Library School Grads Know Nothing : thoughts on the shift from Thinking to Doing

This week of “contemplation posts” ends on the subject of knowing nothing, or at least on knowing very little.   Terri Tomchyshyn, the 2010 Outstanding Alumna of Dalhousie University‘s School of Information Management, recently blogged that LIS students and recent grads must remember that the first few years of their professional lives will be a constant learning experience.  Although LIS students will learn a lot of things during graduate school, all their book-learning will yet be refined by real work experience because:

don’t get all cranky on me when you read it – when you graduate, you still don’t know much.  You’ll have had two years of theory, maybe a practicum, and may be even some “real” experience in part time jobs, but all that theory really needs to be put to the practical test.  You’re not quite ready to run a library or information centre on your own – experience needs to come into play, as do good work mentors and colleagues from whom you can learn how to be a professional in a work environment.

Terri’s words struck a chord with me.  My graduate program taught me a lot about librarianship and organizational management, but I knew I wasn’t going to enter the workforce as some sort of David Beckham of LIS, ready to change the way others play the game.  I understood I was going to be the freshest, greenest (and perhaps most lost) librarian during my first few weeks on the job, but I don’t think I could have fully prepared myself for the stress that comes with determining how I could best improve the organization or with determining my colleague’s expectations of my work and then trying to exceed them.  As I mentioned earlier this week, we all want to do well on the job, but in the case of recent grads and recent hires, we often have only theory and ambition to drive us forward.  We’re taking each day on a wing and a prayer, hoping each week is better than the last.

The problem lies in turning our schooling – all of our theory – into practice.  Librarians, on the whole, are practitioners.  We have our graduate schooling, and we research, write, and publish, but by and large we are part of a profession that puts our knowledge to use.  Those first few weeks on the job for a librarian (or any professional) are difficult because the movement from using knowledge-sets to using skill-sets is awkward.  We must reconsider everything we’ve been taught and determine when it’s best to use what we’ve learned in one class and when it’s best to avoid what we’ve learned in another.  We have to truly start thinking for ourselves about the knowledge we’ve learned by evaluating when it’s appropriate to do one thing or another.

This is why it’s good for us to find mentors, colleagues, friends, and others who can give us some guidance on the job.  It’s not that recent grads need to hear that “Everything you know is wrong” so much as they need to see how everything they’ve been taught needs to be tested in the workplace.  Every organization is different, so all these theories we’ve learned much be reconciled to our work environment, work culture, and organizational structure.