Learning to be a Librarian

Many of the people the library serves consider anyone who works at a desk in the library a librarian. That’s OK with me. The public just needs assistance using our services; they don’t need to keep straight who is a clerk, an intermediate clerk, a senior clerk, a library assistant, a librarian, a senior librarian, a supervising librarian… you get the idea.

In our world, though, a librarian is someone with a master’s degree. Depending on the university awarding the degree, it may be called a Master of Library Science, Master of Library and Information Science, Master of Arts in Library Science, etc. Most librarians don’t go directly from undergraduate school to a graduate library program. It is often a second career. Many work in libraries in paraprofessional positions before deciding to pursue a master’s degree. The advent of online and distance-learning programs has greatly facilitated this because paraprofessionals can hold on to their jobs while earning the master’s degree.

At the DMPL, we have 28 librarians, 23 full-time and five part-time, including ten in management positions. We have six paraprofessionals currently pursuing graduate degrees.

Awhile back, I asked our librarians what was the most important thing they learned in library school. Many, like me, reported that it had been a long time ago and things that stuck were often ideas and philosophies, not the intricacies of cataloging or the names of long-obsolete reference tools.

Here are some of the things our librarians reported had impressed them the most about their graduate education. 

  • I remember being impressed by some of the big picture philosophies of librarians—the emphasis on the role of libraries in a democracy, to provide openly available information covering many approaches to topics and to make it accessible to all of our citizens.
  •  The library is the public’s link to lifelong learning.
  • The concept of intellectual freedom.
  • The idea of the reference interview (figuring out what folks are really looking for) was always a pretty major discovery for me.
  •  The fact that library school teaches us to find credible sources and how to evaluate them (at that time, it was print resources but it also applies to electronic resources). 
  • The organization/classification of information is still a vital aspect of library school. Doesn’t do you much good to have a vast collection if you can’t determine the information you need and then retrieve it.
  • Never let the customer leave empty-handed. If they come in looking for some specific information and you were unable to locate it or don’t have the resources, give them a phone number, address, ANYTHING so that they have some way of obtaining the information that they need. A customer leaving empty-handed is a librarian not doing their job, and a patron who has just been given a disservice.
  • The most important quality a manager needs to have is courage. I’ve never forgotten it.
  • Even after you finish school you aren’t really done. I remember on the first day of library school, during orientation class, the dean told us that much of what we learn during our time in library school will be obsolete within a few years of graduating. His point was that the most important thing to take away from library school was the ability to learn.


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4 responses to “Learning to be a Librarian

  1. Are there library science programs available in the Des Moines area? Or even classes that one could take if considering a library science degree but want to dip a toe in first?

  2. Brenda

    So far I have had an excellent experience with my classes online through Wayne State University, Detroit, MI. I took a class called “Introduction to the Profession,” which provided a nice overview of the what is taught throughout the MLIS coursework. It also involved visiting a couple of libraries, interviewing their directors, and creating a comparison video/paper. One of the selling points for WSU is that online students pay instate tuition. I would highly recommend it to anyone living in the Des Moines area considering an online education.

  3. Mara

    Kelli, the closest program is at The University of Iowa in Iowa City http://slis.grad.uiowa.edu/ unless you are interested in school librarianship, in which case there is also The University of Northern Iowa http://www.uni.edu/continuinged/programs/degrees/grad/school_library_studies/index.shtml .

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