When I came to Indiana University for library school, I thought I knew exactly what sort of career in librarianship I wanted. For two years during high school I had been a student intern in my school system’s fantastic elementary school library. Then for three years after high school I worked off and on with children in my rural town’s tiny public library, conducting storytimes, crafts, summer reading program events, and more. Early on I discovered my passion for rural public communities, children, and teens, so when I started grad school I was excited to take as many classes as possible about public libraries and youth services.
I was very quickly disappointed when I learned that there were so few courses at IU for youth services, and even fewer for public librarians in general. The majority of our courses have little relevance to public libraries, are almost entirely theoretical and geared toward academia, and few professors are practicing librarians, especially public librarians. Many specific courses that seem to be obviously important courses for public libraries, such as Public Library Services, Advanced Cataloging, Reader’s Advisory, Grant Writing, Genealogy and Local History, and (before this semester) Collection Development and Management, etc. either have not been offered in several years or are simply not offered at IU at all. As such, if a student is interested in these important public library courses, he or she will have to register with IUPUI to take the courses online and have the credits transferred. We are actually really lucky that we are able to do this, but I have not taken advantage of this opportunity as much as I could have. I learned in undergrad that I do much better in a classroom setting than online, which is why I chose a school like IU-Bloomington rather than an entirely online program through another university.
Despite my disappointment in the lack of youth and teen services courses, this also has forced me to choose some classes and talk to some professors that I otherwise may not have. I tried out an introductory cataloging course and absolutely loved it, which is apparently a weird thing to love, but I really did. Next semester I plan to take a class focusing on developing websites in the hopes that the rudimentary website skills I grow from this experience will help make me look a little more desirable to prospective employers. I am also currently considering taking an instructional course about teaching information literacy. And while this course is geared toward instruction in college and research libraries and school libraries, public libraries often offer instructional workshops or help students learn how to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.
I honestly never expected to enjoy the technical aspects of libraries, such as cataloging, creating and maintaining websites, or instruction, but I believe that these skills can be particularly beneficial in rural public libraries, where there are very few full-time staff members, each of whom must wear many different hats and complete a wide range of “other duties as assigned” that do not directly fall under their immediate job title. While I have been disappointed in the course offerings at IU, it has allowed me to try new things and has opened my mind to think about how I can tailor courses that are not obviously relevant in order to fit my needs and interests. I think I might still want to work with children and teens, but this process has given me new insights to other possible areas that I did not previously know I was interested in. It can be uncomfortable and intimidating to explore a topic, skill, or class that you know absolutely nothing about, but it can also be rewarding and even surprising if you are able to think about it in terms of exploring new possibilities.