On Addressing Weaknesses

What are your least favorite parts of library school? Your answer will depend on a lot of things, but one of the biggest factors in my personal likes and dislikes has been whether or not I’m good at something. Shamefully, I don’t mean “good at something after taking the time to master it properly.” I mean instantly good with a minimum amount of effort. The things that make me feel like a library-genius because I just get them.

This is a terrible way to approach your library education. It’s sensible to play to your strengths and interests when choosing your particular career path, but it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll possess instant talents and fascination for every skill and bit of knowledge you’ll ever need as a librarian. Some things are important but still hard to master. Bringing these things into your personal toolkit makes you much more likely to land a job on graduation and makes you a better, more useful, and more flexible library science professional in the long run.9282575739_355aa6a67b_o

Addressing weaknesses isn’t fun though. It takes persistence and hard work, and a willingness to spend time on something you might be really bad at. How best to approach this nasty task? You could of course look into a free online course through Coursera or the like, or get your boss to sign off on some professional development education if you’re lucky enough to work in a library setting. Some problems can also be addressed informally alongside your regular classwork. Some examples: if there’s a particular bit of code that troubles you your professor can probably recommend extra resources to help yourself along (or try CodeAcademy), or you could force yourself to learn a new presentation technique by incorporating it into assignments.

Of course if your problem is an entire area of knowledge, rather than a fine-tuning job, you may need a more aggressive approach. This is the problem I find myself with. I know just enough about metadata schemas to realize that I know practically nothing, and my two week module on Microsoft Access in Spring 2014 left me in similar situation with databases. So I’ve taken the bull by the horns and arranged my entire semester around these two weak spots. I signed up for a class called “Database Design” that is going to get deep into SQL and other database concerns, and I arranged a field study that will be about 80% metadata creation and cataloging[1].

I’m hoping that my making my two major library weaknesses the focus of an entire semester, I’ll learn enough about them to finally understand them and maybe even be good at them. By following a class instead of trying to figure these things out on my own, I figure I stand a much better chance of learning what I actually need to know with a minimum level of frustration. I’ll either master these skills or tank my GPA trying.

This may or may not be a good technique for you, depending on what is is you’re seeking to improve and how well you perform under pressure. It may prove to be a terrible choice for me too; I’m pretty sure that I’m confused by metadata schema and databases because I just haven’t learned enough about them, but I might just be bad at them. We’ll just have to wait and see. But if there’s a skill you know you’re going to need but feel totally inept at, I’d encourage you to tackle it head on and give yourself the best possible chance at mastery by taking a class in your personal area of weakness.


[1] For those who remember my last post, I followed my own advice with great success. Database Design was the successful result of a waitlist entry and I’m doing my field study a semester earlier than I initially planned. Bull by the horns indeed.

3 replies

  1. Ha. My least favorite parts are the poor teaching quality, the preponderance of meaningless group work and 4th grade level powerpoints, and the fact that too many people are let into library school (creating a pool of debt-saddled MLS-havers fighting over poorly paid non-permanent work). God bless the private sector

    Ya know, the little things.


  2. I found SQL to be very muddy for a while – muddy like so pitch black in my brain that I thought I would never see again – then voila! When I got it, I pretty much got it. Not that I have a very big SQL vocabulary, the fancy stuff can take a while, but at least I know where to start. Maybe it’s a zen thing. Think like a database. You’ll get it. (Intimately knowing your data model helps a lot.)


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