Library school was an accident for me. I submitted my grad school application after the deadline, and consequently was accepted into my program off of the wait list, three short weeks before classes started. Mine was not the realization of some childhood dream; I was just anxious to get back into the workforce. I’m one of those suckers that decided to study what interested me, in the hope that the “money would follow,” rather than choose a path with a high ROI. Let’s face it; very few librarians go into the field to amass large sums of money.
Ironically—painfully sometimes—my first career is often characterized as quite a gravy train. I worked for the Postal Service, as both a clerk and letter carrier, for 14 years. I was there long enough to earn the top pay level and got a generous amount of time off every year. The wages aren’t excessive, but generous when you consider all the overtime. It’s not an easy job, but neither was it especially stimulating. When I decided to return to school after more than a decade and a half, it was more to prove to myself that I could finish my bachelor’s degree than to do anything specific. And therein lies part of the problem.
My bliss-following undergraduate work was divided between two majors: (human) Geography and (Brazilian) Portuguese. A BA in a language or one of the social sciences will these days almost invariably lead to… a temp agency, as it did in my case. I really don’t know what I was thinking, looking back at the summer before I started my library science graduate program. How could I have gotten so many A’s and still have been so stupid about the job market? Luckily, I had been wise enough to hedge my bets by applying for library school. People I knew and trusted had liked it. I would be good at it. “It's a professional degree…”
I found I was not alone. Although there are an awful lot of “my mom is a librarian” and “I just love books” library students, a lot of my friends were of the “trying to figure out the next step” variety. By the time my second year rolled around, I had a pretty solid handle on what I was interested in: technical services at an academic library. That’s specific enough, I thought. I did a practicum in the preservation department, got some cataloging experience from one student job, and did some digitization at another. I felt like I was really playing it smart.
With graduation (and unemployment) approaching, I elected to do a one-year paid internship in corporate archives and records management, rather than end up with no paycheck at all. I’m now in my ninth month of that internship, and the position has been good, but not great. I’m learning (and earning), but I’ve also lost a lot of the momentum that I had while in school. It took me several months to realize, but I am glad to have some clarity now. And I’m glad to share it with you here.
Broadening your horizons is great, but only up to the point where you’ve identified where you want to be going. Practically speaking, you can really only aim at one target at a time.
I started library school without a clear sense of what I wanted. I knew that I was interested in the organization of information, but nothing more than that. I didn’t want to limit myself. I’m glad that I discovered through my coursework and conversations that I wasn’t that excited about reference or instruction. I had done a lot of training in my postal days, and I felt comfortable with those skills. Instead, I focused on technology and metadata. I really enjoy cataloging and digitization; in fact, it was harder to leave those two student jobs that I had than it was to quit the Post Office!
But then I did a dumb thing. Instead of seeking out more opportunities using those skills that I really loved, I returned to the wide-net approach, so as to not end up at the temp agency again. I abandoned my passion no sooner than I had found it. Who’s to say whether I would have found my first elusive cataloging job last summer, had I not been busy at the corporate records management internship? I might well have ended up packing boxes in a warehouse, just as I had been two years prior. But I do regret that I didn’t truly follow my bliss. I went after it for a bit, but then chickened out when I started imagining myself penniless and in the soup line. I compromised too soon.
I expect that now that I’ve regained my focus, I will continue moving in the direction that I really want to take my career. If you recognize any part of your own story in what I’ve written, I hope that can get back on track too!
Giso Broman will complete his internship in archives and corporate records management in May 2014. Plans and possibilities are changing daily as he continues his job search—inquire within! When he isn’t occupied with work (or the pursuit of future work), he spends slightly too much time on the couch watching crime dramas, reading grammar textbooks, and messing around with XML. You can find him at giso6150.com or on Twitter at @giso6150.