Learning by doing

First – Amen to Dorothea! Every one in a while I read something on someone else’s blog that makes me think – that’s what I’ve been thinking but unable to put into words! Dorothea’s Training-Wheels Culture post is one of those posts.

Dorothea’s post starts by pointing to the results of my library school survey. I want to mention to those reading my post and Dorothea’s that I sent the link to my survey out to the AUTOCAT list – a list full of catalogers – which might explain the results related to cataloging. That said, I’m with Dorothea nearly 100%!

I love teaching and watching others learn new things, but sometimes people ask for help with things they just don’t need help with. What ever happened to learning by doing? I don’t know if Dorothea has the complete picture when she says that librarians always ask for training because”

We believe knowledge is power, which taken to an unhealthy extreme can mean that we do not do anything until we think we understand everything. We do not learn by doing, because learning by doing invariably means failure.

I think that it’s also something you see in people who fear technology (at least when it comes to learning technology). My mother can be like this (sorry Mom) – she’s gotten much better over the years, but I sometimes have to say “Just hit the damn button and see what happens.” It’s always a fear of the unknown – of breaking things -that stops her from trying something new without me on the phone.

When it comes to cataloging, I also have to agree with Dorothea:

Fundamentally, cataloguing training is not going to help these people. It won't help them feel confident about MARC and AACR2, because I don't know anybody who does (and I do know some cataloguers, thanks).

I had to laugh out loud at this! I’m still a baby in the cataloging arena, but I think it’s safe to say, that no one can feel 100% confident or comfortable with a big ass (I mean back breakingly heavy) binder full of rules (AACR2) and a bunch of fields without meaningful names like “title” and “author” (MARC).

Like I said – I love teaching and watching people learn – but at the same time I’m with Dorothea:

I do mind, quite a lot, having to stand over a grown professional's shoulder teaching her to use a set of essentially self-explanatory web forms because she cannot be bothered to learn by doing. And I do this a lot.

All of that said – I stand by my personal survey comments. I think that library students (librarians of the future) need to be provided with a grounding in all areas of librarianship before they choose their focus. By teaching cataloging in school it shows future reference librarians what their colleagues in the back room are doing. By teaching future catalogers collection development, you help them understand how the books came to be on their desk. It just makes sense – but that’s not the point of this post or Dorothea’s – which I strongly encourage you to read.

I repeat for the hundredth time on this blog – the keys to learning how to use new technologies are playing (aka learning by doing) – it’s that simple – I promise!


  1. Woohoo! No comments on Dorothea’s blog, so I’ll add my “Thank you for saying what I couldn’t articulate.” here. I’d just like to add that there’s a weird dichotomy. Why is it that having someone walk you through anything technology-related (no matter how basic) is par for the course, but asking a question about a professional “library” related matter is so infrequent? I assume it comes from the same fear of looking unknowledgable, but how unfortunate that it’s somehow acceptable to be technology unaware. Ugh. So unclear.

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