Say what? Things I haven’t learned in library school

I’m halfway through my MLIS program, yet there are still countless words and concepts that I’m not confident I actually understand.  I feel like a fundamental vocabulary lesson is missing from most of my core intro classes — and I don’t think it’s all going be covered by the time I graduate.  There are all these acronyms and buzzwords in libraryland, and while I might know what subject they’re related to, I have no idea what exactly they mean.  Is that acronym a standard, a guideline?  What words are interchangeable, and what words aren’t?

For example, none of my core classes actually explained the difference between a library and archive.  Since I’m focusing on archives, I can tell you the difference — but how many non-archives students can?

So let’s help each other out!  What fundamental vocabulary words are missing from your classes?  Ask in the comments, and hopefully someone else will answer.  Do your part and answer someone else’s question too.

I’ll start — is there a difference between a persistent identifier and a digital object identifier?  Digital curation and data curation?

27 replies

  1. The difference between a library and an archive? The level of stodginess. :p Just kidding. I can’t really think of any real deficiencies along these lines. My absolute favorite librarian that I don’t know, Jess Nevins, has a great essay in Revolting librarians titled “What Library Schools Aren’t Teaching Us.” It’s definitely worth a read, and also proves my point that library schools have needed reform for 10 years.


    • Oh, I think library schools have been in need of reform for quite a bit longer than 10 years.

      RE: your first statement, are you really referencing the lack of clarity in defining the difference between a library and archive as well as making a joke? Or are you just making a joke? (warning: my inability to understand *may* be a result of the heightened stodginess I’ve picked up working in an archive.)


  2. Rose–thank you! You don’t know how long I’ve sat quietly in classrooms assuming I’m the only one who doesn’t know what the heck everyone is talking about.

    Micah, Rose, I’m sorry: what exactly is digital humanities?


  3. ‘Persistent Identifiers: Considering the Options’, Ariadne Issue 56

    Current Standards for Persistent Identifiers

    There are several standards currently at a mature stage of development:

    the Uniform Resource Name (URN);
    the persistent URL (PURL); the Handle system;
    the digital object identifier (DOI);
    National Bibliography Numbers (NBNs);
    the Archival Resource Key (ARK);
    the Open URL.


  4. The difference between bibliographic instruction, library instruction, information literacy, and transliteracy. There are significant differences but I am curious whether they are covered in library school.


    • So far, not in my courses. Bibliographic instruction and library instruction are used interchangeably, and information literacy is talked about as the same thing. We haven’t discussed transliteracy at all (at least in my courses… I haven’t taken any of the public library/specific literacy classes).


      • I could totally be wrong here but it seems like bibliographic instruction is the traditional way of teaching library classes, so the entire class is focused on library services. Information literacy is more broadly based, encourages critical thinking. This is my personal feeling on it though, I haven’t been taught the differences in school.

        Here’s an interesting presentation called “Transforming Bibliographic Instruction To Information Literacy” which could help explain a few things.


      • To build off what Annie said, I agree that there are different approaches to instruction that often depend on the time you have, the level of student (or patron), and the information need. For my first-year students, I might focus on an introduction to the library and its resources and services. For higher level students, we would do a session that focuses more on refining research (and information literacy!) skills.That might speak to the difference between the terms, if there is one.

        That said, I work in an Instructional Services dept. and the understanding I get from my colleagues about bibliographic v. library instruction is that they are essentially the same idea, but the latter term is the one more commonly used these days.

        Information literacy is the fundamental skill set that library instruction promotes. We use the ACRL Information Literacy Competency standards as a starting point in our instructional design–it’s basically a list of IL-related learning outcomes:


    • Sadly, I’m pretty sure none of my classes have used any of those terms except for “information literacy” (which wasn’t defined). I think library school instructors need to stop operating under the assumption that we all know what every term means — or maybe they don’t even know, which is why they don’t explain them….


      • Most of the terms referenced are new to me as well. I wonder if like in education the terms are re-invented every so often to give them a new and refreshed life. Just define a term and let it be what it is…


  5. As far as I know…

    -Digital curation = curating any digital materials. For example, new initiatives to make sure ebooks are preserved, or paying attention to the best formats for images/documents to be preserved online, or assigning persistent identifiers would be digital curation issues.

    -Data curation = specifically curating data sets, as in all the millions of measurements a scientist makes when researching something. This is a big deal in the natural and health sciences, as a lot of the big funding sources are now making researchers promise that data (not just the publication, but the raw data) will be made publicly available.

    Great post! This is something I think about often. I graduated with my MLS in 2009, but there are still lots of things I learn on the job every day.


  6. I love this. Please please, everyone, take this topics/definitions, explore them, and write posts on them for us! This is what the blog is for! Clearing up these things for one another, if our education is not keeping up with them.


  7. Thank you for writing this post. Sometimes it’s difficult to get students to admit gaps in instruction or understanding. It’s great to get this conversation started. I think we have to constantly remind ourselves that it’s OK not to know everything all at once. The important thing is to keep learning and keep asking questions.


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