Not a Librarian?

That is a question that has been hanging over my head for about the last 9 months.

About 3/4 of the way through Master’s program, I was extremely fortunate to be offered a full-time librarian role at an investment firm in Boston where I had been interning part-time.  My role was Research Analyst working with 5 other researchers, all of who had the MLS degree.  I couldn’t believe my luck at being offered a full-time job before I had even finished my degree, especially in this economy.  As excited as I was, though, there was a part of me that was a bit nervous about taking the role.  When I left my previous job in finance and decided to get my Master’s in Library Science, I had dreams of leaving the corporate and finance worlds for a future role of a Reference Librarian at a urban public library.  And then one day I’d settle down and maybe work in a small-town library like the one I grew up with.  Those were my dreams.

But here I was.  Late 2010 with the economy barely back on its feet.  With libraries across the country, especially public ones, having budget slashes and having to adapt to working with less.  All I heard in my program was how if I really wanted to find a job, I’d have to expand my search in all types of ways, especially geographically.  And then a librarian position fell in my lap.  It may not have been in the environment I hoped.  It may not have been in the city I hoped (I had thought I’d leave Boston as soon as I finished my degree).  It may not have been in the industry I hoped.  But it was a job.  A job that was in a great city, paid well, and most importantly, a job where my degree was a requirement. It seemed like a no-brainer to not take it.

Fast-forward to mid-2011.  And I was asking myself how I had gotten here.  How was I working for a finance firm in Boston?  What happened to being that librarian that I thought I would be when I started my program?  How was I, again, feeling like I was getting a bit pigeon-holed at what I did?  I worked with great people and found the work to be interesting and different everyday.  But it was not what I had set out for when I quit my job.  I had hoped for a better work/life balance.  I had hoped for a bit of career development.  I had hoped to be a bit happier about going to work each day.  I had also hoped to find a role that could be transferable to other geographies should I want to move at some point due to life changes.  Again, I felt lucky to have a job, but I knew I wanted something different.

Sadly, I once again felt like I wasn’t qualified for the “real” librarian jobs.  I had very little experience when it came to the public and academic environment.  And I had loans.  And a bit of preference to living in a city on the East Coast (being single and all and accustomed to city-living now after 14 years).  But all I felt like I was qualified for were jobs in the same finance environment.  It was really frustrating and a bit saddening.

But I told myself that patience would be the name of the game.  As much as at times, my heart was telling me I had to move to a new city and job immediately, I knew that wasn’t the smartest way to go about the process.  I would really start to explore professional options where I could use my skills in areas that were not finance and were not necessarily in the traditional library setting.  At the same time this was all happening, I was also raising money for Fred’s Team as I trained for the NYC Marathon.  I was getting so much out of this experience and it introduced me a bit more to the world of development.  I knew of some librarian friends who worked in development as donor/prospect researchers, so I decided to reach out to them to chat more.  I also talked to non-librarian friends and family who put me in touch with people they knew who worked in development.  I even reached out to a childhood friend who did campaign research to see if she knew anyone on the Obama campaign.  I talked.  A lot.  And I emailed.  A lot.  I told my story.  A lot.  Anyone who would respond got my resume.  Just in case they saw something that may be a fit for me.  I owe a lot to my best friend who put me in touch with someone who then put me in touch with two more people.  And my mom put me in touch with someone who put me in touch with the boss I am now working for.  Network people!!!  It is a goldmine.  It can take some getting used to and it’s not always comfortable to put yourself out there but I have found that most people LOVE talking about what they do.  Especially, if they really enjoy it.  And if they really enjoy it, well maybe you will too!

As you may have figured it out, I just started a new position.  And the kicker?  I am still not a librarian.  At least not by title.  I am actually still a Research Analyst but this time working in the Development group of a local university.

I struggled with this non-librarian distinction a lot as I went through my job application and interview process (which lasted about 9 months if you’re curious, with probably more hard-core applications happening over the last 3 months once the Marathon was completed.  I applied to jobs in Boston, NYC, Chicago, and DC).  I was constantly asking myself, “why did I bother getting this degree if I’m not even going to be a real librarian?”  What was the point?  Well I think I’m still trying to answer this question but I know that, while my new position does not require a MLS degree, it is the research skills that I learned both in my program and in my previous job, that got me to this spot in my career.  It is that love of finding not only information, but finding different resources, that is what, I believe, makes me a librarian and is what makes me so qualified for my current role, if I do say so myself.

