5 Things What You Won’t Learn in Library School

Those of my readers who have been working in the field for even a short time will recognize this simple truth: there are some things you won’t learn in library school. No matter which school you are attending/did attend, there are certain aspects of librarianship that you will only learn on the job.

This is by no means an extensive list, but it is an honest one. Here are 5 things I have learned as a librarian that either simply weren’t taught in the classroom or cannot be taught and rather come with experience:

1. Some patrons just need you to give them a special day.

It could be a small act (like a smile) or something a bit more (like waiving that $3.00 fine, even if it means taking it out of your own pocket) but the empathy it conveys will cheer the patron’s spirits immeasurably. We all need to be treated with unexpected kindness.

2. Awkward situations will arise. 

Something will emerge that will throw you for a loop. You will be forced to use your judgment. Maybe a teen volunteer innocently followed a child into the bathroom to help him and it made the parent uncomfortable. Perhaps a homeless man will come in with a terrible odor and several patrons will ask you to say something. You work with the public, and you’re often seen as an authority figure. You are also human and can only be sensible to the best of your ability.

3. The reluctant readers are really reluctant. 

So you’ve covered the phenomenon known as the ‘reluctant reader’ in your YA/Children’s lit class and you’ve got an arsenal of amazing reads in your repertoire. Fantastic! But you will get stumped, regardless. A child or teen will come in and deliver a resounding “No!” in response to all your grand suggestions. It’s okay to “phone a friend”…er, ask a colleague. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure at reader’s advisory – some librarians excel at Manga recommendations; others are your go-to for gritty realistic fiction.

4. It takes time to build a following. 

So you’ve landed the job, you have wonderfully creative ideas for programming, and you’re good to go! Your first book discussion/craft/meditation session rolls around and…3 people attend. How will this look on your program stats?! Did they hire you by mistake?

Don’t panic. We’ve all been there. Use your social media outlets, promote the event with flyers and word-of-mouth – all of these are praiseworthy measures. It’s important also to understand your audience; do you serve teens who go straight to sports after school? Is your potential ‘fan base’ stay-at-home moms who want a craft to unwind in the early evening? It took me close to a year to gain a loyal following of teens, who gradually brought along friends, and finally I had a core group.

5. You should never stop learning. 

Whether enrolling in some continuing education seminars or researching new tech trends during off-desk time, learning should never cease with that MLS/MLIS degree. Be proactive always, without exception. Ask a colleague to teach you that new collection development software, play around with that new 3D printer, and take time to really listen to your patrons’ needs.