Be Focused but Well-Rounded in Course Selection

Darcy brought up a great point in the comments yesterday about taking different kinds of classes, so I thought I would address that next.  While you’re still in library school, you want to have a plan, but also be well-rounded.  It sounds complicated, but it’s not, really.

Try to avoid selecting classes simply by taking what’s most convenient for your schedule.  Focus instead on building your resume.  I knew I wanted to be an academic librarian, so I tried to focus on classes that would be useful in that area. However, I took a broad view of what might be useful to an academic librarian.  For example, I took a class in readers advisory/adult reading interests, which was more geared towards public librarians, because I knew many academic libraries are adding leisure reading collections, and also because I knew it would be necessary to have basic skills in this area if I ended up with a public library position.

So, if you want to be a children’s librarian, focus on children and children’s literature classes, but take necessary preparations so that you can work in either a K-12 school or a public library.  If you’re interested in academic libraries, consider classes in things like adult leisure reading and government documents, which often comprise parts of the larger collection.  The point Darcy made in yesterday’s comments is also key – take a research methods or research-based course.  Even in a non-tenure track academic position, you may still be expected to publish occasionally, and even if you aren’t, understanding the way faculty and graduate students attack research questions will enable you to assist more thoroughly.  You might wish also to pursue publications anyway for a variety of reasons: career advancement, networking,  and sharing knowledge are just a few.  Learning professional-level research methodology in graduate school will go a long way in helping you achieve this goal.

Take at least one technology course.  Technology use is growing every day in libraries, and libraries are looking for employees who understand and can use emerging technologies.  Look for classes on XML, database management, or web design.

You’ll also need to be proficient with Microsoft Office applications and e-mail to a level where you can assist patrons with tasks such as writing a paper or resume, submitting a job application, and other such tasks.  Even in an academic setting where most of the students come from upper-middle class backgrounds and have used computers their whole lives, I spend a fair amount of each reference shift trouble-shooting computer problems and tutoring people on aspects of programs that they haven’t used before (such as how to add sound to a PowerPoint slide).  While you won’t get graduate credit for learning such skills, your school may offer discounted or free computer training for students, so take advantage of these programs while you’re in school!

Finally, I would recommend taking at least one class in each of the following areas: reference, instruction, and cataloging.  Very few librarians are in a situation where they work in only one of these areas and never encounter the others.  Even if you never do any cataloging in your position, having a basic understanding of what the cataloger does will help you with your own tasks immensely.


2 thoughts on “Be Focused but Well-Rounded in Course Selection

  1. This is really great advice, but I would also recommend taking a few other classes as well. For example, I knew I wanted to be an academic librarian, but the job market is so terrible and I don’t have a second masters or a whole lot of other experience, so I knew getting a job was going to be difficult. I took public libraries so I would at least know enough to apply as a public reference librarian.

    I really wish I had taken special libraries and cataloging because lo and behold, I am a special librarian who also does cataloging! I’m not going to go all into that, but my advice is take classes that will make you a well rounded librarian and prepare you for a variety of library jobs, not just the field you are sure you want to be in.

    I found you via the JobList Twitter feed; great blog. I look forward to seeing what you have to say. You can find me blogging as Librarian Rx on the Closed Stacks blog and at The Adventures of a Newly Employed Librarian.

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