Knowledge, Theory, and Practice: Mid-Semester Reflections

As I reach the half-way point of my first semester in the Library Science program, I’m going to take some time to reflect a little bit on what I’ve done and where I’m going. 

As I review my previous posts and the things I’ve written during class discussions and for other assignments, I can see that I’m gaining knowledge about a variety of aspects of the library profession. While I came in knowing the kind of job I am aiming for, I’ve developed a clearer picture of what that job entails and how to get there. I’ve also learned about the underpinning of the library that I hadn’t even considered before. I’ve read and thought about everything from what information is to what should be the ethical response to homeless people passing the day in the library. 

All of this knowledge and theory is good of course, and important as a basis for everything a librarian does, but after a couple months of studying I find myself with a nagging worry in the back of my head that I’m not going to be ready. I think this is because at the end of the day, a librarian’s success is based much more on what she does and how well she does it rather than on how much she knows. I find myself wondering if it’s really possible to learn how to do while spending so much time alone in my room reading and writing and learning about being a librarian. I’m taking all of my classes online, which probably increases my concerns. 

Even in classes that teach the skills required, I’m running into these same worries. I’m also taking a reference class this semester and learning about how to more effectively search databases, conduct a reference interview, and locate simple answers in print and online reference materials. I have done (and will be doing) exercises that familiarize me with a variety of resources and how to use them to answer questions, but it still seems like there is only so far I can go with these assignments. Without dealing with real people, I’m worried that I’ll graduate with the credentials to get an interview, but not what I need to actually get the job. 

An experience I had last week while observing a reference desk for class may help illustrate. The librarian staffing the desk had to briefly leave the desk, perhaps to check in the back room for a book a patron wanted or something similar, and I stayed at the desk. While she was gone, a patron come up to the desk with a question. I thought I would try putting my new knowledge of searching and interviewing to the test, but ended up stumbling along clumsily while trying to help the patron find what he was looking for. Then the librarian returned and found the information right away. She was impressed that I had been bold enough to step in and reassured me that it takes time and practice to learn not just the general skills but also to master the library’s specific tools, but I can’t help but wonder how much of that experience I’ll be able to develop on the job and how much I’ll need to have to get a job. 

Obviously, I have a long way to go and many classes left to take before I’ll be out on the job market. I will also be reducing my class load to two classes starting next semester (compared to three this semester) to allow me more time to digest what I’m learning and seek out opportunities to gain experience. I’m currently working at a library but my position as a circulation clerk doesn’t provide me with much of a chance to develop skills more complex than checking books out and collecting fines. However, next semester, when I have some more time and will have gotten a little more established in my job (I just started there in September), I hope to talk to the children’s librarian there (and perhaps also the children’s librarians I met while doing my observation assignment at a different library) about working with her to start getting some experience.


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