LIS Schooling: Lessons Learned and Affirmed

Oh my, how has time passed. Like any good blog, this site has been built with one cup of best intentions and two cups of procrastination. The programme at SIM and life in general has kept me busier than I expected, so it has been difficult to do more than log in to check my site stats from time to time. The nasty throat infection and chest cold that attacked my person in late September did little to help the situation, I might add.

One month into the MLIS programme at Dal, I can perhaps look back and determine if there has been anything learned or confirmed about librarianship. This list is short and general in nature, but I’ve constructed it that way since, (1) shorter blog posts are more readable than longer posts, and (2), one month is hardly enough time to thoroughly analyze a brand new programme and culture, so it would be best to paint with broad strokes on this subject:

1. The study of management is vital to the future of librarianship.

This is a lesson which was learned within the first few days of the Fall term. Dalhousie offers its MLIS within the Faculty of Management, and there are several required courses that are firmly rooted in the cultural sphere of management instead of IS. The School of Information Management believes it has a duty to tutor its students on the importance of management and leadership, and I think it’s a wise policy. It’s safe to say that a plurality of this year’s new students have no schooling in management. It’s also safe to suggest that many people in the programme have more experience being managed as opposed to managing. Therefore, nearly one half of the courses that first year SIM students take in the first term deal with organizational behaviour and project management as opposed to cataloguing or reference work. This is not to suggest that traditional librarianship courses are given short shrift. Rather, there is a common understanding in SIM that its graduates, as professional librarians and information professionals, must be prepared to work with and lead others in projects, on budgets, and toward common goals or objectives. No man is an island, and no library or organization is devoid of people. Management is not a bad word, but a set of necessary skills everyone should be adept with.

(Interestingly, Meredith Farkas noted the same thing after considering the results of a recent survey on LIS schooling. The call for more management skills is hardly new, but it apparently continues to be given short shrift. I’m fairly happy, however, that my school responded to this issue long ago.)

2. Technology is vital, but technology does not trump service.

Library 2.0, Web 2.0, People 2.0, Two 2.0. We can ponder and praise the rise of interactive and user-friendly technologies such as blogging software, social networking tools, twitters, podcasts and whatever might come next, but none of these can replace the service aspect of the profession. The best part of my week doesn’t occur when I’m checking one of many portable devices for the most recent news, but instead when take my shift at my alma mater’s reference desk. A certain thrill that is equal parts fear of, excitement for, and anticipation of the unknown comes over me when a student asks for help acquiring information in a field I’m not familiar with. Librarianship service is a process, a discovery of information mediated through the librarian. Note that I am not saying “filtered” or “accessed” there. When I say “mediated”, I mean to suggest that we are there to guide some one toward the information they are looking for. There is no controlling of information or gatekeeping. Rather, we are there to show some one the route and help them get to where they’re going so that hopefully they can get there on their own in the future. This human component can’t ever be overlooked.

(This is a belief I’ve long held. All of my experience in academics long ago taught me the importance of leading the horse to drink, so to speak.)

3. Professional librarians and library technicians can, and should work together.

When I work at the reference desk, I sit as either an “MLIS student” or a “Professional Librarian in training”. I work alongside both professional librarians and library technicians at the desk, and they are both equally capable of being the mediatory I mentioned above. One month into my professional training, however, I’ve encountered both the understanding that professional librarians and library technicians can work together as well as the belief that “library technicians are similar but different”. Yes, a library technician may be “similar but different” (whatever that means), but that doesn’t mean they should be valued any less than any of our other colleagues. The library at Saint Mary’s University appears to break down these artificial barriers, and I hope most other organizations try to do the same. I’d prefer to work for an organization that values what differences in people, and works with them to make the most of their own skills and goals. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking. Or perhaps that’s a simple goal that could be put into place with relative ease elsewhere.