Friday, February 25, 2011

How to Dissuade

A piece over at Closed Stacks about the necessity of tech programs in library schools:

We talked a little bit more, and I learned that she wants to do something with information literacy instruction, but she was very unimpressed with the required technology course.

“It is very basic.” I agreed.

“No, it’s not that, it’s good that it’s basic.” She insisted, “I’m technologically illiterate and the kind of librarian I’m going to be doesn’t really need to know all that stuff. I don’t think it should be a requirement for everyone. Plus, they don’t do anything for the people who don’t already know all about computers, we’re just left to flounder.”

Two-thirds of the classes I've taken so far in my two-year program have involved sitting in front of a computer screen. There are a few where computers don't seem strictly essential, but having them around is useful, mostly courses involving learning cataloguing (a large part of which involves learning MARC coding). Mostly the courses without computers have been language courses.

I find most people in the program know how to use computers, or at least navigate around them enough to be on Facebook, but I've seen a few people get kind of lost when it came to email (even one younger guy fresh out of high school) and especially when dealing with HTML coding. And that's normal, I think, and I also think that knowing what it feels like to be a new, confused user is a good thing to keep in mind when showing other people how to use programs. But I do agree with the post's author that if people are unwilling to learn, libraries are perhaps not the best place for them to work. But then, if people are unwilling to learn at all, maybe school isn't the best place for them to be. Or maybe it will help them be willing to learn. See how wishy-washy I am?

A few of the comments on the post mentioned the idea of having computer skills as a pre-requisite to go to library school. Which sounds sensible, but on the other hand, where are people supposed to learn, anyway? Sometimes I find people proficient with computers can be kind of snotty toward people who don't use them often, especially since many people seem to think computers are so common everyone has one.

I also take exception to the sniffing at people who join library programs because they 'like books'. That's why there are introductory courses, and I'm one of those people who tried it out due to a love of books and reading. Everyone starts somewhere.

One comment I particularly liked:

I have blogged about my experiences with technology before:

When I went to library school, I was proficient at using the “usual suspect” software (Microsoft products, etc), and had participated in various social media, but was not comfortable with much else. We had a required tech course, but it was very, very basic, and mostly about how computers physically work, with a little self-taught HTML and PHP thrown in. I definitely didn’t think I was going to need it. We also had a rather intensive digital libraries course (not required). I didn’t think I would need much of it. I was very wrong.

Coming in to school, I did have an idea of what librarians did. I’ve worked in libraries since I was sixteen, both public and academic. I could search databases and OPACs like no other. I just didn’t realize exactly how tech-heavy librarianship had become. I learned fast.

My point is that you can’t judge who will make a good librarian from prior technical knowledge or experience. I think a much better indicator is aptitude for and attitudes about learning. People who can and are willing to learn new things will make good librarians. People who know coding, or have lots of technical knowledge, but are not willing to learn new things, may make good librarians for a time, will quickly become dated.


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