Thursday, February 9, 2012

This Isn’t What I went to Library School For?!?! by Kristi Chadwick

I sit at the desk in my office, with piles of printouts from meetings, ledgers, and names and phone numbers of library staff. I have a To-Do List with stuff like “Collection Development Policy” and “upgrade Drupal sites” written on it. When I walk out my door, I do not see patrons browsing or the circulation desk, I see open cubicles with support staff (plus the prerequisite candy bowl).

I am a librarian, but I work for a library automation network in central and western MA. We centralize the integrated library system software, allowing the 140-plus member libraries to share resources and costs. I am in charge of the Access Services department, which puts the online catalog, reference databases, digital repository, and OverDrive catalog under my purview. I have been here for 4.5 years, and before that I worked as a cataloger in two different libraries. I like my job but I do miss the books.

When I entered library school in 2001, I was convinced that I was going to become a school media librarian. I had two young children and knew that the two school librarians in my town were going to be retiring soon. I had it all worked out. Then I took my first children’s literature course. It was fine, but I tended to enjoy the young adult titles more than children’s literature. Even that was fine, since I figured I could work at the high school! I took one class that would give credit toward the education part of the degree, and looked into the test that would allow me to opt out of the other part.

In 2003, New York announced that it was revising the qualifications for the school media degree; there would be more internships, more education classes. Around the same time I had just taken my first cataloging course. I fell in love with it (I am a numbers kind of gal) and it became clear that the idea of staying in school another year (or more) wasn’t for me. So, with one semester left to go, I switched from school media to a general MLS, and determined that I would become a cataloger.

That lasted for a few years. I found myself enjoying the acquisitions part of my job as much, if not more, than cataloging. I got involved in the teen group (more young adult literature!) and the network’s OverDrive Selection Committee. Then a pilot project was announced for a new network digital repository, and my library was part of it. Digging through boxes of old photos, creating metadata, and seeing it all put online was a new and exciting adventure. So, when the network advertised for a Digital Resources Librarian, I figured I would give it a shot. Digitization was a growing field, and a job that enabled me to combine my desire to stay current and work with cataloging rules seemed to be a good combination. And it was.

Four years later, I am now the head of that same department. I took one basic HTML course in graduate school, but now work with Drupal, PHP, ILS systems, and more. Almost all of my coding experience has been  gotten on the job. Even though I now have a technician that handles the actual scanning for our digital projects, I currently serve as the President of the Digital Commonwealth, a portal and repository that serves the entire state. I no longer get copies of Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly piled on my desk to review titles for purchase, however I do oversee the OverDrive Digital Catalog for the network, so I still do some collection development. I do not talk to patrons every day, or place holds, or answer reference questions--my patrons are all library staff. 

The old adage of “best laid plans” seems to be one that is important for librarians. As duties, budgets, and interests change, shifts are happening all across the profession. In many schools, you cannot even get a “library science” degree anymore; it is “information science” or “informatics.” The number of people who stay in the same position for their entire work career is small, and with changes in technology, librarians can find their jobs ever-evolving even if they do stay put.

None of this is what I went to library school for, but is where I am now: looking forward to the next opportunity to grow as a librarian.

Kristi Chadwick is the Access Services Supervisor for C/W MARS, a library network for central and western Massachusetts. She blogs at The Plugged-In Librarian and at Books, Yarn, Ink and Other Pursuits. You can find her most days on Twitter @booksNyarn.


  1. Very much so. It is interesting that this is one of the jobs currently being advertised for working at the British Library. Keeping an open mind as to what you may end up doing in the information sector seems vital when considering library school.

  2. I'm one month into my MLIS program and of course trying to think of what courses to take, where my career will go. Thank you for this post. It's a nice reminder that whatever I decide doesn't have to be static and that once I have a position upon graduation, I can move on to other venues.

  3. I totally agree Black Betty! I am just now getting into the field and looking to start a MLS program in 2013. It's definitely good to know that even within the field I can find room to grow and explore different areas.