Brash Jobs: What Library School DOESN’T Teach You

Hello Everyone!

This week I thought I’d put up something both serious and funny for my fellow library peeps. Anyone who has gone to library school can agree that library school teaches you only a few select skills you need. Dewey decimal, research methods and other skills are taught, but the majority of real skills you need aren’t taught in library school. To be honest, some of them can’t be taught. Any librarian can tell that when you enter the library field, there will be on-the-job training – and I don’t mean like learning what circulation software you’re running.

As you learn these skills and apply them, you’ll eventually get the most famous library question a co-worker or occasional patron can ask:

“Did you learn that in library school?”

If you work in a smaller library that doesn’t have as many MLS/MLIS people on staff, you’re more likely to hear this phrase than in a larger system; I guarantee you’ve either heard it or will hear it some day. What don’t they teach in library school, you ask?

Unclogging toilets.

Checking bathrooms at closing time is scary.

Checking bathrooms at closing time is scary.

I still remember the first time I unclogged a library bathroom toilet, particularly the moment I walked out – plunger still in hand – and was asked by a co-worker “Did they teach you how to do that in library school?”

Yes, that is EXACTLY what they teach us. Got the degree and everything.

Changing light bulbs.

Okay, it's not usually this bad.

Okay, it’s not usually this bad.

Generally, large fluorescent tubes and really high stuff gets changed by maintenance/buildings and grounds/etc, but there are times when there’s one screwy bulb that needs fixing sooner rather than later. Maybe the bulb above the door or the little bulb in the display case, you never know. I’ve had co-workers that make it seem like changing a light bulb is a Mission: Impossible task. (do-do-dooo…)

Device and Computer Support.



Maybe you had a class that covered E-books, or some kind of technology class, but those will not prepare you for computer and device trials that await you. Nothing short of a previous IT job can help you with the trouble that comes with learning a new circulation system or dealing with the public access computers (PACs) that patrons use. Either web pages don’t load, the internet is down (or just really slow), the printer is not working properly, the copier is just a 3-foot tall paperweight…problems happen, and sometimes IT isn’t there to resolve the problem for who knows how long.

…Just when you thought it was all fixed, a patron will come in with a technical problem and we’re back to square one.

Social Marketing.

And this is just a drop in the bucket of stuff out there.

And this is just a drop in the bucket of stuff out there.

Oh, your library is on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Flickr, Photobucket, Blogspot, WordPress AND Myspace? Who manages all that stuff?

Depending on whose spot you’ve just filled, what department you’re in, etc…it could be


If you’ve never had a Googly-Face-Twitter-Insta-Tumblr, you’re about to have one. In a good library system, they’ll get you access to workshops and webinars on social media and platform-specific classes that can help you be the most efficient machine possible. And in this case, TECHNOLOGY IS YOUR FRIEND. At my last library, I had a Facebook Page Manager app on my phone (and it’s free!) that would let me post directly to the library’s page. It allowed me to post photos and videos from my phone straight to the page – I could have Story Time’s pictures and videos up and loaded before Story Time was even over.

Maybe you’re put in an even weirder position like me. I had a library that wanted me to get their Facebook page up and running…except it was owned by somebody else. “They created it without our permission…can we get it from them?” Oh, and I wasn’t allowed to ask that person to just give me control, because long-standing politics. Long story short, I contacted Facebook, told them that a page had been created by non-library personnel, and requested control to be (quietly) transferred to me.

And this all before I could even get the page going.

The Annoyed Librarian has written on this topic before:

I noticed a notice that the ACRL NMDG wants speakers willing to travel to ALA Midwinter and talk about “things they wish they had learned in library school.”

They seem very excited about it. “Who knew that you’d become a web designer, marketing director, and reference librarian all in one?!” Actually, the answer to that question is easy, since no one really is all those things. The ability to make webpages doesn’t make you a “web designer,” just as putting up flyers or posting to the library Facebook page doesn’t make you a “marketing director.”

I’d partially agree with her, but I counter: If you’re the only person in your library who does marketing and runs all the social media outlets, then you ARE the marketing director. If you’re the only person updating the Facebook page, printing flyers and distributing them, then you ARE the marketing director. If you are the person solely charged with editing and updating your library web pages, then you ARE the web designer. As somebody once said, “if sh*t doesn’t get done when you’re not there, you’re the director of said sh*t.” Sorry Annoyed, but that’s what they are – regardless of what their title actually states. You don’t see “Lightbulb Changer” or “Toilet Unclogger” on my business card, either.

Dealing with Odd, Odd People

Every place needs a regular.

Every place needs a regular.

If you’ve worked in or frequented a library, you know that a large quantity of our patrons are homeless, mentally challenged or both. As servants of the public, it’s our duty to help these people – but sometimes, you’ll come across the truly peculiar people. You know, the guy with the mountain man beard who covers his monitor in foil so “the damn gubment and the aliens can’t steal my emails and that wee-fee (wifi) stuff”.

Those kind of guys are pretty tame next to the more disturbing ones who like to stuff poop into the book drop or throw bricks through the window. Bleh.

Office Politics

The politics, not so much the sex/violence.

The politics, not everybody dying and stuff.

Most jobs have inner-office politics, and libraries are no different. Power struggles, passive-aggressive behavior, eating somebody else’s lunch, stealing somebody’s pen or coffee mug, etc – the wrong mix of people in the wrong environment can be a breeding ground of psychological warfare. Politics are what separate an honest mistake from “I know that b*tch is just trying to mess with me!”

For the most part, I’ve been lucky enough to work in places that had a good group of people.


That’s all for this week’s post! Do YOU have strange, crazy library stories or duties that weren’t in your job description? Let me know and I can feature them in the next installment of What they don’t teach you in Library School! Stories? Horrible bosses? Crazy patrons? I want to hear them! Either send them to me or comment below!

Until next time,

Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Brash Jobs: What Library School DOESN’T Teach You

  1. Pingback: What I wish they taught me in GLAM school | Great Library Expectations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s