Thursday, March 15, 2018

10 Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School as a Then-Future Cataloger, by Jessica Schomberg

numbers counting down from 10 to 1

I went to library school to be a cataloger. There wasn’t an official cataloging track, but it was pretty easy to design your own. I also went to library school almost 20 years ago, in the midst of a massive shift in how library schools were structured – my first year I attended a Graduate School of Library and Information Science, my second year it was an iSchool! This is a mix of things I wish I’d learned in library school… and some things that I’m glad I learned later.

  1. Diversity and inclusion. My advisor, the wonderful Allyson Carlyle, did introduce us to the work of Sandy Berman. But in general, taking a critical approach to librarianship wasn’t a concept to me at the time. There was no institutional expectation that anyone know anything about cultural issues other than “freedom of information” in a really narrow sense. And by narrow, I mean it didn’t even hint at the history of segregated libraries in the US, nor did it critique library workplace rules that forbid talk of unionizing. Why does this matter for catalogers? Because if we’re creating and applying cataloging standards based on a monocultural approach to the world, we’re inadvertently excluding or harming some of our patrons.
  2. Advocacy skills. We did have some discussions about how to respond to patron advocacy in terms of collection development, but I don’t remember any discussions about how to advocate with external agencies for the library, for library workers, or for patrons. I accidentally wound up at a library with strong unions, and it has overall been an incredibly positive experience for me as a worker. I’ve also been really impressed by the organizing work of librarians including Emily Drabinski. I still wish I’d had some training in how to act as an advocate for myself and others.
  3. Leadership and management. I could have taken a class. I actively didn’t want to supervise anyone at the time, so I deliberately didn’t take it. Looking back, I kind of regret that choice. But it probably would have been framed in a “how to be The Man” sort of way, so maybe it’s just as well that I avoided it. (Those of you who took library management classes, what did you think?) [Editor’s Note: My management class was completely useless.]
  4. Teaching and pedagogy. I was going to be a cataloger, I didn’t need to know how to teach! Insert crying gif here. This was the wrong choice. Real life led to me doing library instruction classes as part of my current job, and some training would have for sure helped. But also, and more importantly, if you’re a cataloger you’re probably going to end up teaching or training others how to catalog stuff at some point. For people who go the academic route, this might be during conference presentations. For people who choose public libraries, you’ll probably end up presenting information to coworkers or supervisors or community groups at some point. Learning how to do this in a classroom setting is far preferable to being dumped in front of people and told to speak.
  5. Technology can make you feel ambivalent. We had access to a range of technology classes -- how to build your own computer, website design, database design, etc. And I took all of these that I could, because they were so practical and because tech was cool. (This was the late ‘90s, people. It was a brave new world.) Anyway, since then I’ve occasionally tried to take coding classes because it seems like something catalogers should do. But frankly, I don’t find the topic interesting on its own. Give me stuff to organize and tell me what tools I need to do the job, and I’ll work through it. But learning tech for its own sake? Meh.
  6. Theory is important. You can get practical, hands-on experience at work, volunteering, internships, but you’re not going to have this kind of opportunity to have guided exposure to theoretical analysis outside the classroom. Your library school doesn’t offer those classes? Depending on your academic background, see if you can take an ethnic studies, disability studies, gender studies, or sociological theory course as an elective. Humans are the most important part of being a librarian, so it’s good to know more about them.
  7. Take statistics. You may not want to do formal quantitative research, but learning statistics is really helpful training for when you have to interpret data, make decisions, and create assessment and budget reports.
  8. Look around at your classmates. Who’s not part of your cohort? Who’s the only one of their kind in your cohort? Maybe you can’t do anything as a student to fill in these gaps, but pay attention -- and start thinking about how this will impact your professional network and professional practice.
  9. Patience. It doesn’t need to all happen right now. It took me several years after library school before I started coming into my own. By the time I figured myself out (thank you, therapy!), I was far outside of the eligibility period for any of those new professional opportunities. We don’t all have to pop out of grad school fully grown. It’s ok to be a slow bloomer.
  10. Reasonable expectations. You won’t learn everything you need to know in library school. This isn’t a bad thing. If all goes well, maybe you’ll be a person who creates new things for students to know in the future!

Jessica Schomberg is currently serving as Library Services Department Chair at Minnesota State University, Mankato, juggling other responsibilities including Media Cataloger and Assessment Coordinator. This is hir FOURTH post for LtaYL. The first was “My (Library) Life with Invisible Disabilities”. The second was “The Power to Name”. Most recently, ze wrote an interview post. Ze tweets as @schomj.


  1. I look a management class that used this textbook: and I loved the course and the text because it taught a modern management style that is circular in design as opposed to the traditional top-down triangle management model. I longed to actually see this new management style implemented in the places I have worked, but haven't yet, except until now, where I am a solo librarian, so it doesn't really apply.

    1. Thanks for sharing! I will take a look at it 😊

  2. HEY! Fellow first year Ischooler and Carlyle student! I also had Allyson and graduated from the ischool in 2001. (Is an antelope a document?) She used to have this cartoon on her door - Catalogers from Hell or something like that. I *did* take the Management class from Terry Brooks. All I remember from it is some lecture about "is a library a church or a widget maker". Did not really help when I stepped into a management position 6 years later. Nothing for that but to read read read, take a class, go to a leadership conference, then read more. So many things I had to learn about good communication, listening, progressive discipline, emotional intelligence, setting an standard, advocating for your reports, etc. Not sure that could have been taught in class. Managing a large department taught so much about myself that I couldn't have learned in class. Terry always did tell us that the tech / policy lifespan for our MLS was about 6 months, and that they were teaching us how to work to keep ourselves current after we left. I took his WebTech Essentials also. It taught me about patience. LOL Same for teaching and pedagogy - a lot of the attention to flexible teaching, attention to outcomes and assessment that I'm asked to learn now didn't exist then. Has it improved my teaching and made my teaching more useful for student success? I think so.

    1. Hi! Now that you remind me, I do remember Terry warning us that much of the information we learned has a short lifespan! Good points about how pedagogy has changed a lot over the years. Being willing to engage in ongoing learning is so important!

  3. Great post! I went to library school around the same time (Pitt). I was forced to take a management class and I've always been glad that I was. I had no intention of being a manager, but 20 years later I'm starting my first non-management job! In addition to preparing me a little bit for being a manager, the course taught me things like how to write a grant proposal and develop a budget.

    1. Knowing how to write grant proposals and develop budgets are such great skills! I'm lucky to work with people who have those skills, because it definitely takes support.