What They Don’t Teach You in Library School. Elizabeth Doucett, ALA Editions, 2010.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Marcus
After finishing library school, many graduates and new librarians find that the reality of working in the field of librarianship is much different than they had anticipated. While information theory, philosophy and organization are thoroughly covered in library courses, practical matters, such as how to acquire professional development training on a tight budget or how to deal with an angry patron, are rarely discussed. Elisabeth Doucett's What They Don't Teach You in Library School strives to fill in the gaps for information professionals who may be overwhelmed by the unforeseen duties of their new job or struggling with the unwritten responsibilities of the profession.
The author acknowledges early on that topics within this subject are "so wide and varied" (vii) that they could easily fill a much larger volume or even a book series. Despite this broad scope, Doucett effectively condenses the information into a small guide that can be gleaned by the busiest of students or professionals. The book is divided into three distinct parts: (1) Helpful to Know Before You Get Your First Job as a Librarian, (2) Helpful to Know When You are New on the Job, and (3) Helpful to Know as You Gain Some Experience. The chapters in these sections address a variety of topics including networking, confrontation management, public speaking, strategic planning and library finances. This organization scheme allows readers to easily find what themes interest them, either by individual chapter or career stage. Most chapters contain steps or tips for becoming experienced in a particular area as well as a short resource list composed of books and websites for those who wish to research further. Each chapter also contains supplementary materials like sample project requests, budget forms, mission statements or post-program surveys. Overall, the book is straightforward and easy to navigate, a blessing for individuals looking for a quick but solid read.
Doucett's business background is made evident in most chapters including those that discuss the librarian "brand," promotional marketing, trend tracking and the "Think Like a Retailer" techniques. She makes the important point that "the role of librarian is changing rapidly, and people have a much less clear understanding of why and how librarians provide value" (29). The guide suggests that information professionals should promote their importance and inform their community of the changing but enduring roles of librarians in society. The author does not recommend that librarians adopt every trend that appears to satisfy patrons, but rather encourages readers to “learn how to identify and evaluate trends for any implications they might have for your library” (110). Although the guide has business overtones, they are not so loud that the informational, educational, and recreational missions of the library are forgotten.
All in all, What They Don’t Teach You in Library School is an excellent read for new and experienced librarians alike. While many of the chapters are tailored to new librarians, some of the topics discussed are applicable to any information professional (or any individual in the workforce for that matter.) The author acknowledges that activities like networking and public speaking are unpleasant for many people and she offers practical tips like taking advantage of library consortia connections or speaking up during staff meetings to slowly alleviate anxiety. She also advises readers to strive to understand their new work environment (both the library itself and the community in general.) Doucett highlights the importance of managing confrontation with patrons and co-workers and provides manageable tips to make the process easier. Overall, the reader will be pleasantly surprised to discover the practicality and clarity of this work.
Elizabeth Marcus. Elizabeth is the ABC Express Coordinator at Hunter Library, Western Carolina University.