Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not What I Expected, by Brenna Henry


When I was in library school, I felt like the world was my oyster. There were so many different opportunities available. I interned with a puzzle collection at the rare books library, worked as a page team leader at the local public library, and also taught information literacy sessions to undergraduates. I took classes in rare books, archives, cataloging, reference, children’s and young adult literature, and many others. I enjoyed exploring the different aspects of librarianship, and since finding a job was never far from my mind, I wanted to be as versatile and have as many options as possible.

I was planning to pursue public librarianship, but during my last semester of graduate school a technical services position opened up at my alma mater, Hillsdale College. I love my alma mater, and I had often wanted to go back and work there, but I didn’t think it would be a possibility. So, when I heard about the serial librarian’s retirement plans, I was excited, but also hesitant. In the past, I had often proclaimed, “I could never be a serials librarian. I could never work in serials.” I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do that. I did, however, decide to apply for the position, and after surviving an interview during an ice storm that closed down campus, I was offered, and accepted the position.

I was excited to go back to Hillsdale. I had worked in the library before, and I knew my co-workers, but I was also very aware that I didn’t know what I was doing. Some people know what they want to do and get a job in that field, but I think it is also common to apply for and accept a job that you didn’t quite expect. That’s what happened in my case, and I don’t have any regrets. I was a little worried, but I decided that I would do and learn what I could. As I finished up my degree, I talked with my advisor, a former serials librarian, and also with an electronic resources librarian at the university, while also trying to look at the current literature and issues in the field. Looking back, I think feeling ignorant was a good thing. Since I was very aware of my skills, or lack thereof, I came into my position with fewer preconceived ideas and a willingness to learn. Sure, there was a learning curve, but my boss and co-workers were patient and willing to help.

I have been in my current position for almost two years, and I have learned so much in that time. There is still a lot that I don’t know, but I continue to learn, and I have also been able to make the position my own. I found that I enjoy collection development and am looking forward to summer weeding projects. I also lead a book discussion every semester, as I enjoy interacting with students and participating in outreach activities.

Even though I never thought I would be a technical services librarian working with serials and electronic resources, I enjoy my job and have been able to challenge myself and exercise skills that I formerly did not have much faith in. Because the institution is such a good fit for me, I am able to explore new skills and ideas and grow in both my personal and professional life. So, no, this isn’t what I expected, but it is working out well.

Brenna Henry is a Technical Services Librarian working with serials and electronic resources at Hillsdale College. She graduated from IU Bloomington with her MLS in 2011, and enjoys reading (of course), community theater, and extreme mud runs.


  1. Greetings! What publications would you recommend a graduate student to look at if they are currently working in tech services and with a serials librarian, in regards to what all the serials librarian position entails? I see only bits and pieces and get called on to do parts, not the whole. I'm interested what exactly a serials librarian does, including what they would offer in terms of instruction. Thank you!

    1. Hi! I would recommend looking at the journal The Serials Librarian. It has a lot of good articles, and will give an idea of the different issues serials librarians currently deal with. You might also want to look at journals focusing on electronic resources. Each position will vary, depending on the size of the institution and what systems and software they use. I have had to do some serials cataloging, as well as coverage loads and working with our electronic resources management (ERM) product. I also work with vendors and a subscription agent to purchase journals and claim missing issues. This is just a part of what I do, and most of this was learned on-the-job rather than in the classroom. I would also recommend talking with other serials librarians and asking them what their job entails. Conferences are also good places to learn and network, such as NASIG or the Charleston Conference. I hope this helps!

  2. I just started a job as a serials librarian at a small college. I am wondering if you could offer any more advice on how you moved forward with feeling out what your job was? I was basically told "you are in charge of serials" and sent off to my office. :)

  3. Congratulations on your new job! I was able to spend a month training with the retiring librarian, which was a great opportunity, but not always available. I also had a serials assistant, and I collaborated a lot with the systems and acquisitions librarian, especially with coverage information and cataloging. If possible, collaboration is very useful. Every library handles serials differently, so I would suggest focusing on the basics of how your department is run, such as statistics, ordering/billing, claims, coverage information, general management, etc. The SERIALST listserv is very helpful too, as are organizations/conferences such as NASIG and the Charleston Conference. There was a good amount of trial and error when I first started, but processes that seemed daunting soon became familiar. Best of luck!