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.

Days in the Librarian’s life

Any librarian or proto-librarian who has followed the Library Day in the Life series can see that *a lot* of our work day is spent in meetings, conversations, dialogues, and more meetings.  This is partly the work of collaboration, of management, of professionalism.  We’re responsible for getting things done, but since we want to make sure we do things, we try to get by with a little help from our friends (excuse the Beatles pun) to ensure everything is up to par.

I’m constantly astonished by the amount of time we spent in dialogue, though, since it eats up so much of our day.  Although I’m happily salaried, I work as if I’m on the clock – partly because for most of my life I’ve been on an hourly wage, and partly because I’m more efficient at work when I have a sense of how much time has passed in my day.  It is sometimes a struggle to make sure I’m moving ahead on my projects and tackling deadlines, though, when I want to include people and involve them in what I do.  This isn’t a new problem or unique issue, of course – it’s something that affects all of us – but since I’m still very Green to the profession, I’m experiencing it first-hand.  I haven’t been Green to anything for six or seven years, so trying to find the balance between discussion and practice, as well as trying to find a balance between working hard and working too much has sometimes required more care for me than it would for the veteran colleagues in the office that I lean on for advice.

How do I get the work done, then?  I follow a couple guidelines:

  1. Start on time and end on time. I get to work at 830 in the morning, and I try my hardest to leave at 4:30.  Unless the next day already has a Major Fire To Put Out, I try to leave by 5.  This doesn’t happen every day, but it helps me keep work in perspective, and it helps me complete my work ahead of deadlines.
  2. Take a lunch, always. I pencil in an hour for lunch, but I’m willing to cut it short to a half-hour if the day’s work demands it.  Regardless, I force myself to leave the office, even if only for a short time.  I work in a library, dammit, so at the very least I should go read a magazine or newspaper or go find a comfortable chair to sit in for a bit.  Give yourself a break so that the afternoon is as fresh as the morning was.
  3. Turn off the e-mail after lunch. I do this if I can since some days require more communication that others.  But I do try to keep the e-mail turned off between 1 and 2-2:30.  I use this time to go into overdrive and see how far ahead I can get in my work.
  4. Chat with you colleagues. Don’t just talk shop with your co-workers. Get to know them.  If you don’t, work will feel like a prison when we’d rather like it to feel like a playdate.
  5. Chat with people who aren’t your colleagues. When I’m on the RefDesk, I talk to students and ask them how their days are.  When I’m in the hallways, I talk to support staff, academic staff, and teaching staff.  This gives us perspective to recall why we’re working in the library and why the library exists on campus – to serve the information and scholarly needs of others.

New Degrees and New Jobs

This week I begin a new position working in Information Literacy and Reference Services at the Dalhousie University Libraries.   I’m excited about this posting and expect to do some great things and have a little fun along the way.  I’ve been a student and a community member at Dal for a number of years so it’s heart-warming to get the call and be asked to join the team.  Of course, there will be days that may feel more frustrating than fun (what job doesn’t have them?), but I think that on the whole everyone is going to come out ahead when it’s all said and done.

This opportunity to work at Dal and my graduation this spring from their MLIS programme at their School of Information Management has kept me busy thinking about what I’ll do with myself in my new profession. At Dal, I’ve been hired to work in information literacy and in research and reference services, and sure enough I’m experienced in both areas.  I like the service aspect of both fields, i.e., the opportunities to help students learn how to learn, to identify how to use information resources effectively, or to help someone find the tiny kernel of truth that can set a paper straight.  I’m also going to try to find some time at or outside of the workplace to do some publishable research in IL.  A large part of my time will be creating learning tutorials (something I’m already acquainted with) and maybe making use of social media, so I’d like to possibly examine their value and worth to academic librarianship.  Creating streaming instructional material can be a cumbersome process that requires a lot of time and collaboration, and the end result is often a finished project that can’t be easily tweaked, so I’m thinking about researching means to improve production rates, or researching alternative ways to produce materials which will remain adaptable to changing environments.

But I know that my professional and academic interests aren’t limited to these fields alone.  For several years now I’ve been interested in the intersections between technology and culture.  In my MLIS programme, we called this the “information society,” which is an apt term, but I’m also concerned about how tech and information affects the things we make and consume in this society – hence, the “culture” aspect. Aside from my work in IL and Reference, I’m determined to spend my evenings working on a half-finished MA thesis on the effects of modern technology on Shakespearean adaptations, but at this point I may instead convert what I’ve done in this area into an MA focused on the Technological Affects rather than on the literature itself. This would require course transfers to a different programme, but it would better reflect my research interests.

I’m leaving the most important thing to the end of this post (a definite no-no when it comes to blogging), which is my interest in applied ethics in information science.  Understanding information ethics is an imperative for me – my morals, the ethical guidelines of my workplace, and of my profession guide my thoughts and actions.  I’m also a firm believer in social justice, so I’d like to one day not only do more research in this area, but also put it into practice.  We’ll see how it happens.

So there’s a list of action items and aspirations for you.  On Tuesday, I’ll enter the trenches in my new position, so you may see a few more posts related directly to information literacy.  But with a little luck, you’ll find a few posts about technoculture and information ethics arrive in your feedreaders as well.


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