7 Books For A New Kind Of Library School

7 Books For A New Kind Of Library School

Re-thinking relevance.


Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the relevance of library school. It seems to me as if we expect New Zealand library school graduates to know quite a lot about the intricacies of the profession, but there is only so much that can be crammed into a qualification framework that as a result continually lags behind what industry leaders expect from their employees.

What if library school wasn’t about the intricacies of the profession but was explicitly about enabling students to learn, solve problems and lead within the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries and Museum) sector? Getting a handle on the intricacies of the profession would be an outcome of the curriculum rather than the focus. What would a library school curriculum like that look like? Where would you start?

I imagine that each of us would have a different view of what a library school like that would look like and that we would also start from different places. I don’t think a consensus is necessary because sharing and discussing our different perspectives help us negotiate our way through the curriculum of learning, problem solving and leading.

If library school was explicitly about enabling students to learn, solve problems and lead within the GLAM sector, I would start with 7 books that I think would fuse together to form the backbone of library education.

I have chosen a deliberate mix of scholarly, practical, reflective and action-based resources. There were many more I could have included but I wanted to limit the jumping-off point to books that are likely to be read (if only in part), shared, discussed and applied within libraries.



atlasThe Atlas of New Librarianship by R. David Lankes suggests that new librarians approach their work as facilitators of conversation; they seek to enrich, capture, store, and disseminate the conversations of their communities. While this tome may not be read in its entirety, the introduction clearly outlines a different way of thinking about the profession; that is librarianship unmoored from cataloguing, books, buildings, and committees.


5 star service one star budget by Michael Heppell5 Star Service, One Star Budget: How to Create Magic Moments for Your Customers That Get You Noticed, Remembered, and Referred by Michael Heppell reminds us that delivering five star service is a way of doing things – a mindset – that costs very little or nothing at all. Full of brilliant service ideas, actions and initiatives that are simple, powerful and easy to implement by individuals, teams or the library as a whole.


ArtofBelongingThe Art of Belonging by Hugh Mackay is a semi-fictional group of essays about the social aspects of modern communities. Libraries are not good at surviving in isolation. We rely on communities (in all their various forms) to support and sustain us, and if those communities are to survive and prosper, we must engage with them and nurture them.


NewCultureA New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown attempts to remodel education based on play, innovation and the cultivation of imagination. Whether you agree with the premise or not, it will definitely make you consider how we can foster interest-based learning in library situations.


This is service design thinking by Marc StickdornThis is Service Design Thinking: Basics-Tools-Cases by Mark Stickdorn offers a comprehensive list of tools and methods for designing services and illustrates service design thinking through five core principles: user-centred, co-creative, sequencing, evidencing and holistic. From big picture thinking to nitty-gritty details, purposefully designing library services becomes just that little bit easier.


InfluenceIn Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini combines scientific scholarship with an engaging style to explain  the principles of persuasion that form the psychological foundations of marketing and communication in general. A must-read for any library staff member attempting to change minds.


backtoschoolDon’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything by Kio Stark highlights the variety of human learning experiences through 23 inspiring stories from self-taught learners. This is followed by concrete tips and techniques for getting started as an independent learner. A good primer for solving problems that you think are important in libraries.

What books would you include in this list?

Share your suggestions in the comments below or via the Finding Heroes Facebook page.




  1. ajtarbotton says:

    Love your list of books – one I also love (not specifically library-related, but a great book all the same!) is Austin Kleone’s Steal Like an Artist. It’s a great book on creativity, thinking outside the box, but also taking charge of your creative process. Lots of fun to read and to be inspired by!

    1. ajtarbotton says:

      Whoops – meant Austin Kleon 🙂

    2. Sally says:

      Austin Kleon is a fav of mine too 🙂

  2. libsandy says:

    Well said. I used The Atlas by D R Lankes extensively as I studied, but it was not part of our reading list. One that was on our list which I repeatedly turn to is Williams & Sawyer’s Using Information Technology.
    As an aside, over and above books, I find Twitter and blogs to be an amazing PD/teaching tool; learning from people who are out there recording their experiences.
    Thanks for the list. Going to seek them out.

    1. Sally says:

      Ooh, thanks for the the new book suggestion! Twitter is my go-to professional development tool but some may find it a bit erratic in its value.

