Education & Curriculum / Honesty

When Library School Hands You Lemons

My library school experience has, I’m sad to say, handed me a bunch of lemons. There are the professors who aren’t as inspiring as I would prefer (sorry), the journal articles that look like they weren’t proofread, the classes that are scheduled at times that are inconvenient for everyone. Including the instructor.

And then there’s the fact that one of the classes I need for my specialization is offered only in the spring, and this spring it is offered at a time when I cannot take it for religious reasons (probably NSFW), which is the biggest lemon of all.

Meanwhile, I’m paying a not-insignificant amount for my education, so let’s talk about how to turn these lemons into lemonade.

1. Professors

The best boss I’ve had (with apologies to my current boss, who is a close second) learned from bad experiences he had as an employee and was conscious not to repeat the mistakes his bosses had made. The same can apply here. As librarians, we will all have to make presentations, even if we don’t go into instructional positions. Take this opportunity to consider what your less-liked professors do that make them less-liked, and practice not doing those things.

In my case, I’ve had too many classes that are primarily lecture-and-read-off-slides. Maybe easy for the professor, but not inspiring.  What can I do differently? Less text. More dialogue. Skip the animation. Don’t be wedded to Powerpoint.

All of my classes have included presentations among the assignments, so I have had many chances to try different things. In one class I based my entire presentation off text-free infographic I created. I’ve used Prezi (being careful to avoid motion-sickness-inducing transitions). For my final presentation this semester, I’m considering using a whiteboard app. (Remember, Powerpoint itself is fine, as long as you don’t load your slides with text or animations!)

Inspired to try breaking out of the Powerpoint mold? Here are some tools that I’ve tried:

Infographic tools

Presentation tools

2. Bad journal articles

This one’s easy. Tired of reading poorly written journal articles? Write and submit your own! Even if you don’t improve the quality of scholarship in our profession, you’ll get published. (Sorry, that’s pretty cynical.) Many library organizations have calls for student papers, but don’t limit yourself only to those.

Student papers include:

3. Inconvenient class scheduling

Bear with me here as I do a bit of self-indulgent whining. The issue of when classes are scheduled is my biggest library school lemon and the one I can least suck up and deal with. At Catholic, courses are offered during one of three general time slots: weekday late afternoon, weekday night, or Saturday. I knew this going in, but didn’t do any sort of data analysis of past semester course schedules to make sure enough classes are offered in that weekday night time slot. I just figured “most students work, therefore most classes should be offered at night.” I was wrong.

 Next semester more classes are being offered in the late afternoon time slot than the night time slot, and the realities of working a 9-5:30 job while going to school part-time and being Sabbath-observant (see that link above) are finally hitting.

The lemonade here? Lots of opportunity to practice your self-advocacy and problem-solving skills. I don’t recommend laughing in a professor’s face when she suggests speaking to the department chair, but in my defense, she was the third professor to suggest it, and the second to suggest it after I’d already spoken with the chair.

So. Self-advocacy. I’m not good at it. But this is your opportunity to become close to your advisor. Remember this: professors are not idols to be worshipped. They’re just people. So go have a conversation. If your advisor isn’t able to help, try talking to the professors who teach the classes you’re having trouble scheduling. In my case, this meant looking at old course catalogs, finding a professor I know and like who has taught one of the classes I need, and emailing him to ask if he’s teaching it again and can do so on a weekday. If (when) that doesn’t work, go talk to your dean/department chair. My dad is a department chair and my aunt is a dean. I promise you; they’re just people, too. Unfortunately, they might not have any solutions either. Offer your own suggestions. Maybe a class can be recorded? Maybe everyone in the class would prefer it to be at a different time. Ask if you can transfer credits for a similar class taught at a different library school.

When none of those work, though, enjoy the best lemonade of all. Frozen, maybe with some alcohol mixed in. No solution? Take a semester off. Use that free time to network with professionals in your area, write papers to submit to journals (see #2 above), catch up on the knitting you haven’t had time for since you started school, move to a new house…

If you need me, I’ll be packing.

17 thoughts on “When Library School Hands You Lemons

  1. 1. I hate how certain schools advertise their programs for being perfect for those currently working until you actually enroll (my masters program did this) and i’m sorry you’re finding the same now.
    2. Love love love Prezi (and second the need to be cognizant of transitions to avoid motion sickness) and I’m intrigued by some of your other presentation suggestions, but I’m having a hard time with some less techy profs allowing non-powerpoint presentations. Very frustrating

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    • I often “hack” powerpoint to look like Haiku Deck. I love the look of HD, but it’s usability is lacking compared to PPT. I like prezi too, but those transitions can kill you if you are not careful!

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  2. I bet a lot of us library students have found at least a few chinks in our library schools’ armor. Your post reminds me that I wish there were a place where library schools were ranked and discussed by library students, not US News & world Report, so that potential library school students might get a more well-rounded view of library schools they’re considering.

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    • HLS seems like the perfect place to host such a ranking and discussion. If there is interest, I would love to help put something like that together.

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    • I also think a ranking could be nice. It could be something simple, a ranking with links to existing posts about schools. I’ve found them useful to read and I think others would benefit from a list of them.

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    • Hack Library School has done something in this spirit with the Hack Your Program series! Reader submissions for this series continue to be welcomed.

      As far as ranking goes (I’ll speak only for myself here, not HLS as a group!), I’m not sure how productive that model is. Each student has a different equation of needs and wants, and no cut-and-dried ranking model is going to reflect this reality. While I would love to see more frank discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of various programs and what types of students they may or may not suit, I would be wary of instituting an “alt-ranking” metric that would, in the end, be just as arbitrary and flawed as commercial rankings.

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      • I think that rankings of the library schools by library students would have more meaning, at least to potential students, than the commercial rankings. The posts in the Hack Your Program series are thought-provoking and well-done, to be sure, but it takes some tabbing (when searching by the series) to get through the older posts. Maybe, instead of a ranking system, it could be a comparison chart of pros and cons, based on the programs written about so far, with more to come. Just my two cents.

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  3. I absolutely have found my MLIS program wanting. In a lack of quality professors, up-to-date subject matter, practicum availability, research opportunities ….. It is definitely not the graduate-level work I expected to be doing.
    I’ve done all my best work outside of class time, applying to conferences, poster sessions, scholarships, etc. It’s easy to insert yourself into higher-level scholarly work if only you have the free time to spend on both — I’m just worried about the student loan debt I’m building up, since I’m only working part-time (as a research assistant in an entirely different department, I should add).
    It’s been a trade-off for me, but at least my resume will stand out the moment I graduate. But a rank-and-discussion would be amazing: I would have loved to know some of this before going on. And I’d love to speak freely about the classes and professors I think need rapid improvement.

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    • You hit on a key point here — so much of library school is what we make of it. Extracurricular commitments are exhausting to be sure, but it isn’t our faculty’s sole responsibility to magically turn us into leaders in our field. Not that our programs don’t have a mandate to provide us with quality education; of course they do. But coursework is only part of the equation.

      Like most of us, I definitely wish there was more transparency around the flaws and challenges of LIS programs. That said, I found that simply reaching out to current students and alumni of the schools I was considering told me more than any ranked list ever could.

      For those of you who want to voice your (constructive!) criticisms, your end-of-semester evaluations really do matter. See if your school has some form of Student Advisory Board. Get other students, or a student organization, together to present solutions to your administration. We don’t have to be passive consumers of LIS education.

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