Patrons could be forgiven for thinking that the librarian’s mantra is “Didn’t learn that in library school!” Someone else can do the off-the-cuff Google text-mining on that phrase, but trust the Loon, it’s everywhere.
As the Loon has mentioned before, the antistrophe to that strophe is invariably “library schools oughta teach that course!” Now, chances are rather decent that they do but the choregos didn’t take it, which is the inevitable concomitant of permitting students to exercise free will in program selection. As for “library schools oughta require that course!” the Loon has had her innings on that one, and has seen no reason to change her opinion the merest iota.
What the Loon has noticed in the last few weary “didn’t learn that!” go-rounds is first, that complainers rarely consider the teaching logistics involved in their complaints. Taking technology as an easy example, a common complaint is not having learnt about the specific Integrated Library System or institutional-repository package or digital-library package (or whatever) in use at the complainer’s workplace.
Let us consider the ILS. There are two major open-source ILSes (Koha and Evergreen), and let us say at least four major proprietary ones (which would not cover every library by any means, but seems a reasonable 80/20 point). Who exactly is going to install, maintain, populate, communicate with vendors about, and pay for six ILSes? (For added bogglement, add discovery layers into the equation.) The library school the Loon works at does not even have a dedicated systems administrator! Moreover, since library schools are not gifted in prophecy, there is no way to choose which ILSes to focus on in order to cover all students’ eventual workplaces, so all ILSes would have to be taught. With how much time (for reference, a typical semester is fourteen to sixteen weeks long) spent on each? And is the time spent on the five ILSes a given graduate is not working with therefore wholly wasted?
If you gather that this specific variety of thoughtless complaint stirs up the Loon’s natural irascibility, you would be right. When she is feeling charitable, however, she asks herself about the anxieties and unfulfilled expectations underlying the complaint, as well as the larger “didn’t learn that!” phenomenon. Phrasing them (in the best pop-psych fashion) as “I (don’t) want” statements, they might look something like this:
- I want to feel expert, professional, an insider; I don’t want to feel like a fraud.
- I don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised.
- I don’t want ever to feel at a loss about what to do in a work situation.
- I want everything I studied in library school to be immediately and indefinitely relevant to the work I do.
- I want to have made the best possible choices about how I spent my time in library school.
The first “I want” above, the Loon suspects, is the most pressing and deeply-felt for many professionals, especially new professionals. Given the gender balance of librarianship and its current technology demands, the Loon can’t help suspecting Impostor Syndrome as a common, powerful, damaging force.
That aside, though, what strikes the Loon about all the above statements is that in practice they are unachievable, every single one of them. In no universe the Loon can imagine could she guarantee that her students wouldn’t be surprised, wouldn’t have to learn anything else, wouldn’t have to suffer through topics (or even whole classes) that don’t mesh with their eventual careers (remember, the Loon is not an oracle and cannot predict who will employ her students!), wouldn’t have made unfortunate course choices.
Moreover, what a boring work world, where two short years teach all a professional will ever need to learn! Steady-staters may well want that world, but the Loon surely wouldn’t wish it on the larger populace.
Uncertainty will never be zero. There will always be more to learn. Some information is meant for others. Honest folk admit to themselves that anyone can feel like a fraud, and that feeling does not necessarily reflect reality.
Library school can’t fix that.
- The one skill
- Hurry up and wait