Thursday, January 9, 2014

Librarianship As a Second Career or On Having A Job That Fits, by Yvonne Mulhern

Finding a career choice that is a good fit isn’t always easy.

Many, many librarians come to librarianship as a first career. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I am not one of them. When I was a high school senior, an aptitude test revealed that librarianship was the career that would fit me best. I had just changed my occupational aspirations from writing to acting, so I was duly dismayed by the results. I could have saved myself a lot of time, money, and hassle if I’d gone straight into librarianship. Some people have to touch the stove to verify that it’s hot…or, in my case, try on various career hats before finding one, finally, that fits.

Despite the detours, it has all turned out well for me. It is perfectly OK, nay fabulous, to start librarianship as a second (or third, or fourth) career. There are advantages and disadvantages to doing so.

Some of the pros of entering librarianship later include:

Life and work experience. With a few (or more) years of work experience under your belt, you have hopefully learned the basics of being a good employee, such as meeting (and surpassing) employer expectations, working well with others, and engaging in professional development. Further, you’ll be done contending with mastering the skills of new adulthood.
Transferable skills. Chances are you will have picked up some helpful skills from your previous work life, whether they are managerial, technical, or academic. Use them.

Outsider’s perspective. You can look on your library’s practices and policies with fresh eyes. Depending on your workplace, this viewpoint might even be actively solicited.

Insider’s perspective. If you are in an area of librarianship where you work directly with others, your previous field experience provides a unique perspective for patrons seeking help in that area.

Appreciation. If you’ve entered librarianship after having a career that wasn’t a good fit, the contrast between old and new can be a relief. When I was a public school teacher for at-risk kids, for example, I was often told I was “too nice.” For that job, I probably was. In librarianship, my “niceness” is appreciated, which is a welcome change.

Some of the disadvantages of starting librarianship later are:

Starting over (sort of)
Since you are brand new in the profession, chances are you’ll be applying for entry-level positions at an age where your chronological peers may be managers or administrators. This means less money and less status. It may also mean having supervisors your age, or younger.

The job market is not always kind to older workers, especially during difficult economic times. What’s “older”? Unfortunately, it may depend on the employer (whether an individual or institution). I’m quicker to pick up on statements that could be perceived as ageist than I used to be because, ahem, now I feel more personally affected.

Since you’ll be starting later, you’ll have less time to climb your way up the ranks. An exception to this might be if you have lots of management or supervisory experience, in which case you may be able to “jump the line.”

Unique concerns
You’re more likely to have non-work concerns during the job application process: children, elderly parents who need care, health issues, or a significant other who can only work in a certain geographic area.

Librarianship, by and large, tends to be a profession for generalists. It makes perfect sense that people who have been in other professions would be attracted to it. As it turns out, that inventory test back in nineteen hundred and ::cough, cough:: was absolutely right. In my current position, I do instruction, which taps into my desire to be in front of others. (Better still, I work with people who –usually--want to be in the room, vs. those who are legally compelled to be there). I still manage to do the odd bit of writing. And, best of all, I’m helping people.

Yvonne Mulhern is Outreach/Instruction librarian at Tarleton State University. She is also a co-director for the Texas Social Media Research Institute and a co-editor for the Journal of Social Media in Society. You can find her on Twitter as @yvonnethelib.

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