Creating an Undergraduate Student Library Practicum

This will sound blunt, but it’s reality: A library school student who “only” takes the classes but doesn’t complete a practicum, internship, or some form of library work (during or before the program)–such as a grad assistant, library student worker, paraprofessional… will fall to the bottom of the pack when applying for jobs. You will be up against peers who have these experiences and they will rise to the top. Competition is cutthroat in many locales and I won’t sugarcoat it.

We had a unique opportunity at my library. We were approached by an undergraduate education student who was thinking about eventually becoming a librarian. The student had enrolled in an education practicum class and wanted to know if the library could serve as a potential practicum site.

Without hesitation, I said “Yes!” By the way, *always* try to find a way to say yes if it’s an opportunity for your students!

I met with the student, learned about the practicum requirements, and agreed to the be the supervisor. I worked with the other librarians to create a list of objectives and tasks. The student had to complete 60 hours over March and April at the practicum site. Unlike many of the student’s classmates that had “passive” practicums (a lot of them were primarily workplace observations), I wanted the library practicum to be active.

Practicum Goals

I developed a list of “somethings” that we wanted to accomplish:

  1. Something the student could put on a resume.
  2. Something the student could point to and say: “Hey, I did/created this!”
  3. Something that offered the student variety at my small-ish academic library.
  4. Something that would allow the student to decide if librarianship would be a good career fit.
  5. Something that went beyond a traditional undergraduate student library worker job at my institution.

We decided to focus on five areas based on the library’s needs and the student’s interests: technology, information literacy, collection development, marketing/social media, and displays/outreach.

To streamline the practicum experience, I:

  1. Worked with the student to plan out a schedule of hours.
  2. Created a list of projects or tasks assigned for each day.
  3. Assigned each project or task to the appropriate librarian so that s/he could liaise with the student.

Practicum Activities

  • Meet with each of the librarians individually to discuss job duties and responsibilities, their paths to becoming a librarian, biggest challenges and opportunities, etc. (Areas covered: access services, administration, archives, electronic resources, information literacy/reference, technical services.)
  • Technology: LibGuides
    • Trained on editing and clean-up.
    • Give feedback from a student perspective on design.
    • Create “galleries” of new books for subject LibGuides.
  • Information Literacy
    • Observe information literacy sessions (e.g., English Comp, Theatre, Health Sciences).
    • Join librarians in a teaching roundtable: Assisting health science students in finding research with evidence-based practices.
  • Collection Development
    • Research young adult fiction relating to mental health to fill a gap in the Curriculum Materials Collection. Generate a list of 20 books to recommend to the librarian with brief synopses.
    • Research diverse children’s literature (via sources such as We Need Diverse Books and CCBC) to help broaden and expand the Curriculum Materials Collection. Generate a list of 50 books to recommend to the librarian with brief synopses.
  • Marketing/Social Media
    • Assist with library’s “March Madness” bracket activity.
    • Assist with library booth for the university’s Health & Wellness Fair.
    • Social media: Brainstorm and create 10 Facebook and Twitter posts.
  • Displays/Outreach
    • Remove the “Women’s History Month” display at end of March. Create a spreadsheet of books that were used in the display for future planning purposes.
    • Search library catalog and create a list of 50 books relating to the environment and sustainability. Create an “Earth Day” display.
    • Search library catalog and create a list of 20 young adult books for a display that collaborates with the Education Club and their promotion of young adult lit for a movie showing of Divergent.

The practicum went smoothly. The student was engaged with the work and asked great questions–and had projects to show for it. I had to sign off on the hours for each week and the student had to submit a journal of activities to the professor. In fact, the professor said the library practicum sounded the “most interesting” of all of the practicums …so hey, I think we did something right!

Our undergrad practicum can serve as a building block to create an enhanced internship or practicum that would be appropriate for grad level students in library school. Most importantly, it gave our student valuable experience to decide if library school should be the next step–and if it is, then that’s one opportunity the student has under the belt!

On Being a Generalist Librarian & Not Having a 2nd Master’s

They let you work in an academic library without a second master's

After I started my first professional librarian position at an academic library in 2003, I had every good intention of getting my second master’s degree…in something.

In fact, it was required if I wanted to stay employed at my job. But then there was a lawsuit (or something to that effect) and the university – which had hired art professors with a terminal MFA and social work professors with a terminal MSW – found out that they were holding librarians to a higher standard: MLS + an additional graduate degree. The requirement was promptly dropped. So with that, coupled with no financial support from my institution to actually earn the degree, I let the second master’s slide off my radar.

You see, I’m one of those librarians who went directly from bachelor’s degree to MLS and then right to work.

