From the library school survey, looking at the list of skills and competencies people think are important for librarians to have , there are a lot of “soft skills” on that list. You probably won’t find classes on customer service, openness to change, flexibility, commitment to continuous learning, developing a willingness to beat things with rocks until they work, or developing a creative and innovative spirit in most library schools. Does that mean they can’t be taught in library school? Of course not! I think “soft skills” can be taught/developed/encouraged in already existing library school classes if instructors are willing to make the effort to integrate soft skill-related learning objectives into their class activities.
I try to teach some of these soft skills in my course on social software. In the second week of class, I assign students to subscribe to five blogs of their choice and follow them throughout the semester. Each week, I also ask them to find one resource (article, tool, application in libraries, etc.) outside of the readings and activities to discuss in a blog post. I hope that this teaches students keeping up strategies and how to find out about things when the information is not handed to them.
I also assign a group project in which one member of each group is a project manager and provides leadership and direction to the other members. I think this makes the project much more consistent with the reality of work in libraries, where most group projects are lead by a project manager. I think group projects often teach flexibility as well, because each member of a group has to balance their desires with the desires of their group members. That group project requires them to create some sort of social application for a library. It allows them to be very creative, but at the same time, to develop something that can be used in a real-life setting. They also have to do a presentation and “sell” their idea to us as if we were their administrators and colleagues; certainly an important skill as well.
I think I could probably go farther in incorporating the teaching of soft skills in my course. But the point I wanted to make is that soft skills can be taught — through hands-on activities, role-playing, case studies and more — and that it’s important that library schools teach these soft skills that are so critical to a librarian’s professional success.
What soft skills do you feel were emphasized in classes when you were in library school?
Not even one. I got my degree pre-OCLC, pre-Dialog, and when cataloging classes were graded on the sets of cards they produced on typewriters with red/black ribbons. Everything “soft” I learned was picked-up on-the-job – and I’m still learning and loving it!
I just came across your blog and noticed you like to reflect on tools to assist your patrons, many of which I’d imagine are students.
I also noticed that you mentioned that you assign group projects. I co-founded GroupTable, a collaborative software, last semester to assist students with their group projects and study groups. It really has been received well by students thus far and it may be something for you, your readers and students to check out.
Hi Coral, the entire class is online at http://sociallibraries.com/libr246-12/. You can find that specific exercise here http://sociallibraries.com/libr246-12/exercise2
I’m not sure teaching tech skills is always that important in Library School. You should be able to use most new technologies or be willing to learn, but that’s always an ongoing process out of school. I graduated library school (the new defunct Columbia U’s School of Library Service) in 1991, and we had to pass a course showing we knew all the up-to-date tools of the trade: Lotus 1-2-3, DBase III, WordPerfect, SPSS v.1, etc. Would this look useful on a CV now, except to show how old I am? The better course I had was the database design course. It was all on paper, but it made you think how workflow should be.
Also, our Library management courses were great. They did discuss handling problem patrons, dealing with Library Boards, budgeting (don’t forget to buy wastebaskets and bathroom supplies!). They really did prepare us for the real world in libraries.
I have mixed feeling about how tech skills are currently taught in library schools, but I think there is a benefit to offering tech classes. I think it’s less about learning specific technologies than learning how to learn about technologies, how to plan for technology implementation in libraries, how to critically evaluate technologies, how to sell ideas about new technologies and how to keep up with new technologies. And the teaching of those skills can be integrated into most technology classes.
I wish I’d had a really practical management course like yours. Ours was certainly cool — we read stuff by Drucker, Senge, etc. — but it wasn’t practical in the least and I wish it had been.
Time for my standard “what I don’t like about group projects” spiel (not aimed at you but aimed at library school in general).
I don’t like group projects (and library school was nothing but group projects and all the professors had the same original “it’s just like the real world” reasoning for it). Even if the group project involves lots of cool skills, few people get to learn the new skills. Why? Because when the groups divvy up the parts of the project among its members, it usually goes something like this: “We need someone to do X.” “I know how to do X.” “Okay, you’re doing X. Now, who knows how to do Y?” And so on. If the project had been an individual project, then *everyone* would have had to learn to do X, Y, and Z. Or, even if you have to have group projects, also have individual assignments where everyone has to do X, Y, and Z.
(*still grumpy after eight years*)
I second Coral’s request. I’d also be interested in learning more about the innards of RSS. Thanks.
Well, Bentley, if you’re interested in what I taught on RSS, you may want to try out the assignment I offered our class http://sociallibraries.com/libr246-12/exercise2 or take a look at the video Melissa Rethlefsen created for Five Weeks to a Social Library on “Using RSS to Add Currency to the Library Website” http://blip.tv/file/get/Sociallibrary-UsingRSSToAddCurrencyToTheLibraryWebSiteScreencast592.mov.
The lecture I gave on RSS http://blip.tv/file/624534/ doesn’t get much into the innards of RSS, but looks at some of what’s possible with it.
Thank you. I’m working on a professional development plan for myself for the next few years and this is one of the types things I’m looking at.
We had a couple of classes on reference interview/customer service and had to send in a video (we were learning by distance) showing a reference interview role play thing. One of the more painful, but practical, things we did.
I wish the groupwork we did had been set up with project managers!
I definitely agree that library schools should teach tech skills – not necessarily specific technology, but the ability/willingness to sit down and play with something until it works.
Great example, Deborah! I don’t think schools should offer an entire class on “customer service” but I think a reference class should certainly teach people a lot about how to be a good listener, how to conduct a proper reference interview, and how to deal with difficult patrons (all important parts of customer service). My reference class was pretty much all about resources, but luckily I’d learned very similar skills in my training as a therapist (where we did LOTS of role-playing which I found extremely valuable… and embarrassing!).
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