What I wish they taught me in GLAM school

Disclaimer: I’m still in GLAM school and haven’t had the opportunity to apply many of the things I’ve learned so far, so have not really experienced too much of that “why didn’t I learn this in GLAM school?!” feeling.

 “Librarians need to know many things to be able to do their roles effectively”

I couldn’t agree more with Danielle when she said this! Librarians need to know many things, but they can’t know everything. I’m aware that there’s a very real danger of coveting the fabled unicorn librarian when we have this discussion about what I wish they taught me in GLAM school.

Progressing through my course, I’ve often felt like I’m only just scratching the surface of some of the many, many areas and issues in the industry. When I took part in a student panel during the ALIA course review process last year, I felt many students had a lot to say on things that could be included/excluded in the course. However I feel like the course has done an excellent job of providing a basic overview of the industry and profession. It is after all a Bachelor of Information Studies, a fairly generic title. There is a wide variety of electives to choose from and three different streams (Librarianship, Records and Archive Management or Information and Knowledge Management), to specialise in if you know where you want to go in the industry. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I began (and still don’t!) so perhaps that’s why I’ve been happy with the generic overview.

In reality there is no way to pack all the different aspects of GLAM into the one degree. An idea put forward by Wayne Bivens-Tatum is that

library school is about exploring and eliminating possibilities, not advanced training in one particular area”

and for the most part I have found this to be true of my educational experience so far. More specialist knowledge requires practical experience, continuing professional development and post-grad qualifications… or a specialised degree from the outset if you know that’s what you want!

In her post, Danielle says that many of the things she studied were not relevant to her post-GLAM school roles (Justin Brasher probably sums up some of the more relevant and humorous things that one may encounter as a GLAM worker) and I think I will find the same to be true when I finish studying and embark on my professional employment journey. However I will always find the background learning integral to understanding the profession and professional issues. When I do land a professional role, I understand that although I will possess a GLAM degree I will still face a steep learning curve in my chosen area of the GLAM industry. Not just because applying theory to practice is not always straightforward, but also because the very nature of our profession sometimes requires people to be generalists, but it often calls for specialists too. To be either one of these requires a commitment to ongoing learning after acquiring that initial GLAM qualification. I think it is essential that professionals assess their own strengths and weaknesses as applicable to their current or desired role and address any knowledge or skills gaps identified.

One thing that has become apparent to me throughout my studies is that many of the skills and qualities often recommended to thrive in the GLAM professions are not GLAM specific skills. Over and over I have heard that yes it’s good to have an understanding of traditional library skills like MARC, conducting reference interviews, advanced searching techniques etc; however it is a passion for your work and the industry, commitment to the values of the profession and an inquisitive mind willing to continually learn that appear to be sought after. These are not necessarily things you can teach in GLAM school*. For myself, it is the engagement I have with GLAM professionals online and through attending local events which boosts and sustains these latter qualities, not necessarily going through the formal academic education exercise.

If there was one thing I wish I could have done more of in GLAM school, it is practical experience. The course has a requirement for a three week placement, however I wish there was a way to incorporate smaller and more frequent practicums into the qualification. I know this would have made studying much harder seeing how I am a DE student with two smallish children, however I began the course with no experience in the industry and having some practical exposure early on would have been an excellent way to introduce myself to the industry. I know this is not true for everyone, given that throughout the course I have encountered so many people who already have some or quite a lot of industry experience. Having said that, the required four day study visit to various institutions in Melbourne was excellent and I have found that over the past few years (this is my sixth year of study) the assessments have been becoming much more practical, there are still essays to be written, but the majority of assessments in the subjects I have taken are now presentations, reports, podcasts, building WYSIWYG websites/blogs etc. I feel like these are useful skills that I will take with me into the workforce.

So overall, I’ve been mostly satisfied with the GLAM school education, although I really haven’t put it into practice yet so this is something I should think about again in a few years’ time!


*Although after first drafting this post, I read Engaging with our future: the role of educators, practitioners, professional associations and employing organisations in the co-creation of information professionals by Sue Reynolds, Mary Carroll and Bernadette Welch which made me backpedal on those words a bit. It advocates for passion-based learning and developing graduates who are already engaged with the profession while studying. Crucially it addresses the issue that often arises in the discourse around new grads entering the workforce – reality crushing the passion out of them – and argues for the meaningful collaboration between educators, employers and professional associations/groups to transition new graduates to the workforce in a way that sustains and builds their passion.


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