Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Wherefore Art I a Librarian?

Megan A. Brooks recently wrote a blog post about how she decided to become a librarian. Seeing her story made me think about my own path to librarianship, and I realized I've never told my story publicly. Since I'm not ashamed to steal/borrow ideas from people I admire, I figured why not?


Really, it was one of those too often maligned career tests. But let me back up and tell you what led me to that test.

Pretty early on in my undergrad days, I came up with what I thought was practical plan: to double-major in education and history, and to teach high school when I got out. Everything went according to plan until I actually got in a classroom. You see, I loved teaching, but watching my pre-practicum (a fancy term for a pre-student teaching gig) host teacher interact with his students made me realize that that kind of teaching was more than I was ready for at that age. So I dropped the education part and finished with a single major, in history. This left my path a bit less defined.

After graduation I caromed from job to job. I was a residence counselor for an autistic teenager. I was an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant. I was the senior bookseller at a now bankrupt national bookstore chain. I even sold shoes for a while. Not the most direct or obvious path to librarianship, I know.

Then I landed in the most "grown up" job I'd had yet. It was also the job that made me more miserable than I'd ever been: I was a secretary for an insurance salesman. I'll admit I wasn't the best secretary - I still had some growing up to do - but he was among the worst bosses I've ever known. He cursed me out semi-regularly, disrespected me, and treated me generally like crap. When I finally got up the nerve to say something to the owner of the insurance agency where we both worked, my boss' father (yes, a family business) excused the horrid behavior with some throw away line like, "Well, you know he's under a lot of pressure."

To say I was miserable at that time would be an understatement. Luckily I still lived near my undergraduate alma mater and I reached out to the career counselors there for help. I really had no clue what to do with my life, but I knew I needed to change. And that's when I met the career test that changed my life.

I went in to the career center and they sat me down at a computer. This was so long ago (early 90s) that it was one of those amber on black screens and everything was command based and typed in - no point-and-click version to be had. The test asked me some expected questions like "What are you good at?" and "What do you like to do?" But it also asked me permutations that were less expected, at least to me, like, "What do you wish you were better at?" and "What things are you good at but you don't like doing?"

I don't remember how long the test took, we are talking about an event that took place almost 20 years ago after all, but I do remember at the end I had a list of 4 or 5 careers that would supposedly fit me. I only remember two of the things it listed: landscape architect and librarian. While those two things might seem like they have very little in common besides me, let me point out one important thing: both have art AND science. (Important side note: I got the exact same score on the math portion of the SATs as I did on the reading/verbal portion.)

I looked at the list of prospective fields/jobs for a while, and then I thought about my godmother who was a librarian at a hospital. I also thought about how much the librarians at my public library growing up had helped and taught me so much. I remembered being initiated into the mysteries of the archives, the (mostly) cut-and-dry parameters of the Dewey Decimal System, the variety of programs and things I'd seen librarians doing at that public library and at my college. And finally I thought about how, out of all the miserable grunt jobs I'd had after college, that bookstore had actually been a good job that turned sour when new management came on board.

That's when I made up my mind to become a librarian. I started looking at schools and studying for the GREs shortly thereafter.

How about you? How did you decide to enter this field? If you have a blog, maybe you could write a whole post about it?


  1. No blog, but I will comment here. I always wish I had a better answer to this question, but in the end it has been the best decision I ever made so that's what really matters. Anyway, I was semi-adrift in my mid to late twenties in an administrative job where I felt my brain dying a little bit day by day. With a French degree, I knew I likely needed to go back to school to obtain some other marketable skills that would lead to a fulfilling career. I'd thought about a masters in teaching English as a second language but was discouraged from that due to potential for low hours and pay. I had been volunteering at the local public library with people learning English as a new language, however, and loved that. I knew a former co-worker who had done the MLIS program at the school in our city and one day came across their website while doing some googling of local graduate programs. Something about it just seemed right and I went to an info session shortly thereafter. One of the professors at it (who would later become my most favorite during my time in the program) was so interesting to listen to and sold the program so well that I knew I needed to apply. My first attempt was not successful, but then neither was my former co-worker's. I took a year off the application cycle and then reapplied. At at 30, I had been accepted into library school! Still one of the best days of my life. So, TL;DR version is - it felt right and I knew the program was good so I went for it. Now that I'm graduated I love my new career and everything that comes along with it. Except for the student loans, but that's another story...

  2. Duly blogged!