John Berry & Sarah Dribin on Experience 4

With the help of Dominican GSLIS student Sarah Dribin, I blogged John Berry’s talk at Dom this spring. He, in turn, picked up on the post for an LJ column on experience:

I think it was Dribin who asked me after the talk what I thought about “experience” as a qualification for a library job. My response to the question “resonated” with her. “Experience is possibly the most overrated asset that an individual can possess,” I had said.

My own students complain bitterly when they find “experience” that they haven’t yet been able to gain listed as a preferred attribute of candidates for entry-level library positions. My comment results from decades watching those in possession of that experience. Some are the great librarians of my era; others, however, have used experience to impede library progress in a host of situations.

I know this must ring discordantly, coming from someone with nearly 50 years of the stuff. But experience isn’t just overrated. It is frequently, too often, a quick and easy way to block change. While change isn’t always positive, it is wrong to use experience to prevent experimentation to see if a change might improve library service—and more common than it should be. Experience has stopped librarian reassignment, clogged upward mobility for the young, stifled new ideas and innovations, and stalled new services and approaches. “We tried that, and it didn’t work,” has put an end to more good ideas than all the budget cuts in library history.

I made the last sentence bold because it’s oh so true. Over lunch today with a dear colleague, we bemoaned the fact that so many innovations and people get stifled while the same old same old continues up above. I applaud the libraries that take chances on new hires, “not so experienced” but oh so eager employees and new ways of thinking.

4 thoughts on “John Berry & Sarah Dribin on Experience

  • Brian Kenney

    When John Berry is right (which is, ok, a lot of the time) he really gets it right. Thanks for posting this Michael, that highlighted quotation is so true! I think the emphasis on experience in so many library job ads is just code for “please don’t make us think.”

  • Melissa Dessent

    I’m a newer student at Dominican and am really worried about the experience factor for when I graduate. I have over 20 years worth of work experience in many different types of settings and jobs, but can’t get even a part-time page job at a library. I have no idea what I’m going to do when I graduate if I can’t get a job in my new field.

  • pollyalida

    I’ve been lucky, I haven’t heard the “we tried it, it didn’t work” too many times. And I hope I’m not guilty of having said it myself, though I probably have. Here’s what I promise to say the next time I have the opportunity: “When we tried it before, it wasn’t a great success. Here’s why we think it didn’t work. What’s your take? How can we do better? Let’s try again.”

    As for the “experience required” job descriptions, my empathy for job seekers. The job announcements said the same thing 30 years ago when I was a new grad with zilcho experience. I used the old trick of translating every volunteer, part time and summer job into skills that could be used in a library, got points from some places just for creativity. At the very least, it got me in the door. I think the other “e” words – energy and enthusiasm – are more important.

  • Richard Anderson

    After getting my MLIS from Dominican University in 04 at the age of 25 I immediately joined the Peace Corps where I got the necessary experience for my current job as a school librarian in an international school. It was by chance that my two year stint as a volunteer involved libraries and technology, but it paid off considerably as six months before returning home I was hired via a mobile phone interview from Nanga-Eboko, Cameroon.

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