Over the last month I have left both my more official librarian role and ended my involvement over at Hack Library School.  I find myself still incredibly interested in the library profession as a whole, but realizing that my place in it is becoming a bit more as an outsider.  While I find issues of e-readers, copyright, digital libraries, etc all to be very interesting, I won’t be dealing with those issues on a regular basis in my new role.  I may never make it to another ALA Annual or Midwinter.  I’ve already removed myself from some list-servs and Facebook groups that I don’t think will apply to me anymore in the library world.  Trying to cut down on my information overload.  But there will be all sorts of different ones and new interesting things to learn and different professional organizations to be a part of.  I will still treasure all of the relationships; both professionally and personally, that I’ve made through my Master’s, Hack Library School, Twitter, and beyond, with librarians, but I know that I’m heading down a bit of a different path.  And I’m ok with that.  Because the life changes I had set out for a few years back, are now coming to fruition.  I will most likely have a better work/life balance, I will grow professionally, I will have flexibility in my path, and I will continue to work on that scavenger hunt for information each day.

And if anyone asks, well I’ll probably still say I’m a Librarian.  A proud one.

13 responses to “Not a Librarian?

  1. Thank you for a wonderful post.

    As someone in a similar position professionally as yourself (I have my library degree but my current position doesn’t utilize all the things I learned in library school), I can sympathize.

    Like you, and due to my current position (as an Americorp member on the west coast), I continue to struggle with my decision to become a librarian. Although your last line of the post is very apt.

    Best of luck.

  2. Thank you so much for the kind words David! Glad to know there are others out there who can relate!

  3. Just started library school, and I’ve already managed to stress myself out about the tough job market. Reading this was a really good reminder of the need to be flexible. I love libraries as institutions, but I need to remind myself that a MLIS degree adapts to a lot of different things.

  4. I think you have done very well for yourself and found a place that fits you well. zI think you are wise to forget the label “librarian” and find a job you enjoy. I am working on such a move myself.

    If you ever want to jump back into the library world, though, I think you will find that your business skills are very valuable. My city, which is not even that big, has business librarians at the public library and practically every university in the country is bursting at the seams with business majors. You have great experience to bring to a position as the liaison to the business, accounting, HR, and MBA programs (to name a few). Good luck with the new job!

  5. I’m in a similar place. I have a library degree, but don’t work in a “traditional” library. I’m always telling myself I should volunteer in my local public library so I’m not out of the traditional library loop.

  6. Stephanie Bennett

    Recently, an LIS educator told me that she believes that, in the future, “librarians” will not exist, and that instead, there will be embedded librarians and archivists in workplaces to improve information exchange, etc. She actually said that school and public libraries are we know them are on their way out, and that we as information professionals will have to reimagine those spaces and opportunities to fit the changes in technology, etc. I couldn’t argue with her, and the opportunities in that kind of world seem endless and exciting!

    This seems like a first step towards a brave new world of non-traditional roles. A “real librarian” is a state of mind and a way of thinking, not just a library-arian (please file this under “cliche but true”).

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  8. Thank you for such an insightful post. I’ve been nervous about entering Library School this fall, only to go in debt when I think many traditional positions as librarians are scarce. I have a background in non-profit development, and had never even considered that I could merge my two interests into a position. It’s important to constantly be reminded that information professionals need to think outside the box, especially with future employment.

  9. Thank you for such an insightful post. I’ve been nervous about entering Library School this fall, only to go into debt when ‘traditional’ library positions are scarce. I have a background in non-profit development, and never once thought of merging my two interests into a position. What a great reminder that information science professionals need to constantly think outside of the box, especially when it comes to employment.

    • I would only caution kdarnall that if you want to stay in the non-profit development world and do the type of work I do now, you most likely do not need the MLS degree… guess it would depend on your experience though. But I’m very glad that my post was helpful!!

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