For what it was worth. But incoming students self-assess! They take a survey! I’m told. Yes, well, I suspected (incorrectly) that my admission was dependent on my responses, and I exaggerated my own skills. And I’m pretty darn good. Imagine the pressure for those with virtually no skills at all.

    I’d be interested to see what would happen if we required an actual technology assessment of incoming students; how results would compare.

  7. 7 the.effing.librarian

    I am not a computer genius, but I’m a computer wizard. I can suss out in 14 seconds what you’ve (the lost library patron) been trying to do for the last 22 minutes on the site that I’ve never seen before you walked in. You can’t get your certification certificate to display and print, I got it. You can’t get the site to accept your credit card number, you left out this field. I reformat your resume so it looks like English and not something a baboon created when he flung his crap on the keyboard.

    I don’t know how to write javascript, but I can find what I need, copy, paste, and edit until it works. I can open a template and insert the code and test it and tweak it until it does what it’s supposed to. But I don’t do anything enough that I can remember it immediately when the time comes for me to do it again.

    But I have a shitty bedside manner. I never smile. It makes children cry when I do, but that’s not why I don’t. Smiling removes my dominant position and people seem less apt to follow instructions when you smile. But that is for another discussion.

    I work with several librarians who only know about 10% of what I know about computers-internet-etc. But they are really good at other stuff. And so I do computer stuff for them, without complaint, when needed. I don’t pray for them to retire so some young cocksucker can come along and tell me how I’m doing my job wrong because I haven’t joined the Steve Jobs circle jerk and devoting my paychecks to Apple.

    That said, I had computer skills before I went to library school. And I agree they are necessary. But I wouldn’t discourage someone without them who met some of my other valued characteristics: outgoing, friendly, good with people, organized, some expertise such as art or business or medicine, managerial experience, big tits. Hell, if you have the last one, I’ll do your computer stuff for you. Okay, I’m kidding about the big tits. Pretty much any size is okay by me if you’re under 50. Welcome to the library.

  8. 8 Mary Jo Finch

    I often complain about the sad state of admissions and the sorry results of grade inflation in the MLIS world. Worse than having few tech skills, far too many students cannot even write, let alone find a relevant article to cite in a paper and then cite it properly.

    Grad schools are businesses. Not only will they not dissuade poor students, they willingly hand out unearned degrees because those graduates will recommend the school to others. I can’t fault them entirely – they cannot keep a decent staff if they don’t have tuitions to cover salaries. So those of us who are up to the academic challenge of the degree benefit from the folks in our classes who are not – their tuitions help fund the teachers we get to learn from.

    I expect the professors are as unhappy about the situation as we are. They don’t want to be bestowing degrees on undeserving graduates – it diminishes the degree. I propose requiring students to work in libraries throughout their degree – even if only a 3-hour per week volunteer shift. In essence, they would have to have a library “sponsoring” them (paid or not), offering them a place to extend their learning throughout the entire degree.

    Imagine if every time an instructor taught a new concept, students were required to go to the library where they worked and find out how the idea was handled there. My degree was online, and it was so evident in discussion board interactions which students were bringing a practical perspective to the conversation and which students didn’t have a clue.

    Think of the benefits of a required library sponsorship:
    — students would learn more, especially the practical stuff
    — students would bring wider perspectives to class discussions, enriching the whole class
    — students would “self-dissuade” if they found the real world didn’t match expectations
    — graduates would be better prepared for working in libraries
    — graduates would have work experience to cite on their resumes
    — sponsoring libraries would get to contribute to the education of incoming professionals as well as benefit from the student’s work there
    — sponsoring libraries who had students that were not well-equipped for the profession might assist in “dissuading,” ending sponsorships and forcing students to find a new sponsor. A sponsorhip would be a semester-by-semester commitment on both sides. Students would learn what it takes to stay employed in the real world.

    What am I missing? Could this work?

  9. 9 librariankate7578

    I agree with the pre-admission tech assessment. My library school had tech competencies that students are expected to have met prior to admission (it was included with my acceptance packet) but when your department’s tech tutor has to start holding workshops on these resources (we’re talking Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.) I’m worried.

    Here’s an idea for self-assessment: One job interview (corporate) I went on required a tech skills test as part of the process. It was administered by computer and gave me basic skills to complete – open a document, copy and paste text, write a sum in an Excel cell, and so forth. I could work at my own pace and I had scores as soon as the test was completed. Those scores were sent to the IT department and the manager in charge of the position’s hiring process, and were used to determine further candidacy as well as the level of tech training for the new hire.

