Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Can graduates consult fresh out of library school? A few thoughts

For June, I have been putting together my thoughts and research on consulting and consultants in domains outside of library and information science (LIS). I have also been informally talking with independent information professionals and formulating ideas about my dissertation project, including possible conclusions and recommendations that I might want to contribute to the field. In this blog post, I want to share some of my thoughts (that I may not necessarily include in my final project). These thoughts are basically centered around providing answers to the question:
Can graduates consult fresh out of library school?

In a recent conversation with a library student about my research, I mentioned that I am studying  library consulting as a phenomenon. The conversation lead to her asking me several questions about library consultants and library consulting. One such question was whether or not library consultants need to have experience working in the field before doing consulting. Currently, it is the dominant paradigm that library consultants cannot be students "fresh out of library school". This view is not only held by MLIS students, but also practitioners and professionals. It is also embedded in the literature that basically defines a consultant as an "outside expert" that provides problem solving advice. Yet, my view is why does it have to be seen this way?

When I look at MBA graduates, they leave business schools and immediately join management consulting firms, with little or no experience working in actual businesses. When I consider this, my argument is that how we teach MLIS students could also prepare them for consulting without actually working in libraries. In my radical proposal, a consultant does not necessarily need work experience, but could tentatively have two other criteria:
  1. an outsider perspective and
  2. a specialty

When I look at MBA education and even management consulting literature, students are prepared for consulting. They learn methods and processes to do consulting through books such as

Another thing about MBA education (I know these things partially because my wife did an MBA), is that they work a lot with real life cases or case studies. So while MBA students do not have work experience, they use these cases and case studies to practice their consulting methods and principles. Sometimes, MBA courses actually insist that students actually engage real companies and organizations and prepare their own cases and proposals for solving the problems in those cases. Considering this, I wonder if library schools could borrow some of these practices in library education in order to prepare library school graduates for consulting.

Then when I look at law education, I see law students as studying mainly cases. Is it possible that library school graduates could substitute work experience by being exposed to studies of various "library cases"?

I also look at the fact that sometimes consultants are engaged in organizations for their specialty. Sometimes, this involves their knowledge of a particular software, collection, or of a particular subset of users (say for instance LGBT users, or African-Americans, or Muslims, etc.) or because of their specialty in a particular language. In other words, there are cases in which work experience is unnecessary to consulting, particularly in cases where MLIS graduates already come with a bachelors degree in a previous area of studies. In other cases, MLIS graduates may have a niche hobby that enables them to be an expert or specialist in a particular area, such as Comic books, Graphic Novels, Star Trek or some game specialty.

Finally, I look at my own experience as a MLIS student, where I actually performed information brokerage, information consulting and library consulting before graduating from library school without knowing that what I was doing had formal names and procedures. In some of those instances, the outcomes were not as successful as I would have wanted them to be. However, now that I have researched consulting and have come across principles, process models and methods for consulting, I felt that I could have been more effective in my library and information brokerage and consulting roles early on in my career. Had I been taught how to be an effective consultant in library school, I feel that I would have gotten better results in all those early freelance projects that I did as a student before graduating from library school.


It is therefore my opinion that while the dominant perspective in my discipline is that library school graduates cannot enter into consulting directly after exiting library school, that this is not a function of them lacking work experience, but a function of the library curriculum not preparing them for such roles. My main support for this argument is that MBA graduates consult without work experience, and this is because they are provided with adequate curriculum and informational support. Secondly, I have argued that consultants are not only important because of their work experience, but sometimes because of their knowledge derived from their hobbies or personal experiences. Library students doing their Masters, with a degree in another subject, are highly likely to possess some niche area or subject that they are quite conversant if not an expert on. Finally, I feel that my own personal experience could have been enriched by a course that would prepare me for effective consulting. (Coincidentally, I am aware of recent grads that are also doing consulting and am sure that they too would benefit from such a course). So I say, let's think more about this.


Kurian, G. T. (2013). Consultant. The AMA dictionary of business and management. New York: Amacom.

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