Why Not to Take Traditional Library Courses

Day 002 - Studying via Gabriela Ferreira, Wikimedia Commons CC

Day 002 – Studying via Gabriela Ferreira, Wikimedia Commons CC

Looking at the coursework titles from my four semesters at GSLIS it would be hard to guess what specific LIS profession I am most passionate about. I am graduating this May (*reminder to breathe*) with a Community Informatics certificate and have taken courses in project management, community engagement, web design and marketing. I went into GSLIS planning to work in the non-profit sector, which led from my interest in pursuing the Community Informatics certificate. A year-and-a-half later I am heading out with a deep love for public libraries and teen services. Even though I discovered I wanted to work with teens early on in my program, I still made a conscious decision to continue taking non-traditional librarian courses because:

  • The non-traditional courses were more appealing
  • Public libraries are amazing hubs for community engagement
  • I supplemented traditional courses with real, hands-on experience through volunteering, internships and my practicum

Before I continue I want to share my program only has two required LIS courses, then students can choose a specialization or to generalize for the other 32-34 credits. Basically we get to create our own degree, which is one of many reasons why I chose to attend the University of Illinois. Also, I deem “traditional courses” as cataloging, collection development, literature, etc. that are usually required for public librarians (especially in youth services).

Now to break down why I believe I made the right decision in taking classes such as Marketing over Cataloging.

It really all comes down to my individual learning style; I cannot for the life of me make it through a lecture awake and I easily lose interest if the class has more than 10 students. Last Fall when I sat down with my advisor to schedule my last semester of classes I was in a panic, spurting out all these courses I should have already taken and do not have time for now. Thankfully my advisor is amazing and gave me great advice: take classes you will enjoy. While I still chose to take Reference and Instruction, I chose my other classes based on if they had small group discussions/projects and how much I would personally enjoy the subject material.

This selection criteria also meant the majority of my classes focused on social issues and service-learning experiences, but not necessarily all concerning public libraries. In Community Informatics Studio I worked with a school librarian to introduce computer programming to their K-5 curriculum, and in my Project Management course I led a team of undergraduates in a service-learning project with a local middle school. Both of these experiences greatly influenced my career path as I developed skills in leadership, community outreach and instruction while working with students, parents and school administrators. Even though I was not working in a public library, these skills and experiences directly translated to public libraries — especially teen services — as libraries continue to increase involvement in community outreach and to rethink the “library as place.” My CI classes also proved to be an amazing bridge to public libraries, as the terms “digital divide” and “cybernavigators” become increasingly more visible in LIS literature.

All in all, my main reason for not taking traditional library classes is because of the opportunities I have had outside of class to practice these skills. Between various volunteer opportunities, internships and my current practicum I have been exposed to readers’ advisory, collection development and cataloging at a level I would not have in a classroom setting. This past spring break I even had an internship shadowing a teen librarian at a Chicago suburb’s main library. This program has caused some controversy due to only being one week long, but it allowed me to do actual work at a large public library, collaborate with a diverse group of librarians, and to experience the area first hand as I prepare to move to Chicago this summer.

Another great find is more LIS classes are offered online as webinars, workshops, or MOOCs. Fellow Hacker, Aidy So, discusses why LIS students should still consider taking a Cataloging and Classification course and according to the extensive list of online resources she provides, this may not have to be part of your limited credit and cost-intensive course load.

There has been a lot of debate at HLS about structured library programs and library curriculum, so here is my stance: do what you want. Or to tie it back to Hacker-land, Do What Makes You Mad.


Does your school allow a flexible LIS curriculum? If so, how do you choose your courses? If not, would you change this structure or keep it as is?

8 replies

  1. I think the key is a good combination of both non-traditional and traditional courses. The interesting thing is non-traditional coursework can be immensely helpful in the library and traditional coursework can apply to non-traditional jobs. I chose to take two cataloging courses because that’s the closest thing to metadata my program offers and I’m interested in non-traditional work like digital asset management.


  2. I didn’t necessarily take “traditional” courses either (Hello! Fellow U of I LEEP student here!). I focused on youth services librarianship, but I also took Project Management, Web Design, Legal Issues for LIS, Library Management, and Financial Management in LIS. With the ever-changing library world, I think it’s important to be flexible, to be familiar with a variety of things, and to be able to jump in and tackle something totally new. I am also graduating in May. Hats off to you and Congrats!!


    • Congrats to you too Michelle! Another great thing about a flexible program is the allowance of taking classes outside of the department. i.e. my project management course was actually in the College of Engineering where I taught a class weekly as well as led/managed their research project. It definitely has helped prepare me for the public library world.


  3. Some traditional library course are still relevant, if they have been brought up to date. For example, cataloging should be useful if it includes the theory and practice behind cataloging. I think many non-librarians would be amazed at how much of our current systems are based upon cataloging that has been around for many decades. I know a knowledge of cataloging continues to help me in doing research.
    Marketing isn’t really new or non-traditional due to the many financial restraints that libraries have been under for years. Without marketing the library services, there is a real danger of being considered irrelevant. Along that line, a good education as an undergrad or graduate student in statistics is also very important to librarians needing information on where the library is helping their users and where more or less effort might be considered.
    Librarians also need to be prepared to continue their studies after graduation. It is unlikely a student could take every useful course in college and even less unlikely they want to pay for anything not required, given the cost of a college education today. Out in the employed world, we all need to remember to continuously improve and if that takes additional training and education, we need to take advantage of the opportunities available.


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