  10. I also took my required “tech” class in library school, and we never got past basic html or database organization. A graduate level class, thousands of dollars, and we never got past basic HTML. My final project included a two-column database. No relationships, no keys, just two-columns.

    I understand that not everyone goes into library school with a knowledge of web programming or database design, but these are things that can be learned in a few evenings reading tutorials from google or an afternoon with a few “for dummies” books. These are not graduate level activities.

    If you aren’t competent with a computer, you have no business being a librarian. It is the main tool of librarianship. If you showed up to plumbing school and asked “What’s a wrench?” you would quickly be shown the door. There needs to be some accountability for the people that graduate from library school. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but this should start with the professors, who should be competent themselves, not relics from the past.

  11. 11 ellie

    “Personally, I don’t know why anyone who has never worked in a library in a non-professional position would suddenly decide to want to become a librarian.”

    I never worked in a library before attending library school. I was the cliche English Major who didn’t know what to do with her BA and loved books.

    I’m now an academic librarian and have done quite well for myself. So, you never really know.

  12. 12 shinyinfo

    “I never worked in a library before attending library school. I was the cliche English Major who didn’t know what to do with her BA and loved books.

    I’m now an academic librarian and have done quite well for myself. So, you never really know.”

    You’re correct about that, some people are just damned good at the job regardless of experience.

  13. Basic computer skills are critical in today’s world for *any* profession today. I’m one of those who got to library school without any library experience and seem to be doing fine, but then again competition here isn’t as fierce.

  14. 14 Sara

    I work in IT at a public library and have considered going to library school…versus getting more IT certifications. When discussing this with the head of our reference department, she said her husband works in the IT industry and he is always learning new things to keep up. She recommended that I just go to library school because “once you graduate you’re done”. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.

    Sadly, she went to our local college to share this wisdom with prospective MLS students. I wish someone would have talked her out of library school.

    I love working in the library but hearing all of this just makes me want to back to the corporate IT industry where at least the pay is better.

  15. 15 sue

    I have to admit that I was impressed with the tech classes that were required for my MLS. The basic class was, indeed, basic html, but the database courses, digital preservation and digital technology classes were cutting-edge (I just graduated in Dec., and am unemployed, of course). I am a very tech-savvy and computer literate person, and I can’t imagine anyone completing their MLS without advanced knowledge in digital management. While a graduate may not use those skills in every library job, the future is in digital resources and one day those non-tech librarians will be sitting in uncomfortable performance reviews. I met an academic library administrator who said she would rather hire someone with technology experience than library experience, so employers are looking for it.

    The problem is more than unprepared graduates, it is in the lack of mentoring and technical education required across the entire profession. Librarians who have been on the front lines for 20 years are often afraid or unwilling to learn new technology skills. If it was required of all librarians, we might not have the gross overpopulation of newly-minted and under-prepared librarians. Technological competence should be a requirement for advancement or employment, and it should be a basic requirement for graduate work in any field, especially library science. Of course, MLS programs will continue to produce as many graduates as possible, because many of those professors are the old guard who prefer a less stressful close-to-retirement position, that does not require new skills.

  16. 16 MedLibrarian

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the “You’re in grad school” paragraph. I don’t know that you need to have a pre-admit tech assessment because there are definitely people who will figure out what they need to learn and learn it. I had classmates like that. They found out where the workshops were, they read up on stuff, and by the time they graduated, they had decent tech skills.

    What I do remember and still encounter (I work at a university with a MLS program) is the attitude that “I shouldn’t have to learn X.” These were and are the people who can’t understand why they can’t find a job or hold a job.

  17. 17 Alison

    I’ve worked as a professional librarian for over 20 years. Right now I’m in a large public library system where my job (selecting and purchasing books) requires computer use almost 100% of the time. We’ve been trying to train some branch staff to use the selection system and I’m upset by how many librarians don’t know how to type (excuse me, keyboard.) It really slows their computer work down. Learn to type!

  18. 18 Krystal

    I’m waaay on the bottom rung when it comes to a librarian career. I’ve only completed my first undergraduate year and am already browsing through blogs and different information sites to get a heads up on what steps I need to make to be successful. I’ve put out resumes and applications (experience is key!) and have also brushed up on different issues that libraries face today. Researching this topic puts me ahead of the “I love books wanna show you books too” English BA turd.
    But… there will always be those people in every field where you think “who are you related to that made it possible for you to stand next to me?”



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