Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review: What They Don't Teach You in Library School

Photo by Barbara Slavin

Title: What They Don't Teach You in Library School
Author: Elisabeth Doucett

I read this book because I recommended it to a few soon-to-be librarians, and I thought I should see what it was all about before recommending it further.  I've been a librarian for 6 years, so I'm not necessarily the audience for this book. However, there were a few chapters that I really liked, and the rest were full of useful information for just about any librarian new to the profession.

My favorite chapters were:

Chapter 4: Making "Librarian" a Brand
For some reason, of all professions, people think it is just so funny to poke fun at librarianship. For example:
Ignorant person: "Do people still use libraries?"  OR "Oh, so you read books all day?"  OR "Isn't everything online?"
Kate (well, what I'd *like* to say): "I'm sorry, what do you do again?  I'd like to poke fun at whatever that is."  
However, that's clearly not a productive way to respond to that kind of question.  This chapter talks about creating an elevator pitch to use whenever someone asks you what you do for a living or makes a comment like one of the above.  With the elevator pitch, you can head off the ignorant comments because part of it is to throw in a brief description of how you spend your time.  For example, my elevator pitch (with the three parts recommended by the author in brackets):
[Job title] I'm a librarian, more specifically a reference librarian at a university, which means [brief overview of what I do] I spend a large part of my time helping students find the information they need, either one-on-one or in a classroom setting.  [What I love about my job] One of the things that's so great about my job is watching the transition from frustration to excitement when working with a student.  Students often try to muddle through on their own for a long time before seeking out a librarian, so they can be quite frustrated at first.  However, as I work with them and make suggestions, I see the connections happening, and they leave not only with the information they need but with the skills to find information in the future as well as a more positive outlook on research in general.
The idea is to fit it into 30 seconds, so the above may be a little long, but it gets the point across.

Chapter 11: Promotional Marketing
The importance of marketing to libraries simply cannot be overstated, but it barely comes up in library school.  The chapter is just a very short overview, but is enough to get you thinking about the topic.

Chapter 12: Thinking Like a Retailer
This was a chapter that I've kind of seen touched on in a few places but never quite so straightforward and succinct as this.  There are things about retail that are very intentional that we don't really think about - when you walk into a grocery store, you enter first into the fruit and veggies section.  This is a very visually appealing - neat and tidy stacks of shiny apples, sections of bright green lettuce, etc.  Also, in a grocery store, the end of the aisle displays are for things the store really wants people to buy - that's real estate that sees higher product turnover.  Bookstores are always so neat and orderly as well.  So now I'm rethinking the location of our current displays, the idea of adding a few more, and also trying to create a sense of ownership of the library among our student workers so that they'll straighten more often as they wander around the building. 

All in all, a good read. The short chapters give brief overviews of each topic with suggestions for further reading at the end so if you want to pursue them further, you can.

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