Making Library School More Interesting

Published: 10/15/03

Ever since I read v’s comment earlier today, I’ve been pondering library/information science education and how to make it more interesting. When I first read her post, I thought, “Yep, that’s cataloging class” (and several others that were requirements, too). One of the problems is that there are students of all levels in the same classes. When I took cataloging, I was in class with several students who had been cataloging for years and had to take the course to get their degrees. One woman did say that she learned a lot and found the course useful, but I can’t help wondering if she would have benefitted by testing out of cataloging and going directly into advanced cataloging instead.

When there are students of advanced levels in classes with beginners, do professors get an accurate understanding of how their students are faring? There could be a huge gap between the students most familiar with the material and those who are beginners. And what happens when the class is split between people who have experience doing something well and those who are dealing with the topic for the first time?

Some professors and programs don’t seem to honor people with real life library experience. Had I come into library school with cataloging experience and had to take the class, I would have felt a lot of frustration. As it was, I felt a lot of frustration taking certain courses that were incredibly basic courses about the organization of information and other things I already knew from experience. I’m not sure if those courses really helped me at all–other than knocking another degree requirement out of the way.

I think in some ways, I was luckier than a lot of library students because a reference librarian I worked for before starting my degree warned me quite candidly that library school is hell and can be very boring at times. I’m sure every academic program has its boring moments. I’ve heard law students grumble about torts, for example.

Library school isn’t all boring classes, though. Sometimes the topic is quite fascinating and the instructor just doesn’t have a teaching style that makes learning interesting and fun to me. I did take a number of phenomenal courses with phenomenal instructors. My introductory reference course was a blast, as was advanced reference. Intellectual freedom was terrific. Special libraries is close to the top of my “best courses” list. Human-centered interface design may not count because it was cross-listed with engineering, but being taught by a rocket scientist was totally cool. I use online reference every day. Indexing is essential to my job.

I think my problem is that I’m a practical learner. Explain something to me in the classroom and I don’t learn it like I would if I had to actually do the task in real life. I found the experience I gained working in libraries for seven years before going to school an incredibly valuable resource to draw on while I was in school. I think that put me ahead of my classmates who had no library experience. And being able to work in libraries while going through school was just wonderful. Many times, I could immediately apply what I was learning in the classroom to my work.

What made courses particularly interesting for me was when I had instructors with real library experience, not just someone who was familiar with the theories of librarianship (Yes, folks, there are theories about library and information science. It’s a real science.) and may not have even stepped into a library recently, let alone worked in one. Courses I learned the most in probably had some kind of practical element: working with a real indexer on a project, designing a Web site for a client, doing someone’s dissertation research, or surveying books for brittle paper in a historical society. It was particularly helpful, too, to see how I could apply what I was learning in class to my current job or a future position. Combining more of these elements into the courses could make them more interesting.

There’s also my attention span problem: if I’m not doing two or more things at the same time, I’m bored. (Like now.)

But that really doesn’t answer the question of how to make library/information science school more interesting, does it.

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