Hiring a new librarian? Are new graduates qualified?

Believe it or not some librarians are retiring and some libraries are hiring. I know, I heard the same story 20 yrs. ago in library school about the wave of librarians retiring and the need to hire a bunch of librarians to fill those open positions.  Instead of a giant wave of retirements, I think it has been a gentle rise over time.  Instead of filling every single open position retirement brought, I think there has been closing of libraries, not filling positions, or restructuring positions for a different type of fill.  However, not all positions will be left unfilled.  I know of a library that will probably have at least 4 people retire sometime in 5 years.  I don’t know if all 4 positions will be filled, but I know for certain that they won’t all go unfilled.

So this leads me to think about who will fill these positions and the others positions in the medical library world.  In the past when we have had open positions, the number of librarians applying without any library experience (volunteer, practicum, library assistant, etc.) has been large. The number of people applying without medical, health, biology, etc. (basically anything related to medical) library experience has also been large.

I realize the experience part is difficult to come by when there are few library jobs out there.  That is why I am always interested to see if the person had a volunteer position, practicum, internship….something that gives them an idea of what working in a library is like.

Twenty years ago (gah I can’t believe it has been that long) when I was in library school, cataloging was a required course. The same held true with reference. Database searching was elective, but dude…. I totally knew I had to take that class.  After seeing the resumes and speaking with some graduates I also am very concerned about what is taught in library school.  I know there are people who  graduated with a library degree who had never taken cataloging or reference.  IMHO those are the very basics of a library education and form the backbone of what you need to build upon as librarian…no matter what librarian you become (subject or position).

That is just the education for regular librarianship. I haven’t even gotten into the skills and knowledge necessary for medical librarianship.  Medical libraries (like many other special libraries) do things a bit differently. We don’t do ILL like everyone else (Docline).  We catalog differently (NLM Classification). Our reference is all medical and health issues… which is often not taught library school because it is still viewed as verboten in public libraries.

Those are just some of the easy, off the top of my head examples of things that unless you worked in a medical, health science type of library you would be totally unfamiliar with.

So as I look toward the future, I am wondering what other medical librarians are looking for when they are looking to hire an entry level librarian and do they feel the library schools are producing graduates that meet our needs?  Let me know what you think?  What is essential in a librarian? What kind of internships, practicums, volunteering are helpful?  If you offer internships, practicums, volunteering what are the basics they need to know before hand?

Comment your thoughts.

8 thoughts on “Hiring a new librarian? Are new graduates qualified?”

  1. When I was in library school, cataloging was required. We didn’t do NLM cataloging, but just learning the principles using Dewey and LC (both covered) were enough to transfer the knowledge into NLM. And the PRINCIPLES were the bones on which the organization of information were built for all my future work as a librarian. Same with reference – I may not have used the exact materials, but knowing how to conduct a reference interview, and how to organize my research were the basics for all future reference/research work.

  2. I agree those are the principles of librarianship. Even if you are going to never be a cataloger (me) you need to know how things are cataloged the principles behind it so that you are better at finding things and helping patrons find things.

  3. I graduated library school in 2004 and cataloging wasn’t required at that program then. Organization of Information was, and in that class rested the theory. Cataloging was an elective and one I chose not to take. I’ve not missed it because I did get good theoretical grounding in the other class.

    I did take multiple reference (sage real, science, business, advanced general) classes because I could see where my goals were – I’d left a career that had me tied to a desk staring at a screen and I wasn’t doing what I perceived as something similar ever again.

    If I’d ever worked at a place small enough that I’d have needed cataloging, I’d have wished for that detailed class, most likely. Since I haven’t, at least not yet, the theory has been enough for me.

  4. When I was in library school 20+ years ago, I was fortunate in that I was already working in a hospital library. It was the perfect learning environment. But, my library school also offered an elective course on Medical Librarianship taught by a team of medical librarians from the local medical college. They covered nearly everything you need to work in a medical/hospital library. It was absolutely fantastic! How many library schools offer something like that now? I sometimes offer an internship to library school students in their final semester that covers it all. I also think it is essential for medical librarians to start out with a good working knowledge of medical terminology and evidence-based practice.

  5. A year or so ago I participated in a session in which alumni were asked to give feedback to our LIS program about how they’d like to see the program changed/improved, things we didn’t learn in the program that we wish we had, etc. Every alum there agreed that the program should be more practical and more hands-on. For example it would be useful, everyone agreed, to teach students how to utilize LibGuides and other LibApps as they are so widely utilized in libraries that it would be a major plus for graduates to have experience with LibApps on their resumes.

    This discussion yielded an interesting comment from the program director. She said that library science is a field with an “identity crisis;” we don’t know whether we want to be vocational or academic. One major issue, she indicated, is that most faculty have PhDs and see the field as an academic discipline whereas most students will stop at the masters level to seek employment in a library. This causes a tension wherein students and faculty want different things. This seems to get at the heart of a lot of the issues with many LIS programs, including graduate readiness for employment.

  6. Great insights! I just wanted to add that health librarianship is a hot new field in library education. It is seen as very important for public librarians, so, thankfully, there is a growing understanding of the need for e-government and health librarianship in all sorts of library settings. Dr. C – library school prof.

  7. I was fortunate to be able to take medical library related classes when I did my MLIS eleven years ago. Two summers ago, I had a student do an externship at my library without any medical library classes and while she did catch on quickly, it was kind of rocky at first. She’s now working at a hospital library in the same system I am.

    I think if you’re going to work in a specialty library, you need to know those skills. It’s a shame that not many schools offer specialty classes. And I think if you’re not already working in a library in some capacity, an intern/externship should be mandatory. I never understood why it wasn’t mandatory. How do you know this is what you want to do unless you try it? We don’t just sit around and read books all day.

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