By Mandi Goodsett
The topic of the Library & Information Science (LIS) degree and how it can be improved has been of increasing interest in the library world. As a recent graduate, I have a special interest in the perspective of library school students and recent graduates and, as a result, have been doing a lot of research (see the results of a study I presented at ACRL this year) into what LIS students both need and want from their education. While the results of the research aren’t yet fully formulated, there are a few things that stood out to me in the comments I gathered from recent LIS graduates.
- LIS graduates are frustrated. Some student respondents knew how important it is to get professional experience in graduate school, and were in fact able to find opportunities to do so. But for those who didn’t know or were unable to gain any substantial experience, life after graduate school could be frustrating and demoralizing. Even some of those who landed positions immediately after graduate school found themselves in very different environments than what they had hoped for—perhaps in a temporary position or only working part-time. The number of negative responses I got in my 500+ respondent survey suggests that this isn’t your typical post-graduate, debt-laden angst. This is a unique issue that needs to be addressed.
- It’s not (just) the fault of the LIS degree. It’s easy to say that our LIS programs need to change so that students don’t end experiencing these frustrations, and, to some extent, this might be true. But LIS programs are only one player in the arena of those preparing new professionals for work in the field. Others include libraries that are no longer offering as many entry-level positions (and which often fail to provide mentoring programs for new librarians) as well as the community of experienced librarians who are in a position to mentor, guide, and teach new librarians.
- LIS students and recent graduates need guidance. Many of the issues that came up in the study (and that I anecdotally observe frequently), such as confusion about what courses to take or how to acquire the experience necessary to get a job post-graduation, could be alleviated by improving guidance for new librarians. This could come in the form of stronger advising in LIS programs, but it could also come from established librarians being more willing to allow (or even encourage) new librarians to catch a glimpse of what they do every day.
Could LIS students be given a librarian mentor in the field? Or perhaps have the opportunity to shadow librarians in diverse environments? Could roundtables and divisions in ALA provide more mentoring and coaching opportunities for new librarians? Could library conferences offer chances for new librarians to gain experience presenting? While a number of librarians and professional organizations (NMRT being one) are spearheading these kinds of efforts, it seems the message isn’t always getting through to students, and more could be done. These kinds of programs would do a lot to both help new librarians transition more smoothly into the professional world, and to help more experienced librarians understand the perspective of those new to (and overwhelmed by) the profession.
In co-leading a roundtable for new librarians at ACRL, I found that many of the participants shared a common experience of “imposter syndrome.” They felt underprepared for their new positions and lacked the guidance to gain footing to share their exciting, new ideas with their colleagues for the betterment of the field as a whole. That so many librarians are feeling like imposters in the field which they spent so much money and time preparing to enter seems wrong. Perhaps we could work together as librarians to not only nurture our students and patrons, but to also nurture the newest among us. Doing so could move us all forward in new and unexpected ways.
Mandi Goodsett is Performing Arts & Humanities Librarian at Cleveland State University. She earned her MLIS at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013. Her professional interests include library instruction, instructional technology, and mentoring new librarians. You can learn more about Mandi at www.mandigoodsett.com .