Reflecting on library education

A while back someone asked about how I felt about library school since it has been a few years (four and a half) since I graduated from Western’s FIMS MLIS program.

I had to take a bit to think about it since now it has been long enough that my other library education also has become quite embedded in my mind as well.

So I split my thoughts into three parts: the benefits over time of the library technician diploma, the benefits over time of the MLIS, and in general why library education is valuable.

1. Library Technician Diploma

I loved my time at Langara and cannot speak highly enough of their Library Technician program. What you get there is a great grounding in the practical skills required for library work, as well as a solid foundation in library theory. Like: what are libraries, the different types, the types of work done, and also why library work is valuable and how it contributes to the various communities served. As well, the very practical cataloguing skills and theory I gained (and have forgotten most of) has helped me countlessly over the years.

2. Masters of Library and Information Science

For me going completing my MLIS was sort of inevitable, and I knew exactly what school I wanted to attend long before I applied. I fell in love with Western’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies during my undergrad when visiting the school while a friend attended. The friendly, enthusiastic students and future-facing curriculum were what I wanted in a school.

As well, I was employed full-time at a library and had my library technician background. Therefore, the option of taking an intensive 12-month program was the best option for me. I also knew that (public) libraries were the right career path for me and that at its heart an MLIS program is a vocational school, and libraries are my passion.

So, the courses and their value. I’m not going to go back and look up every course since a reflection 4 years out should really be about what can easily be recalled.

Plan, practice, assess and evaluate. That’s what a lot of the courses boiled down to, they looked at different aspects of library work and function in different levels of detail but that is what is left once the details fade away. Living this practice of planning, acting, and assessing for the duration of the program has really helped in the long term. As well, we received the foundations for doing strategic and big picture sort of work – looking at why we do the things we do, and if it can be done better, and how to plan to go about making changes.

Stand-out courses for me were program planning and evaluation ones like the courses on web design and usability testing, outcomes assessment, and library management. I still have strong memories of the management course, it was tough but really valuable. And I hope to always remember by Reader’s Advisory class with fondness.

The more foundational courses on cataloguing and reference work were not as useful to me due to previous experience, but additional practice and reflection is always useful.

The other key part of library school, for me, was truly living and breathing library theory and practice for a year. I participated in committees and groups, spent lunches and evenings talking shop with classmates, worked in the (fantastic) Graduate Resource Centre, and in my final two semesters steered a committee that planned and ran a student conference. I always say that you get out what you put into school, and I put it all in, and have benefited from it.

Despite leaving exhausted (and burned out), it was an incredible and valuable experience.

3. Library Education generally 

And I haven’t stopped learning since then. Conferences, courses, webinars, pop-labs, blogs, social media, committees, conversations with co-workers and friends, they all have allowed me to keep building my skills, have challenged me to think differently, and to grow.

I have met and worked with many incredible library workers who don’t have any formal library training, and that does not make me respect them or their work any less. I do feel that my library education has served me well and has made it easier for me to make an impact in my work. It has also made the decisions I’ve made easier, and allowed to draw on a background of research and theory to make them.

As I have continued to develop in my work I appreciate my education more and more which is neat. Thank you Western & Langara!

Not Knowing the Answer

I’m going to try and get back into the blogging habit, since I find it a helpful exercise, and reflection is an important part of my work that I tend to ignore. (More on that at another time.)

Sometimes not only is there no easy answer, there is no answer at all.

And that is scary.

I had the opportunity to take a one-day course on Leading Change. It has already had a significant impact on the way that I think about my project work, and my ongoing responsibilities.

There were a lot of neat tools one was: Project Management is the thing (hardware software, activity), change management is the people. And the people part is just as important as the project itself.Change is hard. Here is a perplexed looking schnauzer to make it seem a bit easier.

Also, resistance to change is normal. Have a plan that involves upfront communications (and feedback if possible), sponsorship of your project (think champions of your change), and have those champions model the change and reinforce the change.

The scary part of the day came near the end, when we were reviewing a list of questions and statements that might come up in response to a change.

Some were easy to address “There wasn’t a problem with how we did it before, why are we changing things?” and “There are more pressing problems for us to address right now”, I could explain why we were making the change or what processes were in place.

The second page of questions included:

“I am concerned about my ability to learn the new skills required for this change to be successful”

and

“This is going to require me to alter some of the belief I hold in how business should be conducted”

and

“This change will require me to learn a lot of new information or viewing existing information differently.”

And I found myself checking the “Truth” box next to those questions and the action plan box sat empty.

These are big questions. These are things that come up when you are changing people’s perceptions in how they do their jobs- why they do their jobs. It isn’t always verbalized, but if you ask yourself “What is really being said?” This might be what you are hearing.

And (as an added issue) in the library world, often a good part of our personal identity is tied up in our work. “I am a library technician” or “I am a librarian” and “that means that I do ___”. Find books for people, act as a gatekeeper, answer reference questions…. To some people it means  that they are an expert in information.

Acting as an agent of change (my unofficial job title) around digital initiatives means that I am almost constantly causing people to doubt their skills and their ability to appropriately meet the needs of the public. When I need people to learn new skills, they can feel like they are no longer experts in their jobs. They can (and do) feel like I am changing what it means to work in a library. And that is understandably scary for them.

I don’t know that there is a fix for this. There is no easy answer to these questions, that is for sure.

But, even if I don’t have any answers, I can commit to taking time with staff and supervisors who are afraid of what the impact of changes are having on their perception of their jobs, and their identity, and work with them to adapt, and find the places where things are still going to stay the same.

How do you deal with someone who is worried about the future of their job? Their profession?