Dewey-It-Yourself: How to supplement your library school education

No matter how great a MLS/MLIS program is there just isn’t enough time and courses to learn everything. HLS alum Annie Pho previously discussed the interpersonal skills we don’t learn in school and identifying what you want to know, and Lauren Bradley contributed a guest post on continuing education after library school. It can be very frustrating to look at job postings and think, “What does that even mean? They didn’t teach me that!” But with an optimistic and do-it-yourself attitude the gap between what you know and what you need to know can shorten.

Take advantage of free online courses
Video tutorials or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) take DIY to a whole new level.

Two great resources are the free Khan Academy and the subscription based lynda. Khan provides a library of high-quality instructional videos, and lynda offers software training through video courses. So far I’ve used lynda to learn more about Google Analytics and Drupal. Drupal is an open source software that I’ve seen listed among the “desirable skills” section in many job postings. If your university doesn’t subscribe to lynda, you can seek out videos on YouTube, consult open source software communities, or take a MOOC.

Even though it is called do-it-yourself sometimes you need help from a teacher. MOOCs are a great way to learn for free from prestigious institutions and great instructors. Some top MOOCs are offered through edX and Coursera. Harvard Law School even began experimenting with a MOOC Copyright Law course.

CC BY-SA Nina Paley, Mimi & Eunice

CC BY-SA Nina Paley, Mimi & Eunice

Step outside your comfort zone
Even though it can be intimidating to go outside of the skill set you’re good at, take the risk and don’t worry about the fraud police. Instead of saying “I can’t do it,” say “I can’t do it… yet!” There are many skills I wish were taught in courses, but programs have to play catch up to the new trends and growth of librarianship. Even if your program offers a more common course like web design, it may not fit into your schedule or you’ll want to keep learning after the introductory course is over. You can teach yourself HTML and CSS, and consult online video tutorials to achieve a higher skill level.

Would reading knowledge of a second language be helpful?
Many libraries subscribe to foreign language learning software like Mango.
Have a cool idea for a digital library? Build it! You’ll get to practice metadata.
Want to develop an app? Do it, you’re a future technology rockstar!

If you can take classes outside of your program and still get credit for your degree, try those out. Since my program doesn’t offer an archives course I have a few friends that are taking Introduction to Archives through the History department. This semester I’m supplementing my interest in open access by taking Copyright Law. Taking outside courses can help keep your curiosity levels up, round your skills out, and provide engagement with different kinds of students and professionals.

Join a club or volunteer
I’ve seen marketing and advocacy in many “What I Wish I Learn in Library School” lists. The best decision I’ve made so far was in college when I joined a student club that focused on advocating for censored writers. After that I continued joining other clubs and volunteering. I didn’t plan for it, but those experiences have given me leadership, communication, and advocacy skills. If your school has an ALA or ASIS&T student chapter sign yourself up, help out, and gain some new skills!

You can also put your skills to the test by volunteering. Maybe you’ll volunteer by cataloging your church’s lending library by using LibraryThing or open source softwares like Koha and BiblioteQ. Or by developing a reading series at your local library that you’ll do the marketing for and faciliate. If you’re interested in being a Children’s librarian, you can hone your event and donation request skills by hosting a craft workshop in a classroom or children’s hospital. You can even join or run a Wikipedia “edit-a-thon.” If you can get this experience through a paid internship or a job, that’s great! The goal is to have something tangible to show how much you’ve learned and something to discuss in a future job interview.

Be more open
Be curious and try new things.
Go open through open education with MOOCs, video tutorials, and open source software you can mess around with. The internet makes it possible to learn about almost anything. You probably won’t become an expert through online tutorials, but you can still learn a lot to prepare you for a job after graduation. I know it is easier said than done to acquire news skills, but if there is something you need or want to learn there is a way.

What skills do you wish you were being taught in library school? How are you supplementing your education?

Categories: Continuing Education

12 replies

  1. Reblogged this on I'm Not a Librarian and commented:
    I’m really into the whole “outside the classroom” learning, maybe because I’m a bit jaded about the limited things I have been learning in the archives classroom verses what I’ve learned on the job. Definitely worth a look, I’m interested in the Harvard copyright class!


  2. Thanks for posting this! I’m entering my first semester of Grad school in a few weeks! This is definitely helpful and much needed information for me. Love your blog!


    • Okay, so evidently that one worked fine. My comments yesterday never made it through.

      In short, I wanted to mention that WebJunction is a grant-funded non-profit whose goal is specifically to support learning for library staff. There’s a host of good material on the site including how-to documents, success stories, news items, archived webinars, and more. Library staff in partner states also have access to a suite of self-paced courses that cover a number of subjects.

      WebJunction is at


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