Library schools are great education institutions that teach budding librarians the joys and what it truly means to be a librarian. But do they accurately portray the realistic library environment? After graduating from library school 5 years ago, I was ready for the librarianship field intellectually, but was I mentally and physically ready? I was in no way prepared for the type of surroundings I was about to enter and library school never really prepares you for that. Then I started to think back on all the things I learned in library school and all the things that should have been taught and this is what I came up with:
Dewey Decimal & LCC
Contrary to popular belief, the chances of learning the various categories of the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) are very slim. If you study to be a cataloger, you’ll be exposed more to memorizing the categories but as a librarian? You see them as generic shelf labels. They may have taught the classification systems in the past, but now, the internet and technology have taken care of it all.
Dealing with Patrons
People can be tense. There are times that random people will lash out at you. You wouldn’t expect that kind of behavior in a quiet environment like the library. Unfortunately, it does happen. Library school doesn’t give you the training or advice on how to deal with the public. As a new librarian, you are thrown to the wolves and I am sad to say that is an accurate metaphor.
Programming & Outreach
Your job description says that you have to create programming and conduct outreach. You might have a perplexed look on your face. What is that? You are probably thinking to yourself, I thought I would just deal with reference questions/or books. You are expected to be a teacher to the public you serve. That is necessarily not a bad thing…except if you are a person who has severe anxiety and suffering uneasiness when “performing” in front of others. Most people who enter the library profession are soft-spoken and keep to themselves. What library school doesn’t teach (or warn you) is that libraries expect you to have an outgoing personality, someone who is sociable and who can draw a crowd. It doesn’t feel like a place for introverted personalities.
Past vs. Future
Once you graduate from library school, you are a fresh librarian with great ideas. And once you get your first library job, you are just bursting with new ideas and you can’t wait to implement them. However, you will face an uphill battle. Most likely, you will encounter new co-workers who will be stuck in their old ways. They will be averse to change and will be met with push-back every step of the way. Library school doesn’t give you steps or guidelines on how to deal with this hostility. Don’t expect help from library management either. Their ignorance and lack of focus can even put more of a strain on your position.
The Librarian Who Wears Many Hats
Library school gives you the idea that the work you will do will revolve around the library and that is what they train you for. But once you start working in a library, your role expands, but not in the way you would hope. You are a babysitter, a social worker, a security officer, a teacher, a custodian, a computer technician…the list goes on and on. You have so many roles that the role of librarian starts to diminish and you begin to feel less like a librarian.
Security & Safety
Your safety and security are under constant threat. You never truly know how crazy the general public can really be until you start working with them every day. People might say that it’s library management’s responsibility to ensure the safety of their workers and they’re absolutely right. But library schools need to educate and mentally prepare their students about what type of environment they are entering.
These factors are not meant to deter prospective librarians from signing up for library schools, but to highlight what needs to be known to the students. I have talked to other librarians and most feel that library schools do not accurately portray the present library environment. The ideas and plans that are taught are more theoretical, not realistic. We keep saying that libraries have to evolve in order to survive. Shouldn’t that same idea apply to library schools?