Things I Wish I’d Learned in Library School

Photo of Stacia Stein
Stacia Stein

Determined to eke out every last bit of knowledge from my library school experience, I’ve been asking my colleagues and fellow CALL members if there was anything they wished they would have learned in library school. Meanwhile, I’ve also been combing through job descriptions for clues, and reflecting on my own education and what I perceive as its gaps and its successes.

  • Classes on business information, tax research, and IP research would have been wonderful classes to take. These topics may not be covered in a traditional legal research class, but they are increasingly important, especially to law firm librarians.
  • Cataloging — Most people I talked to took this class and recommended taking it — but few reference librarians seemed to get much joy out of the class. While it is important to understand how information is organized and to recognize a MARC record, cataloging classes can be a bit too complex for a library student who does not plan on doing cataloging. It seems to me library schools might consider offering a cataloging for non-catalogers class.
  • Reference — If possible, choose a reference class that is based more on how to conduct reference interviews than on the reference sources themselves. Many of the courses in library school seem to be based on students wanting to work in public libraries. But the reference sources used in public libraries are so different from the ones used in law libraries. A class that is source-focused may not translate well to the legal environment.  However, a class that offers guidance on conducting reference interviews could be invaluable.
  • Experience is key — Get as much of it as you can while still in school. Working in a library made my coursework more relevant and meaningful. Likewise, my coursework gave me confidence and skills that I could carry over into the library. My first year of library school, I didn’t apply for any jobs in a law library because I figured no one would want to deal with training someone who had never worked in a library before. I was wrong. There are lots of opportunities for people looking to get experience. How much better would library school have been if I had started working weekend reference desk shifts that first year!
  • Networking — Joining CALL and AALL was one of the best things I did in library school. Not only did these organizations introduce me to invaluable people resources, but their publications and programs gave me a real understanding of the profession — the trends, the values, and the resources available.

To my great joy, librarianship is a career where curiosity and learning are encouraged. To my great relief, many experienced librarians echoed the idea that you aren’t supposed to know everything when you graduate library school. Therefore, more important than what class one takes or neglects to take, seems to be the attitude and spirit of the librarian. A sense of curiosity, adaptability,  enthusiasm for learning, and a thorough understanding about how to think about information will, hopefully, go far in making up for the fact that I didn’t take that business information class.