Preparing to learn

Whatever the instructional quality of your library-school experience—as a library-school instructor I am perennially besieged by librarians telling me all the myriad ways I’m doing it wrong—it provided you with several key learning aids: structure, scaffolding, and permission to learn.

Permission to learn? Who needs permission to learn? Don’t we all automatically have that? Well, no. If you can’t be seen on the job with your nose in a book or your attention on a webinar, your workplace has not given you permission to learn. If you fear harsh punishment from your supervisory chain for the least mistake, your workplace has not given you permission to learn. If you automatically freeze up in front of anything you’ve never done before, or if you cringe at doing something you’re not yet expert at, you haven’t given yourself permission to learn.

Scaffolding for learning includes the obvious: courseware (horrible though that is), library access to many more books and journals than anyone could possibly buy, and a readymade community of fellow learners. It includes instructors, of course, but just as important if not more so are advisors: people who have a broad sense of the field, know roughly where you are in it, and can nudge you toward the best opportunities accordingly. All this disappears when you graduate; you will have to rebuild what parts of the scaffold you need.

Library degree programs are rather less structured than they once were; I teach in a program with three required courses, though when I graduated from it, there were six. Even so, the shape of the curriculum, including prerequisites for advanced coursework as well as bare requirements, at least hints at what areas of study are available and how best to progress through them. Nothing like this exists in the continuing-education world; you have to map the landscape and build a path for yourself, and if you want advice, you’ll have to find someone you trust to offer it. Individual courses are structured as well, with readings and assignments laid out by the week, and due dates set from day one. If you need courselike structures to learn best, you can find them in the continuing-education universe, but many of the best learning opportunities do not come in neatly-packaged course form. You will have to structure your own learning… which is a skill in and of itself.

You still need many forms of structure, scaffolding, and permission. This chapter will help you figure out how to put them together.