What I Really Should Have Learned in Library School

What I want is facts

For Hiring Librarians, I’m working with Brianna Marshall of Hack Library School on a survey about what employers think potential hires should learn in library school.  This is making me consider my own education, and I’ve decided to write the curriculum I should have pursued, in order to be a better public librarian. I still may pursue this stuff.

  1. Intro to Social Work: For trying to help homeless people find food and shelter, for patrons who need help getting benefits like social security and food stamps, for helping GBLTQ teens or battered women in hostile homes, for knowing how to tell if little kids have abusive parents, and for understanding what kind of help people in need really need.
  2. Basic Coding and Intro to Information Technologies: Libraries need better websites, better tech, and to be able to help others with learning tech skills.  Much of the tech I know I’ve picked up along the way, and a more formal grounding in the basics would serve my patrons well.
  3. Minor in Spanish, Arabic, Hindustani, and any number of Asian languages: Even though it’s possible to help people who don’t speak English when that’s all you do speak, being able to speak to people in their own languages goes a long way toward making them feel welcome.  For example, once I was trying to (nicely) explain to a woman that she needed to bring some books back.  When my Spanish-speaking co-worker came over to help out, I could see the tension drain from the woman’s face.  In another example, a librarian told me how a Mandarin-speaking library assistant drew Mandarin-speakers to her branch.  No one in the system knew that there was a local pocket of this community until word started spreading that they could get help from a native speaker at the library.
  4. Certificate in World Cultures or maybe International Business: Relatedly, I think about how better understanding of cultural nuances would do wonders in making sure patrons get the help they need.  For example, people from India do this head wobble, which I now know means “yes”, or “I understand”, but also sometimes means “no”.  A while ago I had some patrons do it while I was trying to explain checking out eBooks, and I couldn’t remember what it meant – was my explanation succeeding, or causing confusion?
  5. Music 101: For being a better singer and shaker player during storytime.
  6. Intro to Child Development/Cognitive Development:  Kids and teens often behave in certain ways because that’s how they’re wired.  They may not understand the world the same way that grown-ups do.  A patron once came in to try to find some books that would encourage her two year old to sit still while Mommy read to her.  My boss was able to explain that two year olds are just beginning to realize that they are separate entities, and being able to say no to Mommy reading was just part of the development of individuality.  The patron went away with better strategies for reading time (reading for shorter periods, and being willing to put the book down if the toddler’s attention wandered), and felt better about her child’s behavior, realizing that it wasn’t personal.
  7. Intro and Advanced Marketing: We gotta be better at telling people what we do.  We need to improve the public’s understanding of the importance of libraries.  It’s a matter of survival.
  8. Masters in Community Organizing, Advocacy, Public Policy and Social Justice:  Libraries provide the means for people to seek a more just society, the means for people to teach themselves about history and laws, to congregate with people that are like and not like them, and to negotiate differences while attempting to share resources. But even more than that, libraries are community based organizations, and we need to understand how to draw in and advocate for our communities. Library workers are government agents that work directly with community members, and they tell us how they feel and what they want.  We can help our government be more inclusive.  We can help our communities be heard. We just need to tune up our voices. The specific thing that made me add this to the list is the verdict in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and an article another librarian from my system posted about it. This verdict reminds me that racism is part of our systems, and that justice for black people is separate and not equal.  I am wondering how my library can respond to this verdict.
  9. Instruction and Education Series:  Ok, I actually did take a (really good) class in teaching information literacy in library school.  But I’d add more courses on teaching!  I instruct people every day, not just in library usage, but in basic computer tasks, in reading comprehension, and in all manner of life skills.  I often learn along with my patrons; we look at an article together and discuss what it means.  I’d love to be better at using this time.
  10. First Aid Certification:  I never know when I should dial 911.  I usually have to ask “would you like me to call 911?”  I’d love to be better at understanding what is really a medical emergency, and to be able to jump in when someone is in trouble.

That turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would, when I sat down to write.  What did I miss?

Photo by Flickr user Char Booth (infomational.com) via Creative Commons License

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