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?



Professional Goals

person looking into the distance

I decided that I should set some professional goals for myself and document them. Then I can look back at them and see if they are being accomplished. I recommended that others do this as well. They may shift and change but goals will give you a focus for your career.

As I move into my professional career I have three primary goals:

  • Become an expert researcher
  • Increase my skills in web and emerging technologies
  • Be a leader in helping libraries to become more user-friendly

In order to achieve the first goal I plan to obtain a position where I can use and practice the research skills that I already have, but also learn and develop new skills. Through obtaining a position in which I can perform reference and research I will be able to gain knowledge of new resources or ways of searching.

The second goal will require me to be very self-motivated. In order to learn more about web technologies I will have to play around with them and be self-directed in my learning. Specifically, I would first like to learn Javascript and PHP. Reading books, and utilizing online tutorials will be the strategy that I will use to accomplish this. Also staying current on the latest 2.0 and library technologies is important to me. To do this I subscribe to numerous blogs and listservs.

Finally I see that there is much work to be done in libraries. Often libraries are much more difficult to use than their commercial and web counterparts. Therefore, in my career it will be my mission to try to begin to bridge this gap and become a leader in making libraries more user-friendly. To do this I will need to conduct research on users including things like focus groups, surveys, and usability testing. Then on the basis of this research, propose and carry out solutions to these problems.
These goals will guide me in whatever position that I obtain. They will be the framework upon which I will be able to hang specific accomplishments.