And for librarians who told me a second master’s degree was essential (ABSOLUTELY essential!) to be an academic librarian? Well, I’ve never had any problems with just my MLS and I’ve been employed at four different academic libraries. Is it required at some institutions? Sure. Is it helpful for your resume? Of course it is. And for the jobs where it is required–say a subject specialist: Law Librarian, Asian Studies Librarian, etc… well, those jobs never interested me in the first place.

Why yes I am the expert

I’m a generalist librarian. A jack-of-all-trades. I know a little bit about a lot…and I’m completely OK with that. My focus has always been on reference and instruction. I love not knowing what I might get asked next. In a two-hour shift at the Reference Desk, it could be anything from Census records to British literature. Last week, I had a chat reference question about “natal homing in migratory fish.” And you know what? Even though science is not my strong suit, I did OK. Maybe I should try out for Jeopardy!.

I look at the information literacy sessions I have scheduled this semester: music, education, communication, political science, history, social work, psychology, biology, environmental science, English composition, Spanish. I don’t fear the range of subject areas. I embrace it.

That’s what I love about being a generalist librarian: the variety. From reference, to information literacy, embedding in online courses, working with non-traditional students, handling the library’s social media activities, participating in special studies with assessment and space planning: There’s always something different to do.

This has been my path. I’m not discounting subject specialists at all: We need those! We need librarians who are passionate about their subject speciality. And there’s definitely a need for subject specialists at research institutions. However, my experience has primarily been at undergraduate institutions where you wear a lot of different hats.

I no longer feel bad about not earning that second master’s degree. Priorities shift and you begin to assess what’s really important to you personally and professionally. I also like having my student loans all paid off. At this point, for me, it’s not financially prudent to sink money and time to earn an additional degree that likely wouldn’t make a hill of beans difference in the long run. Unlike others, I can put a price on education.

And then I think back to my original plan: What would my additional grad degree have been in? Certainly not history (which is my BA). Maybe an MBA or a master’s in educational technology would be helpful? Recently, a professor stopped me and asked, “So when are you getting your PhD?” I just laughed. A PhD to be a generalist librarian? No thanks.

The Librarian Shortage Myth & Blaming Library School

Update: Received a couple of comments about being a “male librarian” and how I’m ignoring my own privilege. Yep, these readers are correct! I wrote this post in haste without taking in to account how my own privilege and status play into this–or in my case, I dismissed it–which is wrong. For that, I apologize and will try to do better the next time. However, I do stand by my advice to critically evaluate the state of the job market. -joe, 3/18/15

Don’t blame library school if you cannot find a professional job. You are an information professional. Did you not research the state of the job market?

I made that very blunt point in a 2011 blog post: “I graduated from a top library school.” Yeah, so what? – It’s generated a lot of comments since then and struck a nerve with some readers.

One person commented:

I do not agree about NOT blaming the ALA and the school. There is a lot of false information put out by the ALA ..remember all those retiring librarians. Also as a male you are at an advantage. I have seen some really dopey male librarians hired at our library I asked one about a book I was looking for and he googled and turned the screen and told me read this stuff. When I persisted he pointed to an elderly female librarian and told me to ask her because she’s really good at that stuff. This after being told that library only hires the creme de la creme. Guess that creme got stale googling. You can be all positive because you got a job. People have done all you suggested and still have no job in a library or have a part time job in a para professional area. There is an article in the Library Journal called that lucky few – referring to people like you who got a library job.

Blaming Library School

Looking back at my original “blunt” advice, I stand behind my underlying principle: You are responsible for the usefulness of your education and the decisions you make. Putting aside the reader’s baseless “male librarian” comment, I DO agree with the reader on this point: some library schools and the American Library Association have marketed this “myth” of a librarian shortage.

I graduated from library school in 2002 when this “myth” was being pushed. Take a look at this 2000 press release from the University of North Texas on the nationwide librarian shortage. Here’s a similar story from SUNY Buffalo from 2002. Even the Bush administration was involved with this 2003 news release from “first librarian” Laura Bush. On the ALA website, you can still see (outdated) vestiges of this thinking:

…these sources indicate that there is a need for sustained effort to recruit new people into the LIS professions and to retain those who are working in libraries today. As large numbers of LIS professionals reach retirement age, there is a corresponding need for new people to replace them.

However, as information professionals, we should know not to take things at face value. Looking back at all of the stories about a “librarian shortage” from the early 2000’s, I decided to pull my library’s print (read: dusty) copy of the 2002-2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook. The outlook for librarians is as follows:

Applicants for librarian jobs in large cities or suburban areas will face competition, while those willing to work in rural areas should have better job prospects.

and…

Employment of librarians is expected to grow more slowly than average for all occupations over the 2000-2010 period. The increasing use of computerized information storage and retrieval systems continues to contribute to slow growth in demand for librarians.

[Source: 2002-2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook (pgs. 188, 190)]

I’d call this a pretty measured response from an authoritative source. Don’t you think?

