Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Library Routes Project

Or, how did I get here from there? After reading the Swiss Army Librarian's account of his journey into librarianship, I thought I would also take a stab at it. As he says, the idea is to talk about how you became a librarian. I am thinking about this more than usual today because the library director who exerted great effort to hire me for my current job passed away this morning. She was the latest in a line of library people who were willing to take a chance on employing me even though my experience was, to be quite honest, negligible or not quite fitting the job description. Thank you, EB.

I grew up with books as my constant, familiar companions. This is still how I prefer to live, but for some reason it never occurred to me to actually become a librarian until I had started and discarded various other career paths. After an indifferent high school experience (which included stints as an inventory "specialist" and ice cream scooper), I pursued an English major and History minor. My father was an English professor and my mother was a linguist and writer, and it seemed logical at the time. After three and a half years, applying to graduate school in English Lit seemed logical as well--and heck, my two best friends were doing it, so why shouldn't I? After a year at the University of Wisconsin, choking on Literary Theory and Old English, it became apparent that I probably should have taken some time off after college, that I wasn't really keen on the whole "teaching thing" that being a professor would entail, and that at the age of 23 I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I left the bosom of the Midwest and headed east to Connecticut with a job as a Technical Writer--well, two jobs, actually. One with my mother's company, and one with my aunt's freelance company. Nepotism: working for you. I learned that I really like to edit other people's work, and I earned the highest hourly rate that I am ever likely to earn while I was a corporate drone--for a relatively short time, before budget cuts led to my layoff.

It turns out that unemployment is both financially and emotionally draining. After a grueling period of inactivity, I pulled myself off the couch and started signing up with temp agencies. Thus began my career as an Office Manager. I had a couple of truly horrible temp jobs before finally striking on one that appreciated my many skills enough to actually hire me as a full-time employee (my first job with benefits!). I moved from job to job as a kind of glorified head secretary for a series of men who were deeply passionate about their non-profit organizations. At my last non-library job, I found that I enjoyed talking to parents and organizing the summer reading collection more than I did items in the actual job description such as booking travel and collating materials for the board meeting.

At this point my loving spouse asked me (for about the twentieth time) why the heck I didn't think about going to library school. I decided I might as well listen to her, because working as an Office Manager was really starting to make me feel like my work was without a purpose (even though I always worked for non-profits with missions in which I genuinely believed). We lived in Boston at the time, and had a friend who had applied to Simmons, though she ended up choosing a different school. I applied, was accepted, and started attending classes two nights a week in addition to working 9-5. While not an ideal situation, I was lucky enough to be taking classes that affirmed my feeling that this was the right direction. After moving back to Western Mass, going to school part time, and applying to pretty much any available library job, I had the great fortune to be hired by the Westfield Athenaeum as a part-time reference librarian, despite my previous library experience: processing books as a senior in high school in order to fulfill my community service requirement, and shelving books at the UW-Madison library. Whatever my boss saw in the panel interview, I'm glad that it made her want to hire me. In the meantime, I was also filling out my resume by volunteering--both for an academic library, in a preservation department, and for a local elementary school library. All of this was with the goal of knowing as much as I possibly could about all kinds of libraries before I graduated and got a "real" job, but it turned out that my first job as a reference librarian in a public library was the one I was ideally suited to do. Imagine that! Despite only having a year and a half of part-time reference work under my belt, I somehow convinced my current employers that I was worth hiring, and I have never been more content with the direction of my professional career.

What it comes down to is that Librarian is the first career that I didn't just fall into or passively accept as the best option available. I actively chose to pursue my MLIS, I sought out opportunities to broaden my experience in school, academic, and public libraries, and now I am reaping the rewards. I find that almost every day, I am excited to go to work. I know I am in the right place, and that knowledge is immensely satisfying. Sure, as a city employee I could easily get laid off tomorrow, but unemployment isn't as scary now that I know what I want to be doing for the rest of my working life.

ETA: Link to main page of Library Routes Project.

Follow-up: Meditation on Adult Services.

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