  3. Ricardus says:

    As an “old grad” I can assure you that the library course I took was very poor at equipping us for library work. It was a university course. One of my [many] long-time grudges is with the relevant library authority that continued to accredit this course, when it should have been closed down on the basis of academic incompetence. We had lecturers who gave out marks without marking our work, lecturers who forgot to attend lectures, senior academics who gave the same lecture week-after-week, lecturers who kept catalogue cards with students’ names and creepy comments on them … they were completely out of touch with the industry, too. We also had a few excellent teachers.
    In those days, though, the workplace was very accommodating, and took people with potential, and trained them thoroughly, in large numbers.
    As for a suggestion for a reading list, it would be hard to top your suggestions, but I think something about managerialism would help. If you didn’t work in pre-managerialist times, it is hard to measure the destructive impact it has had on the humanity and personality of libraries. This is not to criticise many library managers (I’ve had a few exceptional ones in my time), but the philosophy of managerialism that has fostered a huge divide in bigger organisations between practitioners and managers.

    1. Sally says:

      Thanks for your comments Ricardus. I like the idea of including something along the lines of managerialism, and I also wonder whether it would be useful to consider a resource that addresses the move towards a more networked way of working (rather than silo/hiearchical way).

      1. Ricardus says:

        I believe hierarchies are an extremely efficient mechanism for achieving outcomes, if they are well-organised and if they function well. Since they involve people, they are bound to have problems, and my feeling is that people are less likely to accept hierarchies than they once were. In bigger public service organisations (such as big libraries), the hierarchical chain has been gutted by staff reductions, and cannot function properly. Ironically, the gutting of staff was meant to flatten the hierarchies — or in the case of NSW state public sector, to provide middle managers to oversee a drone class of worker, that can be moved from place to place as required.
        The disadvantage in hierarchies is that they are cumbersome, and a corporate change of function is not easily absorbed by a military-style chain of command.
        Without delving too much into gender issues, women seem to make decisions in groups via a series of “testing-out” mechanisms, to see how everybody feels, then make a consensual decision. Many male leaders are happier to make unilateral decisions without regard for others’ feelings — although in libraries this may be less obvious.
        So, in short, yes, consideration of other methods such as networked methods may be useful!
        The reality is, though, that most of us have no impact on managerial style at all, although we can modify it in our own workspace. The style of management has been decided by an arcane mix of academic trends, mixed with politically-motivated compromises, an inherited cultural mindset, an underground group of workers who do whatever they want, and a stress-driven self-preservation on the part of managers who know they will be thrown out in the next restructure.

      2. Sally says:

        Perhaps Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Patterson could go some way to providing tools to help in these situations.

  4. Anita says:

    Hi Sally, My recommendation for reading would be: The Third Teacher ; 79 ways to use design to transform Teaching & Learning. A fantastic book and while reading it you realise how important design is for transforming Libraries not only into modern Learning environments but even more how the design we choose for those spaces influences how ‘we’ customers and service providers’ experience our surroundings. Very uplifting!
    To bridge the gap between Library School and work force our Library provides work experience places to Open Polytechnic students who are studying towards their degree or diploma. We have had 6 participants in 3 years and 3 have found a permanent position in a School or University Library. 1 participant discovered that it was not the right job for her and 1 discovered that a College Library was not her thing and is looking at working in a Primary School Library. We enjoy training and working with them and discover together their strengths and weaknesses. Because of the trainees constantly asking us why do we what we do and why a particular way, it makes us a think about our own workflow and thinking patterns and we have changed processes and made them more streamlined because of the fresh input. A great way to connect the dots…

    1. Sally says:

      Thanks for the book suggestion Anita. I’ve placed a hold on it 🙂

      Work experience for students is a great way to connect the dots.

  5. Lynette says:

    While I don’t have a recommendation for your list (which is a GREAT starter list, btw!), I will say that as a current MLIS student this post is spot on! Thankfully, my working experience in libraries has helped me while in school. But, I often wonder about my classmates who don’t have any library experience and are not currently working in a library. While it’s nice to know the “intricacies” and the history of the profession, none of that matters as much in daily library life. Being able to solve, learn, and lead? Absolutely! With libraries continually adapting and evolving, I think skills such as solving and leading are absolute necessities. A librarian should ALWAYS want to learn in order to stay fresh and current. If we want diverse and creative future library leaders, we have to find ways to develop those skills. Library school is a great place to start!

    1. Sally says:

      Thanks for your comments Lynette. I began library school without any experience in a library and found so much of what I was being taught was too theoretical to be of value, when I did begin working in a library a few months later. Of course, this was last century when the internet was hardly a thing, so much has changed since then!

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