So, you’re thinking about becoming a librarian?
One of my favorite things about being a new librarian is that I now have a little bit of experience to offer to others. I am in constant communication with people across the country who are considering becoming librarians or who are going through library school. These people find me a number of ways, including:
- My listing as a 2008 Syracuse University Alumni Class Leader
- My listing in the St. John Fisher College Career Services Community Alumni Resource Database
- My profile on Mentor @ SU
Other potential librarians find me through mutual acquaintances, Facebook, internet searches that turn up my blog, or Twitter. I have even had faculty members encourage their students to talk to me about my recent experience in library school. These communications are fascinating to me! Sometimes they consist of a phone call, sometimes in person, sometimes off the cuff, via email and even through Facebook messages and chat. I truly enjoy this aspect of now being an “MLIS-toting” librarian – I hope that my honesty can assist these interested parties in making a decision on whether this is the right career choice for them.
I think that this is certainly another area where librarians can utilize their networking skills. Not only do both parties benefit (you get connected to library newbs and get to share your passion while they gain insider information about the field from someone with experience), but you never know when relationships will develop. You might just kindle a friendship or professional working relationship that can last years. It’s also another way to get your name out there and encourage new and innovative people to join the field. Librarianship as a profession is not uber-complicated, but I think the misunderstanding of who we are and what we do encourages a certain level of secrecy that potential newcomers may be intimidated by. When I talk to someone, I try to be as open as possible, sharing both my positive and negative experiences.
Recently, I was contacted by a student at my undergraduate alma mater, St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. She found my name through the CARD database mentioned above and asked me a few questions about my job. Below are her questions along with my responses. Do you have anything to add? I encourage all librarians to get involved in mentoring newcomers… most colleges and universities already have systems in place where you can enter your information in order to be connected to current students and recent graduates. Not only is it good for networking and information sharing, but the PR effect of having librarians listed in these types of directories can do a lot for the changing image of our profession!
What is the level of schooling needed for your career?
In order to be a librarian, you need to attend graduate school. A list of programs accredited by the American Library Association can be found here: http://www.ala.org/ala/accreditedprograms/index.cfm. It’s important to go to an ALA-accredited school.
Are there any specific courses or classes you would recommend I take?
All of the library programs are basically the same. You will learn stuff like customer service, cataloging, reference and research assistance, collection development, how to use databases, etc. Most programs have a management class as well, and sometimes a marketing class. I would recommend technology-related courses, anything with digital libraries, web design and development, and marketing.
Are there internships or shadow days that I can take advantage of?
It is almost imperative. Many students graduate from their library program with no experience in an actual library. It is very difficult to find an entry-level position with no experience. If you can’t find a position as a staff member (technician, part time, etc) while you are in school, interning somewhere or volunteering is a great way to gain that experience. I worked at Lavery Library while I was an undergraduate, then I worked as a clerk in a public library for a few months and then as an interlibrary loan technician at RIT while I was getting my master’s degree. That experience allowed me to secure a permanent position in an academic library before I even graduated. Most libraries are very willing to accept interns and volunteers, especially future librarians.
Is it important to make the patrons feel comfortable? How do you go about doing so? (I volunteer in a library occasionally, and that always plays a big role in to who visits, and when.)
It is very important. For me, it’s a little easier to do in an academic library setting – the students are close to my age, so I think they feel more comfortable asking me for assistance than the older, more experienced librarians. They won’t ask for help if the perceive you to be busy or unwilling to offer guidance. So it’s important to look approachable. I try to make eye-contact with people as they walk by and ask if they need anything. I think making sure that your lines of verbal and non-verbal communication is beneficial. I’m sure you know this from volunteering, but once people establish a repport with you, they will come back time and time again. This leads to mutually beneficial relationships because the patron feels more and more comfortable asking you for assistance and feedback.
What is the end that makes all the means necessary? Do you want to sell a product or endorse something or do you want to improve someone else’s quality of life?
I think I’ve chosen the perfect profession. I get to go into work every day and help people with whatever they need. Every day is different. In an academic library I get to be surrounded by a culture of learning. I love the fact that I don’t have to work for some evil corporation and especially that I don’t have to meet sales quotas, lie during pitches, or reprimand people. I simply help them have a better experience in the library and hopefully find the information their looking for.
Do you create your own schedule or do the people around you do that?
I have to say, I have a sweet job at the moment. I am at an academic university where the librarians are considered faculty members (people refer to me as Professor, which is a mind-trip!). As such, all library decisions are made at the departmental level, which means 12 librarians. We don’t have direct supervisors and I don’t report up. I simply work for the best interest of the library and the students. I get to set my own schedule, which is amazing. I have never had such freedom and flexibility in a job before. Along with that comes a high level of responsibility, but I think it’s totally worth it!
Do you mentor other people or do you emulate others?
I do both. I mentor lots of people who are considering entering the library profession, including former classmates, student workers and people who ask me for help (such as yourself). Lots of people find me through my blog, Facebook, Twitter, or the Syracuse University website where I am listed as an alumni class leader. So I help a lot of people by just sharing my experiences with them. I try to emulate the librarians and library professionals who I look up to. I read a lot of blogs, participate in conferences and presentation, networking, etc. I think we can all learn a lot from each other.
Is your field growing or staying the same? What are potential opportunities arising in your field? Do you think that, when I graduate in two years, your career will still be open?
There will be lots of people retiring from the library field in coming years. Sometimes that is referred to as “greying of the profession.” At the same time, libraries are changing dramatically. Positions that have been filled in the past are being revamped, updated, and eliminated. New and less traditional positions are appearing. Lots of them are technology related, some are like mine, dealing with public relations and marketing (I am the Outreach Librarian), some are customer service oriented like User Experience Librarian. There are tons of opportunities for newcomers. Everyone I have encountered so far has been helpful and appreciative of new blood entering the field. There are places and people where that is not the case (librarians who dislike the change that is accompanying the generational shift), but for the most part, people are open. I think if you keep your goal in mind throughout school, and participate in activities that bring you closer to that goal, you should be fine. Just realize that the old days of the card catalog and shushing librarian are (for the most part) already far gone.
How do you see your place in the world? Is there anything specific you hope to achieve? (Monetary amount, personal goals)
I see my place as helping students on their educational journey. I want to help them become better, more educated and experiences citizens who can achieve their goals. I want their experience with the library to be a positive and beneficial one so that they will become library champions, utilizing their public libraries in the future and with their children, appreciating literature and reading, using technology to interact with the global community and being knowledgeable about the viewpoints of humanity. These are some of the things I hope to achieve.
Who do you rely on? A personal coach? Friends? Family? Assistants?
I have a huge network of people I rely on daily. I have many professional contacts including librarians from around the country. I have close friends who I attended graduate school with, and friends from every stage of life. Their constant support is imperative to my mental state of mind. They present opportunities for me, help me to make decisions, and support my personal and professional journey. I hope that I offer the same to them.
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