More current, the 2012-2013 Occupational Outlook Handout certainly isn’t promoting a shortage of librarians:

Employment of librarians is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations.

and…

Jobseekers may face strong competition for jobs, especially early in the decade, as many people with master’s degrees in library science compete for a limited number of available positions. Later in the decade, prospects should be better as older library workers retire and population growth generates openings.

[Note: bold emphasis is mine. Source: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm#tab-6]

Overabundance of MLSs

So, are library schools churning out too many MLSs? – probably. Take a look at this insightful analysis by Brett Bonfield from In the Library with the Lead Pipe. The one thing to remember: If you throw out the noble goals of education and focus on the bottom line, it’s the library school’s job to get butts in the seats (tuition). Nothing more. Nothing less. Other disciplines have focused more attention on this. For example, news of job woes among law school graduates have resulted in law schools capping admissions. Should library schools do the same?

The librarian job crisis – both unemployment and UNDERemployment – isn’t about library schools. In the words of political strategist James Carville: it’s the economy, stupid. I’m not just talking about the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, either. I graduated library school during the post 9/11 economic slump. In my mind, much of the 2000s was a general economic malaise that contributed to library budget cuts, unfilled openings, and senior librarians who have deferred retirement (and I don’t blame them for that).

This is compounded by the fact that some librarian positions have been re-classified from MLS positions to paraprofessional positions (yes, I know the debate about the term paraprofessional–spare me here, please!), further de-professionalizing the workforce. In addition to this, what might have been one full-time MLS position has been converted into two part-time positions. Also, as experienced librarians have moved up, those entry-level positions have often been unfilled or converted to something else entirely different.

No one should be sugar-coating the job market for librarians. It’s tough. I’ve been lucky and I know that. At the same time, I like what I do and I don’t feel “guilty” about having a job. Nor has being male held an advantage. I’ve been successful because I’m good at what I do.

For anyone thinking of going to library school: do your research, be aware of the employability issues, network with working librarians, investigate alternatives to “traditional” library work, and see whether you would be a good fit.

Introducing: Librarian Job Ad Drinking Bingo!

A little end-of-the-day humor for my job-hunting librarian friends: here’s Librarian Job Ad Drinking Bingo!

It’s easy to play: just scroll through the postings on the ALA JobList site. Every time you see one these items below: a buzzword, a litany of preferred advanced qualifications, or one of those bullet points that just makes you think “WTF!” – take a drink!

If you get five in a row, shout out “Bingo!” You’ll be sloshed in no time!  (…but as those ads say, my friends–please drink responsibly).

Click the image for a larger view.

Librarian Job Ad Drinking Bingo!

 

Image credit:
Shit Outta Luck” – a Creative Commons Flickr photo by user “C-Monster.”

How Ranking Library Schools is Like Ranking the Socks in Your Drawer

U.S. News & World Report just released new rankings of graduate schools in library science. Isn’t ranking library schools sort of like ranking the socks in your drawer? It does not matter.

I hope that prospective MLS students don’t read the rankings and think, “Gee, I need to go to THAT library school!”

These rankings have repeatedly been called into question. The prime reason is the methodology:

The rankings are based solely on the results of a fall 2012 survey sent to the dean of each program, the program director, and a senior faculty member in each program.

And this:

The library and information studies specialty ratings are based solely on the nominations of program deans, program directors, and a senior faculty member at each program. They were asked to choose up to 10 programs noted for excellence in each specialty area. Those with the most votes are listed.

Not a good research methodology, is it?–something that I suspect any MLS student could tell you. The issue of college rankings (both undergraduate and graduate programs) and the data that is gathered has been scrutinized by higher ed periodicals and websites. Just take a look at:

So what should a prospective MLS student do? I’ve written about this before, but when it comes to library school, just pick the cheapest (in state vs. out of state) or most convenient (online vs. on-campus) option that’s available to you. The coursework provides the base and the theory, but it’s experience that will get you a job. If you’re just taking the classes, you’re doing it wrong.

I remember students in my program complaining that the MLS coursework wasn’t “academic” enough, but I think it’s important to remember that you are in a professional program. You are training for a career, not writing a dissertation. It’s up to you to turn the coursework into something worthwhile. Work as a paraprofessional or library assistant during library school. Do an internship, practicum, or volunteer. These experiences will help you land a job better than any course you take.

I’ve never looked at anyone’s résumé and thought, “Wow, they graduated from a top ranked library school! Let’s hire him/her.” So ignore the rankings. Focus on gaining some relevant experience instead.

Advice: Being a Librarian…10 Years On

As of today, I’ve logged 10 years as a librarian. I started my first professional library job as a reference librarian at Sam Houston State University in Texas in February 2003. A couple months prior, I was getting ready to graduate with my MLS from Indiana University in December 2002 when I managed to snag three librarian interviews in Texas, South Carolina, and New Mexico. I was geographically free to move anywhere, and in the post-9/11 economic slump, I was grateful for what I had. The Texas job matched my skills and interests and I took it! Since TX, I’ve logged time in IL, NH, and WI.

