To Generalize or Not to Generalize

Registration for the Spring quarter is just around the corner for many students. With this comes the sometimes frustrating process of deciding which classes to take. Should you take classes to learn a little about everything or focus your precious time (and money) on a specialty?

I recently attended a few peer advising sessions at the University of Washington. In those, we peer advisors give honest feedback on courses, instructors, and paths depending on what our fellow classmates are interested in. From which technology course is the easiest to what to do when you missed your single chance at taking a course, everything is fair game. One topic that seems to come up frequently is whether generalizing in the field or specializing is better in the long run. With no clear answer, here are some things to consider as you chart out your short time in library school:

Library Type 

Public, academic, school, special, and the other library types require their own skill sets and knowledge. Where do you see yourself in the field? A course on readers’ advisory will benefit those interested in public librarianship more than those looking to work in an academic library while a course on how to teach may be more useful in an academic setting. Required core courses should give you a foundation that applies to any library type, but many electives apply to one more than the others. Finding the perfect combination of electives to generalize or specialize takes time and special planning. If you already started school and don’t know which type of library you’re interested in, find some practicing librarians for an informational interview. These can be at institutions near you, found online via the Library Think Tank Facebook group, or even practicing professors and their connections in the field.

Location. Location. Location.

As Macy recently wrote, rural librarian positions tend to list a little bit of everything in their descriptions while those in larger systems tend to narrow in on fewer duties. My library, while not technically rural, has many staff who work at service desks, offer programming, do community outreach, and work on collection development. My selection of courses I’ve taken so far have reflected that generalization. If you want to work in an urban system, checking out their job descriptions and then seeing which courses support that position is a great way to specialize. Also, consider if you are willing to relocate to find a job and start preparing to hunt for jobs. Family situations, cost of living, job availability, and salaries all play important roles in this process.

Class Availability

Did you miss that single class only offered every two years? I’ve seen this happen a few times, mostly to new students who weren’t aware of classes that will only come around once before they graduate. Check projected course schedules often to make sure you can get the classes you may want. Specializing may be difficult to do if the classes are passing you by (or filling up before you can register). Hopefully, your library school is updating projected course schedules regularly and communicating those changes to students so that you can plan for your future.

For those on the quarter system, decisions have to be made soon. For those on the semester system, you still have some time. Regardless of your mode, make whatever decisions you feel is best for you. Readers who are almost done with library school or have already graduated, do you have any advice to give those currently trying to decide between generalizing or specializing?


Conrrado is an online MLIS student at the University of Washington iSchool and an Adult Services Specialist at the Natrona County Library.

Photo by Maurício Mascaro from Pexels

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