on the classes I actually remember from my mslis

I’m in a semi-functional haze today, as I try to hold down chat and work like a functioning adult despite having trouble sitting upright (you would not believe how I react to COVID boosters, holy shit), and so when I stumbled across a tweet about memorable classes from library school (or a lack thereof), it made me think a lot about my own memorable classes—or the lack thereof.

I graduated with my Master’s in Spanish literature in 2013, and I can truthfully say that, if even I don’t remember every particular of every class, they were all useful—and I fall back on what I gained from them all the time, as a writer and, indeed, as a library professional. I graduated from library school in 2015, but I can’t say the same for my LIS coursework. The two required courses at UIUC? I barely remember them at all, other than occasionally thinking about how much I hated them. The classes I took for my certificate in informatics? A resounding shrug, unfortunately. The introduction to network systems class I apparently took? Drawing a complete blank.

Now, some of the classes I remember are not remembered for any particularly good reason (which is something else that pops up a lot in that thread). The class about library technology largely involved putting Linux onto a computer (which I have never done since, and almost certainly will never do again), and learning how to spoof emails (which I have blocked as passionately as possible, because it’s unethical as hell, what the fuck). I think the best thing I carried away from that class was a throwaway comment the professor made, about how everything from keyboards to mice is made for an average man’s hand. I have very small hands—like, the once I had a pedicure the tech freaked out because my hands are the size of a child’s—and most computers and mice and devices are definitely made for someone else’s hands.

My youth services class, meanwhile, was all about serving those neurotypical, able-bodied kids—and as a nuerodivergent adult who was once a neurodivergent kid, and who has never been terribly healthy, that was frustrating, to put it mildly. I still think that if you’re going to teach a class about youth services, part of it should include a discussion of diversity, because you know something? A whole lot of kids don’t fit into the straight, white, neurotypical mold that so many of my classmates clearly assumed they’d be serving. In fact, that class kind of scared the hell out of me: the casual classism and ableism rampant in it was a good reminder of our profession’s seedy, conservative side, the one we pretend isn’t there while presenting ourselves as martyrs and saviors. (We aren’t, okay? We’re a profession that can be radical, and can do a lot of good—but that is mired in white supremacy along with everything else.)

My academic librarianship class was memorable for how frustrating it was: rather than a course about working as an academic librarian, it was all about academe. And I think that could be great, for someone unfamiliar with academe. I think it could, indeed, be essential! Unfortunately for me, I grew up in academe, and definitely didn’t need to learn about it. I just wanted to know more about the nitty-gritty of life as an academic librarian. My instruction class, meanwhile, seemed great at the time. But once I started working, in a position where I’m essentially five people and where Other Tasks As Assigned is an entire other job, I realized that there was no way in the seven hells that I could possibly create such elaborate lesson plans for the courses to which I presented.

But some of the classes I took were fantastic. Adult Popular Literature, taught by a readers’ advisory librarian from Urbana Free Library, was not only wildly fun but also wildly useful. What I learned in that class has not only served me in my collection development—yes, in an academic library, too—but also in my reference work. The tips, tricks, and nonjudgmental strategies we learned there made me a better librarian, and, indeed, probably just a better listener all ’round. It was a fucking phenomenal class. Courses in intellectual freedom (taught by Dr. Emily Knox) and information networks for diverse users (Dr. Nicole Cooke) provided me with connections and a strong foundation, making me a lot better situated to face the world as it is, rather than the world I wish it were.

I took Museum Informatics kind of for the hell of it, a class to round out my final year and pad out my Community Informatics course load. It’s right up there with Adult Popular Literature as one of the most formative classes of my library school years. The professor, Michael Twidale, was pretty firm about the importance of playing around with technology: you can’t break it, so just have fun! The attitude ended up helping me learn tech a lot faster, because, what the hell, he’s right! I (generally) can’t break it, so why not play as I get to know it? Cultural heritage institutions, he used to tell us, will say to themselves, ah-ha! The kids these days ALL love the newest tech splurgy-whoop! So we must race to buy it! But the problem is, they can’t use it right! And everyone knows they’re trying too hard! So never fall into the trap of the newest tech splurgy-whoop. Do you really need it, or is it just, well, the newest tech splurgy-whoop? Those are, in my professional opinion, words to live by.

I’ve written, more than once, about library degrees, and whether you should get them. I am deeply conflicted, at best, about that: I think that librarianship is incredibly important, but I also think it’s undervalued and underpaid, a field in which full-time work can be as vanishingly rare as a black-crowned night heron or a piping plover in Chicago. I also think that the library science Master’s degree can, and should, be tightened up—although I’m not sure if that would best be served by a hybrid program, half apprenticeship, half coursework, or if there is another, better way. (I learned a hell of a lot in my own graduate assistant position, which was, in its way, an apprenticeship.) I think the theory is important, even essential, to being a good librarian—but there’s a hell of a lot more than theory, on the ground, and I’m not sure what the best way to convey that is.

I do know, however, that while I remember some really shitty classes, I am also incredibly fortunate to have taken some of my library school coursework—and I definitely do remember those classes.

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