In the 10 years since I became a librarian, much has changed. I was actually taught command line searching in library school because it was thought that I might encounter it. Never did. We also put together a lot of paper bibliographies on various topics–but of course that’s what today’s Libguides do. An ebook was an annoying thing you *had* to read on your computer via the NetLibrary database – not a device you could take anywhere! A cell phone was not “smart” – just a device to take/make calls. Facebook and Twitter did not exist, which is funny since social media has evolved into a major component of my job.

I’ve enjoyed being a librarian. I don’t say I *love* it–that’s reserved for family, friends, and free-time. But it’s so nice to have a job where you *enjoy* coming into work (or at the very least, don’t *hate* it). A lot of people can’t say that. For me, being a librarian has always been about connecting people with information. This is what I like. It’s not the books. It’s not the technology. It’s People + Information.

So, for 10 years, here’s 10 quick bits of advice on being a librarian:

  1. You’re not going to please everybody
    Don’t try. Do your job. Do it well. Some people are not going to like you no matter what you do. Get over it.
  2. Say yes to new opportunities
    Don’t be afraid. Yes, it can be overwhelming, but ultimately worthwhile. If I hadn’t said “yes” I would have missed out on side opportunities like teaching some fun credit classes (“Podcasting 101”, “College Life Through Film”)  and the chance to work as an instructional technologist.   
  3. Attitude Matters
    Be positive. Sometimes just being “nice” works–but make sure it’s genuine. I guess a more formal term is “collegiality” – you need to do it, otherwise you’re in the wrong field.
  4. You don’t have to be the expert at everything
    We all have our strengths. It’s OK to ask someone else if YOU don’t know the answer. “But wait, we’re librarians…we’re supposed to know EVERYTHING.” No! But we know WHERE to find the answer.
  5. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are not a professional
    You know what you’re doing. You have the skills. Speak up for yourself, because sometimes no one else will.
  6. The patron (customer) is not always right
    Many business ideas are applicable to libraries. But this one bugs me. The patron is NOT always right. Be clear, concise, courteous, and reasoned in disagreements. However, bad behavior from patrons should not be rewarded. See #5.
  7. You never stop learning
    I like reading blog posts and discussion postings from “newbie” librarians. But then I think: Hey, I feel like that too! Because libraryland changes so much, I still feel like a newbie. That’s what I love about being a librarian.
  8. Sometimes getting a job is just luck
    I know this bothers some people, but it just is. Maybe the preferred candidate turned down the job and you as the 2nd choice got it? Maybe you made an outstanding presentation when compared to other candidates? Maybe it was a Friday and the hiring committee was just ready to get the job offered to…someone. Unfortunately, some things are just beyond your control.
  9. Trust your instincts
    Does something not sound/look quite right? It probably is! Creepy patron, weird job interview, strange chat reference questions?…yep.
  10. Work/Life Balance
    Take your vacation time. Be passionate about something non-library related. Disconnect from email/voicemail in your free time. Give yourself a chance to re-charge, and return to the library feeling energized.

What advice would you give?

What They Didn’t Tell You About Being a Librarian

First off, I enjoy my job as a librarian. That hasn’t changed in the 10 years that I’ve been a librarian. So, please excuse some of my snarkiness below. It’s the Friday before Spring Break (but we all know that most librarians don’t get a Spring Break) and I needed a little fun! Here’s a list of 10 things they didn’t tell you about being a librarian. These have all happened to me, or at a library I have worked at:

  1. Asking a patron to stop licking the computer monitor when viewing images of French figure skater Surya Bonaly.
  2. You should probably memorize all of the books by their color because that’s what patrons will ask for. “Do you have that green book? You know…the big one!”
  3. How to get the following animals OUT of the library: bats, snakes, robins, frogs, and yes–a roadrunner.
  4. How to ID a peeping tom in the book stacks. And making him leave when the security officer doesn’t do his/her job.
  5. That someone ALWAYS wants to photocopy something the minute before closing.
  6. When a patron is asking for books on “poultry,” he may actually mean “poetry.”
  7. That senior citizens sometimes just call the library because they’re lonely. This makes me sad.
  8. You need to de-lice the library headphones.
  9. The Robert Mapplethorpe books always ends up in the men’s restroom and you will sometimes need plastic gloves to retrieve them.
  10. Are you allowed to keep the alcohol you find in the library? Kidding! Seriously, I’ve found everything from beer cans to Jack Daniels, and even vermouth! But I suspected the vermouth to be from a library co-worker (what college kid drinks vermouth?).

Have something to add to the list? Please share!