The other day I read a post on Bobbi’s blog, Librarian By Day, about a potential MLIS student who was looking for advice on whether or not she should go to library school and it got me to thinking about why I became a librarian and whether or not I’d recommend this as a career choice for, say, one of my kids.
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a librarian but I knew whatever I did, it would have something to do with helping people. (I actually wanted to be a journalist. Or a spy. Either way, I thought I’d be covering coups in third world countries or something. People who knew me when, are often surprised that I’m not living amongst the bushmen of the Kalahari. Although there are times when working in a library is like working in a war zone). The truth is that I stumbled upon librarianship by accident.
I was enrolled in graduate school as an American History major and became a Graduate Assistant in the Archives and Special Collections Office at The University of Scranton processing the paperwork of former Congressman Joseph McDade. After I graduated, I didn’t want to leave the library, so I begged stated my case and was offered a part~time position as an Archivist’s Assistant. Eventually, I was asked to cover the reference desk during staff meetings and when the library was short~handed. Over time, I realized that I truly enjoyed working in the library and helping students with their research. My co~workers encouraged me to get my MLIS and offered guidance and support along the way.
One of the first things I learned rather quickly was that studying librarianship is a lot different from being an actual librarian. In school, the focus is on the theories of librarianship with very little focus on the realities of what the job entails. For example, your instructors don’t tell you the following:
- A significant amount of time will be spent trying to figure out why the printers keep jamming
- Advocacy will be your biggest responsibility
- Sometimes you’ll feel like a babysitter
- People will walk~in and say “I’m looking for a blue book with butterflies on the cover” and expect you to know what they’re talking about
- You will have to defend your job and convince the powers that be that libraries are relevant
- There will be days when all you’ll want to do is hide under your desk
- All of the frustration will be worth it when you help a patron find something and they say “Thank you” (it’s amazing what those two little words can do)
As my children get older and start to investigate different career opportunities, I’ve wondered what I’d say if any of them asked about becoming a librarian. They haven’t and, honestly, I haven’t suggested it. As much as I enjoy my job, I don’t know that I could recommend this as a viable profession right now. On the one hand, this is such an exciting time to be in the field ~ technology and social media have changed the profession so much, the opportunities for library growth and development are almost limitless. And, on the other hand, I realize that under the current economic conditions, libraries are low on the priority list which means budget cuts which are making jobs few and far between. So my advice to my kids and to others who are considering a career as a librarian is to volunteer at your local library, follow librarians on Twitter (they commiserate, celebrate and tell the really realies about the job), read Library Day in the Life (to get a feel for what library workers do, there really are a myriad of jobs within the library) and, finally, investigate, investigate, investigate…
What did you want to be when you were little? Do you like your job?