Courses I Wish They’d Offered in Library School

I’ve been a librarian now for about three and a half years. I learned a lot while at SLIS at UW-Madison, and there were some awesome professors there. A couple of the most valuable classes I took were Information Architecture and a practicum in Information Literacy where I learned both theory and did hands on teaching and creation of digital instructional materials. But there’s also been a lot that I have had to figure out on my own. Looking back, I wish that there were a few more skills that I could have acquired in library schools. If they had offered these courses, I definitely would have taken them and likely would have been even better prepared for a career in today’s libraries:

Marketing/Demonstrating Value – Libraries are competing with myriad other places and services for the attention of users. How do we promote using the library to our patrons? Libraries offer a lot of great services and resources for free, but how do we let users know about them in a way that doesn’t get drowned out? It is necessary for us to differentiate ourselves from others and show our unique value in order to compete in this information rich world. In addition to promoting ourselves we also need to demonstrate what value we bring to our communities and institutions. The ACRL Value of Academic Libraries Report could be a great text for this class as well as Made to Stick and probably something by Seth Godin.

Graphic Design for Libraries – I saw this idea for a class from a great post about User Experience in LIS education by Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephens, and I think it is spot on. I find myself regularly needing to create signage for the library or promotional materials either for print or the web, and I pretty much have to stumble through it. It would be useful in a lot of situations to be be able to make some sign or image that is beautiful or inspiring instead of a Word document with some clip art.

photo by Gwen River City Images on Flickr

Entrepreneurship/Innovation – This is a key issue for libraries to be talking about, and specific reading and coursework on this topic would have been immensely helpful to me. We are constantly talking about changing and adapting in libraries awhile at the same time complaining about how slowly it happens. Courses in LIS education about this topic would be useful in developing grads with an entrepreneurial spirit and who would be key in revitalizing and revolutionizing libraries. Hopefully this class would teach mindsets like the willingness to take risk and fail as well as being tolerant of uncertainty. In addition, it would also teach processes for innovation and turning new ideas into reality. Steven Bell talks and writes about these processes in terms of design thinking. I also saw a great paper presentation about innovation processes at ACRL in March by David Dahl. Being able to thoughtfully and successfully create change is one of the most necessary skills for librarians today.

These are the classes I wished I could have taken (and hope that some places offer or start offering). What classes do you wish that you would have seen in library school? What classes would have been really beneficial for the work you are doing now?

Andy Burkhardt


  1. I agree with all 3 of these. As a library, my coworkers and I pride ourselves on innovation, but I’m not sure we could pin down how we go about it. We’re working on the communicating value piece. It’s so tough to do in this type of environment.

    Thankfully, two of us on staff have newspaper/design backgrounds. We also have a great CGIM department to tap into, an alum of which has done some freelance design work for my displays and book club.

    As for a class I’d like to see, how about one in event planning? I find myself planning and executing book club events, student parties, and faculty celebrations. It could cover logistics, marketing, and running events.

  2. I went to the UW as well (at the same time) and I completely agree on marketing and graphic design. I also took every ‘techie’ course offered and still have had to spend far too much time getting myself caught up on basic web design, programming, & emerging technologies. But I know things are changing for the better. We have had several of our student workers go on to UI’s LEEP program and their curriculum looks fantastic. It makes me want to go back… http://www.lis.illinois.edu/academics/courses/catalog

  3. I am in my first semester of library science at NCCU and agree with your suggestions, especially the class on marketing and establishing value. I would also add a course or webinar that deals with presentations because a lot of what we do as librarians involves presenting information or resources even to our small audiences of one or two patrons. We have to be able to make connections while presenting the information.

    I agree with Becky’s idea about event planning as well.

    This is why internships and practicums are such a valuable part of our library science education.

  4. I have said all along that librarians have NO IDEA how to market themselves and that there should be an entire degree in this. We have tech management or academic. Why not library marketing?

    I feel very fortunate to have graphic design experience as that was my undergraduate degree. But even I, having a similar background, know there’s more that can be done to help promote libraries and not just visually.

  5. I love some of these suggestions. Becky your suggestion about event planning would have been a really useful class for me, I had to muddle through planning events and I think to start out they took me much longer than necessary.

    Carla, I also totally agree with your suggestion about presentations. In library school I knew this was something that I struggled with so I ended up joining Toastmasters which was scary, but really helpful. And your mention of practicums was really helpful to me as well. My Info Lit practicum gave us hands on opportunities to present and teach in actual classes.

  6. Major ditto on the graphic design classes. Even just knowing some basics would be immensely helpful to make promotional materials that are more eye-catching and interesting.

    I also really like Becky’s suggestion for event-planning. I feel like this kind of ties into cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit as you mentioned in your post. Both of these aspects of our jobs deal with not only having having ideas and initiative, but also knowing where and how to get started. That, to me, has been one of the more intimidating and challenging things that I think about in terms of my job so far.

  7. Given the limitations on time in any course, can anyone suggest books that might cover some or all of these very valuable areas? I trained more years ago than I care to think about, and would love to see useful publications to fill in gaps.

