Sunday, January 29, 2006

Why Do Librarians Eat Their Young?

Well, metaphorically. I promise, I have never actually done more than nibble the toes of my own children and then just when they were little babies. By now, they are plenty big enough to swat me down if I tried to even take a lick. My question is really, why do practicing librarians insist on experience when hiring newly graduated librarians? This seems both impractical and cruel, doesn't it?

We want to hire librarians who understand enough about how libraries work in a practical way that we won't spend a long time getting them up to speed. Unfortunately, library schools, by and large, do not seem to have found a way to incorporate that into their training, any better than law schools have. Perhaps an internship period would help? Jim, other library educators out there -- do you have comments about this? There is a real learning curve, and many of us wish to avoid it when we hire. This is sad and unfair to the newly minted librarian, but it is also hard on the hiring library to fill a gaping hole with an underprepared librarian. We are all understaffed and over-stretched. It is asking a lot of our existing staffs to add this much training to their tasks.

Several times, in comments sections of this blog, the question has come up from newer librarians. How can we possibly expect them to come to us with experience when they have just finished library school? Well, there are several ways to accomplish this, but clearly not every library school student can do this. Here are my thoughts on how to get real library experience before you hit the job market:

1) If you are able to get a full-time (best), part-time or even temp job working in a library while you are a library school student, this would be ideal. At many universities, if you work there, either immediately, or sometimes, after a certain period, you qualify for tuition remission. This means you can take a certain number of classes for free.

This would mean you would go slower through library school, but heck, you would be getting more out of it. I truly believe this. I have observed that colleagues who took library school during or after working in libraries, even at clerical jobs, seemed to get far more out of the classes than did I, who went in cold. You would graduate with little or no debt. And you would come out with much better job prospects. You would have that desired library practical experience. We do not specify that you have to have been a librarian; we just want you to have spent time working at something more than a volunteer or student level position in a library. When you work at more than those levels, you see and understand libraries and how they work in a much different way. That is what we are looking for. It can't be taught by theory or explantion in a classroom.

2) Work at your University in a Graduate Assistanceship in the library. That is going to be a different level of expectation than just hiring a student worker. If you can get one of these slots, and you really take it seriously, the reference you get from the librarian can be a good asset.

3) Look for other opportunities that allow you to really work in a library, not just to "help out." That is, if you can volunteer to create a library or run it for your church or charitable organization, that seems like a different level of work than volunteering at an existing library and just helping out. What we are looking for is a level of understanding, but a bit of enterprise is welcome, too.

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