It’s finally here – I promised that I’d write this ages ago, but I wanted to get my thoughts in order.
When I started at Drexel a little over a year ago, I was completely panicked! I hadn’t been in school for 5 years and when I graduated last time I had sworn that I would never go back to school. If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a strong believer in real life experience (work, conferences, workshops) over organized education (registering for a cycle of classes).
However, I found that I was having trouble communicating with librarians from my roll in the IT department. I thought that going back to school was going to teach me the secret librarian hand-shake and give me the key to understanding where librarians were coming from. When I set out to register for classes I did not want to follow any one track (research, cataloging, technology) because my goal was to learn what a bit of what everyone in the library knew – hopefully helping with my communication problems. Unfortunately the one perfect (sounding) class was discontinued – it was a professional communication course!!
I started by getting the required classed out of the way. This included 2 research courses, a statistics course, an ethics course, a management course and a systems analysis course – all the while complaining to everyone who’d listen that these courses were a poor foundation for librarianship.
There was no need for 2 research courses (in my opinion). In the first class we spent half of the term on searching Dialog. I loved using Dialog – but did we really need 5 weeks of it? Most libraries can’t even afford to have Dialog – so, while it was fun for me – it wasn’t exactly practical. The result of the end of that term was an annotated bibliography that was then used in the second research course to write a review of literature. Now, it seems to me that as masters level students we would have been able to do the work of both research classes in one class.
Next came statistics!! Now, this was the worst class I took at Drexel. This is not the professor’s fault – but the fact that I could not wrap my brain around all of those mathematical terms and their uses. This class also seemed like a waste of my time. It didn’t teach me about how librarians did their everyday jobs, it’s not even something that most librarians use – only those doing research projects. After doing my little survey I learned that some research classes include a module on statistics – now that makes sense – not an entire term of math!!
Now, the ethics class was interesting, but might have worked better if I had taken it in person. It’s hard to get into ethical debated on a message board – but I think we managed just fine.
Management is a class I was excited about – until I got a few chapters into my textbook – Six Sigma for Managers! This book read like a self-help manual. It was the most useless book I’ve ever had to read – well maybe not – but certainly the most useless I read this past year. Six Sigma is a management style that big manufacturing firms use to measure their success and improve production – guess what? Libraries don’t produce things!! We’re a service organization – so I had to find research (and there were very few papers out there) on how this theory could be applied to service organizations. I was hoping to learn about managing people and a library – not learning how to manage my factory. The problem as I see it is with the way Drexel handles it’s masters program. The IS (information systems) and ILS (information and library science) students all take classes together. I think that this management course was probably required by both IS and ILS students – making it difficult for them to try and teach us all – since we’re all going into different types of organizations.
Systems analysis was something I could have probably been excused from – but I think it’s great that it’s required for all ILS students! Systems are not just computer systems – we are surrounded by systems – the way we handle a reference question and the process we use to check out a book are all systems. I also think that we all agree there is a language barrier between IT and librarians – and so this class is a way to bridge that gap a tiny bit.
My electives varied in their usefulness, the only class that taught me something I didn’t already know something about was Cataloging. My Digital Libraries course was a disappointment. The professor tried to cram every possible schema into one class. Instead it should have focused on the big library schemas like Dublin Core, MODS, METS, TEI, MARCXML… you get the idea. Instead I wrote a paper on OWL – do you know what that is? I still don’t!! My Library Automation course was mostly review for me – not much new there, but I did like getting to read some of the old (yes – we were reading old – out of date reports) technology reports.
Taking the classes online left a bit to be desired. I wanted human contact – and I could have had it if I wanted to wait 4 years for my MLIS – but I was not about to make that kind of commitment or deal with that aggravation. Blackboard is sorely lacking in so many ways it’s shocking that schools are still using it. In the middle of my program Drexel upgraded Blackboard and all of the sudden there was no way to mark message read on the discussion board without reading them – and there was no easy way to follow the thread of the conversation. There are so many great tools for message boards – they’ve been around for ages – why the heck are we using this unfriendly tool? Then there was the fact that the staff were obviously not trained on how to use Blackboard to its fullest – or they just didn’t want to. In some classes I was supposed to email all assignments, in others it was the Digital Dropbox, in others it was the Assignments module – then sometimes the grades were listed in Blackboard – sometimes you just had to guess! There needed to be some consistency across the board.
Overall, I think it’s a shame that I had to spend all of that money and time just to be considered a librarian. What I didn’t already know I could have learned from the librarians around me – and it probably would have been more enjoyable and easier to pick up. In fact, while I was taking Cataloging, I was also training for my new job – spending 6 hours a week with the head cataloger here. That training taught me more than I learned in class – mostly because I’m a hands-on kind of person – I wanted someone to show me what to do – not read thought thousands (yes, thousands) of pages of rules on cataloging & MARC.
What did I Learn
I learned that I don’t ever want to do a degree online again I learned a bit more about myself and time-management. I learned that having an MLIS does not make you better off than the person who doesn’t have the MLIS, but has 6+ years of experience in a library.
I don’t feel much different than I did before I went to school. My job has changed and so I’ve learned more about other areas of the library that way – but the classes on research theory, searching, statistics, management, systems, digital libraries and so on didn’t prepare me any more than jumping in and doing the job myself would have.
I know I sound very negative, but when you think about the time (both doing work and away from my family) and money that went into library school – it’s disappointing that I didn’t get an Ah-hah moment – or something to take with me that would have unlocked that key to librarian-world.
All that said, I think there is potential there to improve on library education. I hear of great classes at other library schools across the country – and I hope that things take a turn for the better. I hope that somewhere library students are learning about the new tools that are out there to help them and their patrons. I hope that schools come up with a more reasonable set of core classes (as previously stated) – and that they update the content used in them (I shouldn’t be reading about how the Internet is accessed using AOL and a phone line).
So that’s it – my What I Learned in Library School post. I’m sorry if I’m disappointed some of you – or made you worried about your own plans to pursue and MLIS. I do think there are schools out there – based on what I’ve read and heard of class offerings – that are teaching more up to date information – and I do think that library schools can be very valuable to those who have never worked in a library – but for me, it was a bit of a let down – and now I have to start paying off the bills!