Do I Really Want To Be A Librarian?

Career Advice (via quinn.anya on Flickr)

The start of the school year is a good time to refocus – on initiatives, priorities, and most importantly, on your direction and career. With students back, the start of a new year can be really energizing, but it can also be draining and overwhelming especially if your energies are focused in unproductive directions.

There was a great thread in the ALA Think Tank (join this amazing group!) several weeks ago in which someone asked others about having mixed feelings and angst about librarianship. I loved the post and all the answers because they were so authentic and sincere. These are very real, genuine questions that I know I have dealt with and that we all have to deal with as librarians and as professionals. Does my work satisfy me? Is my work fulfilling? Do I really want to be a librarian?

Sometimes librarianship can seem like a cult. There are a lot of passionate, excited people talking about how great the profession is. This can make the profession really fun, but not everyone has completely drunk the kool-aid. While it’s nice to have colleagues who love their work, it can also make it hard to do this questioning. You can feel out of place or crazy asking “do I actually want to be a librarian?”

But these are important questions and part of being a professional is taking time to reflect on them, refocus, and sometimes even find a different job or career. ┬áThis reflection isn’t just limited to librarians though. I know people in other careers from college age to people in their 50s that ask these same questions. These are questions that you need to spend time on, but they are also not just one time questions. They’re important at different points in our careers and lives and should be asked multiple times. You need to find your own answers, not simply what everyone around you is saying.

Like everyone, there have been times when I have been less than satisfied in the work I was doing. I have been in funks or have been frustrated with the way things were going. I have found these situations to be enlightening though. These are opportunities to learn about yourself and what you value.

One line of questioning I’ve found helpful is asking “what do I love doing?” “When am I most excited and engaged at work?” Do you love working one on one with users? Collaborating with others? Designing events, or projects, or lessons? This can help give you insight into what your strengths are and what gives life for you. You can then focus on and leverage those strengths which will often help you become more fulfilled and effective. If you love collaborating, can you create a project-based team? Or based on your strengths are there different areas in your position that you could direct your energy? Are there other positions where you can capitalize on those strengths?

Sometimes though, there may be bigger issues or things outside your control (organization, management, culture, etc.) that refocusing just can’t fix. In situations like this it’s important to recognize that there are things you can’t control and fighting them will only frustrate you. You may also find that librarianship is simply not for you. Like anything else it has it’s own challenges and not everyone gets excited or passionate about it. Ultimately you have to find a place where your strengths can flourish and be directed towards something important to you.

I don’t feel like I have to be a librarian. I could be a million other things. Through reflection and asking these difficult questions though I’ve recognized that I am passionate about curiosity, personal growth and understanding, lifelong learning, and serving others. I could pursue these passions a number of different ways, but for right now librarianship is a pretty damn good fit.

Do you struggle with these questions? Does your work satisfy you? What’s helpful for you when you reflect on these issues?


Andy Burkhardt


  1. I’m in my second year of library school and am now much more set on NOT going into libraries. I believe in them, but I also kind of hate them, and I’ve had so many unpleasant experiences with librarians that make me both want to be a librarian so as not to be rude to people like me but also to get as far away as possible from people who are rude when they don’t know me and then will fall all over themselves to hire a dual Master’s Spectrum Scholar when I come in for an interview. I’m not dropping out of school (financially that would be a nightmare anyway) because I think I’m learning really great things and can do a lot of the advocacy stuff I love about libraries in another field. I’m glad to hear that this is something other people are talking about, and I might have to join that group and peek in at the conversation to see if other people are naming their reasons and what they are.

  2. Hanna, I’m sorry you had multiple bad experiences with librarians. That is really frustrating to hear and I could understand how it could sour you on going into libraries. It sounds you believe in the mission of libraries, but in practice they can be very different. Libraries should be places where people can explore their curiosity in a friendly, equitable environment and where librarians are always asking how they can serve their users as opposed to being rude to them.

    You mentioned being a Spectrum Scholar. I wonder if these bad experiences have to do with the lack of diversity in the field more broadly? This is something I’ve been thinking about more recently. When people regularly have bad experiences or are treated rudely in libraries they of course would not want to work for those types of organizations. I’m glad that you are reflecting on your career and hope that you find something that you believe in that also utilizes your strengths.

  3. Thanks, Andy. Sorry that I didn’t see this forever. I don’t want to blame all libraries for the rudeness of a few (especially when it seems to be endemic to one particular branch of one particular library system in particular, so that in no way speaks to an entire global field), but yes, I do think it has to do with the lack of diversity, but not in the sense that people of color are better at serving people of color or anything (I have no idea if that’s what you meant, and I doubt it, but that seems to be the objective of any well-meaning or half-assed diversity initiative in any field). I’m fairly certain that the librarians I’m thinking of have been rude to me because I appear to be younger than I am and I’m a person of color, so they assume I don’t know much about libraries or how to use them, and so even when my questions are prefaced with “here are all of the things I have already tried because I am both a regular person who is not dumb and a trained person who knows how a library SHOULD function,” that’s ignored or interrupted. But that of course goes to your second point about bad experiences leading to a desire not to work there. I applied to library school for many reasons, but one of the main ones was that I believe in libraries and yet did not feel that there was much in them for me after I grew out of storytime, and because I believe in the Spectrum program, and so I wanted to be the person for teens and people of color that I didn’t have. But I’m already exhausted and discouraged and haven’t even begun yet.

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