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.  This 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?



Some Great Thoughts On Librarianship

There have been several really great posts recently about the philosophies and thinking behind librarianship. I wanted to briefly highlight them here and make sure that folks didn’t miss them. They’re all pretty short. I know they all made me stop and think.

A Stealth Librarian Manifesto:

This first Manifesto is from John Dupuis at York University in Toronto. He argues that in order to

“thrive and survive in a challenging environment, we must subtly and not-so-subtly insinuate ourselves into the lives of our patrons. We must concentrate on becoming part of their world, part of their landscape.”

He focuses on academic librarians insinuating themselves in the world of professors. He suggests instead of always going to library conferences, go to academic or teaching conferences. Give presentations with other faculty members, not other librarians. Some of the things he says may be more controversial like “we must stop writing the formal library literature.” He says instead that we should get our ideas out there in the literature of our users. It seems like his ideas would not just insinuate us with our users but also help us get out of the echo chamber and gain a fresh perspective.

Common Sense Librarianship: An Ordered List Manifesto:

This second manifesto is by the ever thoughtful David Rothman. His very short post doesn’t propose anything radically new, but he outlines what librarianship should be about in a very succinct and powerful way. My favorite one is probably #4:

“Whenever possible, obstacles between users and the information they seek should be removed.  Among these obstacles are academic jargon and expecting users to care about cataloging minutia (it is minutia to them, get over it).  Information professionals should be champions of clarity and concision who find accessible ways to describe complex topics.”

In Praise of Ideas:

This last one isn’t a manifesto, but it is a great guest post on ACRLog by Emily Drabinski a librarian at Long Island University. She talks about the ideas we bring to librarianship. She discusses how our personal philosophies and understanding of the world influence how we teach or conduct a reference interview or interact with patrons.

“What it’s possible to know, or even conceive as a question, depends on the context–what has come to count as knowledge over the course of time. It may not be a set of how-tos, but the notion of kairos does provide me a frame through which I work, every day, in my office, at the reference desk, and in the classroom.

Here’s an example: If knowledge is contingent, then I’m never looking for right answers. Instead, I’m looking for ways to engage students in their own active knowledge pursuits, pursuits that happen in time and are never final.”

Go check out these thought provoking posts.


Moments That Make It All Worth It

shooting star

Photo by Navicore of Flickr

We had an all campus retreat this week. It was all day and the chairs were uncomfortable, but there were periods of illumination and inspiration.

One of these periods was when someone at our table told of a moment of affirmation when a student was really in their shell while studying abroad. This staff member encouraged the student to seize the opportunity while he had it. He didn’t hear back from the student for a long time. When the student came back though, he came to the staff member’s office and told him that it was that conversation that helped him turn the corner and make the study abroad experience amazing.

This made me think about times like that in my own career – moments of affirmation that help you realize that you are making a difference. It’s like watching a meteor shower. You can get discouraged, but sometimes there are spectacular flashes that are utterly beautiful.

In my job I think of reference interviews where students start understanding how they’re going to start approaching their project, or when they get super excited about their topic. I also distinctly remember a class that I thought went OK, but a student saw me in the library later and told me how useful it was. It’s times like this that give me so much joy.

I know other people have had experiences like this. What’s your story? When was a moment that you realized, “hey, this is why I became a librarian?”