  8. Lindsey, actually getting started with ideas or initiatives is hard. I would say that it starts with selecting the idea that you think will have a lot of impact and then planning for it. Once you have a coherent plan in place, you start carrying out the steps of that plan, adapting along the way. After you have completed the idea or event or whatever, you need to evaluate how it went. Then you repeat the process for other ideas. So the process would be: ideate, select, plan, execute, evaluate, repeat. I’m sure it’s not quite that simple and I’m confident there are good books on how that process works. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for stuff on that topic.

  9. Like other commenters, I agree with these. I hadn’t thought about a graphic design course until you mentioned it, but presenting information in a digestible, accessible, and entertaining way really is an important aspect of librarianship.
    I’d add a course or courses on research methodologies to this list.

  10. I agree with all of these as well. As a librarian who has been around a while longer, attending SLIS in the mid-90’s, we didn’t have much for ‘techie’ classes–the internet was a black screen! I would have also liked to see a class on advocacy (with gov’t and customers) as well.

  11. I wonder if for the marketing/design piece if you couldn’t ask the art or computer graphics dept to run a workshop. Or see if a class is in need of a “client” for a project. We’ve acted as 2 Communications classes “clients” for new collections/services. We may not always use their final products, but the client presentations they gave were quite informative for other ideas.

  12. Infopeople is planning an online course on graphic design for library staff in June 2012 (http://infopeople.org/training/planned), and they offer various courses and webinars on different aspects of marketing for libraries. Courses are open to all for a small fee, and webinars are free. A great resource!

    There will always be new things to learn through professional development seminars, conferences, books, and other venues. That’s part of what makes this an exciting profession.

  13. Jake, I really like the idea of a research methodologies class. I worked with one for one of our graduate programs and I learned a lot. These are skills that librarians need to have.

    Becky, I do have a graphic design student that is amazing and has made some great posters (I’m sad she’s studying abroad this semester). Tapping into student talent is really helpful. I also love your idea of having a marketing/design workshop. I bet departments from all over campus would want to go to something like that!

  14. At my library school, (mumble) years ago, we were encouraged to take something like 6-10 credits of approved classes from other colleges within the university – like business or education. My most valuable class was “Classroom Media Production”. Library school advisors should definitely take the current climate into consideration when helping their students acquire practical and marketable skills.

  15. I agree with all of these suggestions for classes. I am a first semester library student, and just took a management course and a foundations in library science course with Dr. Ismael Abdullahi. He is adamant about the need for librarians to market and demonstrate value as well as be innovative and entreprenureal. I find it interesting that these are two of the courses you suggest, and this is something we are talking about every week. Discussing these issues broadly is great, but I do a whole course on each of these issues would be beneficial for all library concentrations.

    Personally, now that I am a library student and people ask what I do many times someone will shoot down my career choice instantly telling me books are dead and no one goes to the library. While I see the importance of libraries and will alway cherish them I have realized that many people do not value their libraries and it is our responsibility as a profession to be advocates.

    The suggestion for research methodoligies courses is great. I took this course doing a Masters in English, but I think it would be great for an MLS student. It was extremely helpful in researching humanities and I have used skills from that in my reference courses now.

  16. Marketing, yes. And event planning would also have been awesome. As someone who works specifically with children and teens I would have loved to have taken a couple of education classes, especially to learn about classroom management. There’s nothing like taking 1 programming class and 2 literature classes and then being thrown into the world of storytimes, afterschool programs, and teen programs…

  17. Katie, classroom management is still something in which I wish that I had more training. We were just talking about that the other day at our teaching librarians meeting. I took a class on instruction, but it was more about theory, pedagogy and presenting. The intangibles of classroom management are key. I’ve seen some tips, but I wonder if they only come from experience and practice.

  18. I just finished my first semester at GSLIS at U of I, and they are starting to add marketing classes as well as talk about demonstrating value in classes across the board.

    That being said, I once heard our advisor recommend to a student that wanted to learn to use photoshop that she should take a community college course in graphic design, since their courses would be much faster, much less expensive, and more applicable to our needs than a masters level graphic design course.

  19. Hello Andy,

    I’m discovering your entry here about six months after its posting and thank you for your links; I thought they were interesting and valuable. Since your entry is asking about library graphic design and promoting library events, I’d like to invite and welcome you and your colleagues with a link to my blog that is dedicated entirely to the design and development of promotional materials for library events and services. I hope you will find it helpful for generating ideas and in the development of your own promotional materials.


    At my blog I give examples of my work as the sole graphic designer for the Alachua County Library District in Gainesville, Florida. I show samples of my work, add some commentary about the project requirements and development of the pieces, mention occasional obstacles encountered, and share production tips, ideas, and where to find helpful resources.

    I’m happy to receive comments and to strike up a dialog with librarian staff who might be looking for inspiration, information, and advice.

    Thanks for your posting and potential interest to join me over at Library Graphic Design.

    Scot Sterling

  20. Scot, I really like your site and I actually just tweeted it as a great resource. Some of the signs and other materials you created and talk about are really visually pleasing and are exactly what the kinds of skills I was thinking about when I wrote this post. Thanks for the link to your website.

Leave a Reply