Thursday, October 17, 2013

From Student Worker to Librarian in a Few Easy Steps, by Bryn Wolanski


When I started my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate enough to get a job in the circulation department in my college’s library. That was one of the most life changing experiences that I’ve ever had. I was majoring in English and, for three years as I worked at the library, I struggled with the crazy notion of going to graduate school. Up until that point in my life, I hadn't thought that far ahead, thinking that a bachelor’s degree would be good enough for me. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do with that degree, but I loved literature so I went with it. However. this issue of another degree kept coming up from those around me. (In particular, Jessica was one of the first to ask me about it! Yes, I was a student worker at the same library where Jessica used to work.) [Editor’s Note: I didn’t know that until I read the draft. I’m grinning now.] I ultimately decided that it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have an advanced degree, especially when I knew I’d enjoy what I was doing.  
For those of you in grad school for library science, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to start working at a library while you’re in school. Get experience while you’re earning your degree. It puts your education into context (things are very different between the concepts you learn about and putting those concepts into practice) and can lead to learning even more about what you’ll be doing. If you can’t apply for a job in the particular field you want, you might want to consider a job in a different kind of library (hey, a job is a job and it can provide for some really interesting discussion topics!). Besides, experience is experience. Anything is better than nothing. I’ve looked at a lot of job applications and they all want you to have some sort of background in a library before they want to hire you. You might as well start somewhere and get a little time under your belt. Besides, it’s a great way to put your foot in the door and you never know what kinds of opportunities might pop up from there! More recently, I went from being a page to doing reference in less than a year just because I was at the right place at the right time (and, of course, saying I was getting my degree really helped).
Something else that I’ve learned is super important: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I don’t mean just in a classroom setting; I mean in every aspect of life. One of the only ways I got my practicum – at the Library of Congress! – was because I just asked to talk to one of the librarians there. It’s also how I got a bunch of local stores to take fliers promoting a program I’ll be hosting. You never know what an inquiry could lead to. The worst that could happen is someone says no, in which case shrug it off and move on to the next opportunity. You never know unless you try first, however, and you always owe yourself a chance.
It took me a little while to develop what librarianship meant to me. Despite having worked in multiple libraries, I found it to be more than just a job. Other students I worked with were only there because they thought it was easy. However, I liked the challenging parts of it and I still thrive on those aspects. I love researching and finding and teaching others how to do what I’m doing. I get to feel like a hero when I find just what the patron is looking for. For a while writing this I couldn’t figure out a good way to compare how I feel about librarianship, but then it sort of hit me in the face when I was looking at some of our posters at work. Librarians are heroes without their masks. Batgirl’s real-life persona is Barbara Gordon and guess what? She’s a librarian. Her character defies the stereotypical librarian ideas. She kicks but AND educates people. We all have that ability to own librarianship and make it our own, change the way people see it. Heck, even though Batgirl gets injured later on in the Batman world, she still becomes Oracle and continues to help out in a different way. Just because we’re not all active crime fighters doesn’t mean we’re still not helping others in a different way. With great librarianship comes great responsibility. Go out there and don’t be afraid to use it!

Bryn Wolanski is a recent graduate from Kent State University's Library and Information Science program. She currently works as a library reference associate for a small public library but is looking for something more permanent in a academic library. She's fresh on the Twitter scene but can be found as @TheLibrariBryn.


  1. Wow what a great blog this is. These kinds of posts have been so helpful to me. I wonder if I could get some more advice from you guys? I just graduated with a BA in English in May and I've finally decided that, yes, I want to get my MLIS. I completed an internship at my school's special collections library in my last semester and also took some archive and bibliography courses, so I am very interested in focusing my MLIS on archive studies. However, I'm also invested in children's literature and I currently work as a para in an elementary school. I work with kids everyday and I see how important literacy is.

    So my question is this: how the heck do I choose? Any advice?

    1. Only you can make up your mind about it, but I wrote a post a couple of years ago on that topic: