Monday, December 19, 2011

Going Where the Road Takes You, or The Evolution of a Library Career, by Rob Sage

In 1991, I was a sophomore history major without a clue about what I wanted to do with my life, but pretty sure it would have nothing to do with business.  20 years later, I am the Business Librarian at Cal State Fullerton.  So, how did a kid from New York City with a distaste for capitalism, studying history at the University of South Carolina, end up as the Business Librarian for the largest business school on the West Coast?  It comes down to being able to recognize opportunities. The ability to change plans when opportunities present themselves is an important asset to anyone’s career.  The whole key is being flexible and patient.  Allow me to illustrate:

Opportunity #1: Wrong Way

I figured that archivist was a good profession for a history major, so I enrolled in the archives program at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Library and Information Science.  For a lot of reasons, the program just didn’t work out for me.  I was scared. What was I supposed to do now?  I definitely came close to quitting but I recognized an opportunity: I LOVED the intro to reference class I had to take as part of the archives program.  I switched tracks from archives to reference librarianship.  I also got a job doing evening & weekend reference at a small liberal arts college and did an internship at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  An archivist died, but a reference librarian was born.

Opportunity #2: New York State Of Mind

I took a job back home in New York, at the Queens Borough Public Library (QBPL). Initially, I worked at a branch library and I hated it.  I mostly just told people if the new James Patterson book was in.  It was nothing like the in-depth research I was doing with the students at Chatham College or the researchers coming into the Carnegie Library. Worst of all, I couldn’t even put in for a transfer until I worked there for a year.  Then, I saw an announcement for a position that didn’t require the year’s wait.  It was with QBPL Special Services Department.  I was now going to be a Job Information Librarian! My job was to help people with their job searching skills.  Much of my work involved researching companies. I quickly discovered that I was very good at it and I really enjoyed it.

Opportunity #3: We’ve Gotta Get Outta This Place

There were two other important things I learned at the Job Information Center:
  1. Patrons of public libraries can be very difficult to deal with.
  2. New York is a hard place to live as an adult.
I needed to make a change. But, as much as I was desperate to leave QBPL, I knew that taking the wrong job would be just as bad as staying.  I was offered a position at a community college in New Jersey but I turned it down.  It was a great opportunity but it wasn’t the right opportunity. I would either have to commute to or move to New Jersey, meaning sitting in traffic for hours or moving to a place I knew I was going to leave eventually.  A few months later, I went to work for Long Island University (LIU) in Brooklyn.  It wasn’t perfect since I was still in New York, but it was a job that got me back into academia.  It was the right opportunity.  

Opportunity #4: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

LIU was a drastic improvement over QBPL and confirmed that academic librarianship was right for me. Still, I wanted out of NYC, so I never stopped applying for jobs.  After crisscrossing the country numerous times for interviews, I was offered a job as a “Temporary Full-Time Librarian” at Cal State Fullerton, but I was only offered a 1 year contract. I had a big decision to make. I weighed my options carefully and decided to take a chance.  I’ve now been at Cal State Fullerton for 12 years.

Opportunity #5: Everything In Its Right Place

Although I was hired as a generalist, I arrived the week after the previous Business Librarian left.  They needed someone to fill in fast, so I jumped right in. I maintained my generalist status for a few more years, but I was now known as a go-to guy for business. I really felt like I found my calling with business librarianship and I loved Cal State Fullerton.  I had opportunities at other schools to be their Business Librarian, but I turned them down to stay at Cal State Fullerton.  After a few years, my patience paid off and I officially became the Business Librarian at Cal State Fullerton.

We all like to think that we’re on a clear and straight career path, but almost none of us are.  There are twists and turns and forks in the road.   The key is to know yourself well enough so you’re aware of which opportunities are worth taking.  Be as flexible and as patient as you can and eventually you’ll have the fulfilling career that you want, not one that is forced on you.  

Rob Sage is the Business Librarian at Cal State Fullerton. He is on Twitter @svelteassassin.

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