Amy Johnson Crow wrote a blog post about her job and the general perception of librarians in the genealogical public. I've been meaning to write something along the same vein for a while now. Her post makes a good jumping off point and this is a fitting opportunity to add to the discussion.
I share Amy's frustration in the labels people place on each other, including generalizations and perceptions of librarians' purpose and value. Librarian doesn't always equal book shelver. Often they deal with the organization and classification of information and all facets of a user's experience (you = user). In fact, many MLIS (graduate degree) programs are moving away from "library school" and instead switching to "i-school" where the "i" stands for information. There's a lot of information out there and more is being generated every day. Today's MLIS students are studying ways to create it, save it, organize it, share it, access it, preserve it and make the entire process easier for users.
Each library school/i-school graduate takes a different path to meet different goals, but they share many of the same skill sets which are used in various aspects of the workforce. I'm going to tell you what I learned in library school and then you can see how it has helped me in genealogy.
Building a foundation
In my program, there were three introductory library fundamentals classes all students were required to take. This is where I learned how to define a research issue/question and plan the steps to solve it. I also learned how to search for and retrieve good information and omit results outside of my intended search, This comes in very handy in genealogy and helps me use my time efficiently. I also learned to analyze different types of information and determine which would work best for a given information issue.
With the prerequisite classes under my belt, I concentrated on my selected Special Librarianship track. I've always been interested in research in a corporate setting and the rest of my classes reflected that. I had units in patent searching, competitive intelligence, market research and more in order to give me experience searching many different types of subjects. I use these skills today when I research the family history field including searching the genealogy business market, recent records and living people.
Fear no citations
You can run, but you can't hide from source citation manuals. My program used the APA Publication Manual. I wasn't a fan of APA. However, it did give me a greater appreciation for Elizabeth Shown Mills and her contributions to genealogy. I don't fear Evidence Explained at all. I'm just glad it's not APA.
You have files. Lots and lots of files. And books, and images, and journals, and maps. You get the idea. How do you organize those? How to you ensure that they are preserved in current media formats? How do you decide if and when to thin the collection? These are some of the things I learned in my records management class. This knowledge has helped me immensely in one of my current client projects which includes the organization of thousands of family history digital files.
Writing and more writing
I had to write a lot in library school, but it wasn't as awful as it sounds. It's very easy to write when you enjoy the subject matter. In my last assignment for the program, I had to take a position and bring the facts to back it up. I went against the status quo and introduced a new idea in library services. It was a risky position because my paper was being judged by faculty and I needed to "pass" this pass/fail grade to graduate. All the research and writing skills I picked up in the program must have worked because I passed and didn't get any negative feedback.Years later, this experience gave me the skills I later used for my ProGen proof argument and many other instances where I had to make a statement with my writing.
Search way beyond Google
My favorite classes were "Online Searching" and "Advanced Online Searching" taught by one of the foremost leaders in this industry. I love, love, love the search process: deciding what to search for, how to tell the database what you want, and how to get only the results you want without the unnecessary results. In these classes we had free access to some fancy tools and normally expensive subscription databases. Imagine being charged for each result you get in a search. You learn very quickly how to be specific and thorough in your search. I learned how to play in the parts of the Web that Google doesn't cover and to search databases filled with incredible information to which most people don't have access. It was so much fun and I learned such valuable skills in these classes. I don't know of a genealogy education program that teaches the research skills I learned, though they would be valuable to know. I'm very glad I got this experience in library school as it has been essential in my daily genealogy work.
All the little extras
I also had classes in reference, systems analysis, government resources and a seminar pertaining to special libraries. They might not sound exciting, but when you love research like I do, they were very enjoyable. Plus, most of them offered skills or information that translated easily to genealogy resources.
I really did enjoy graduate school because it was all about information. The assignments were flexible, so I had the choice to study different kinds of libraries and analyze many types of collections. This has helped me immensely in working with genealogy collections and determining the best online and print resources for whatever project is on my table.
I didn't go to library school specifically to do genealogy research. I originally trained to be a general business researcher in a corporate or independent setting. Life is funny, however, and I found that I enjoyed genealogy more than the other subjects in my wheelhouse. The rest is history.
If you've read this far, I thank you. Often my info-nerd talk elicits blank stares. However, Amy's blog post and my similar observations compelled me to share how my own library school experience shaped the genealogy work I do today.
I was very impressed when Archives.com brought Amy Johnson Crow on board. The same with brightsolid's acquisition of D. Joshua Taylor. These companies know the value of good MLIS-packing talent when they see it and their user experiences are better for it. Librarians and other information professionals do so much more than shelving books and their value is found in many places including but not limited to traditional libraries.