Becoming a librarian

I wrote a post on my other blog (Tragic Optimist) a week ago about the path that led me to librarianship, and it occurs to me that it might fit well here, too. I’m never quite sure when it’s better to copy and paste, and when it’s better to link, but I think when it comes to reading blog posts – which I do largely in an RSS reader, I prefer when people re-post things rather than making me lift my finger and click the link – yeah, I’m lazy that way.

So here it is, in an ever so slightly revised form, the gripping story of how I learned to stop going into the field and start loving the life of a librarian (the original post is here).

When I came to Carleton as a freshman, I already knew that I wanted to be a geologist, and I just figured that I’d go on to graduate school right away, get my Ph.D, ???, profit! But as much as I loved the research that I was doing – and I did, I still love going into the field and hitting rocks with hammers – as I approached my senior year, the idea of going to graduate school and getting a Ph.D started to leave me cold.

So I started to think about what else I liked doing, and settled on informal education – I’m still not entirely sure where I came up with that phrase, but there it was. I had led a few field trips, and I had helped teach high school students about doing geologic research in my summer job, so I did know that I loved teaching, I just didn’t want to be in a classroom. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know how to get that kind of job, and it being ‘97 with the dot com bubble still inflating at a furious rate, the software companies in Minneapolis were hiring anyone who had seen snippet of computer code. So I took a software programming job, thinking maybe I’d eventually move into doing developer training at a software company.

I worked as a programmer for a short while, but it was boring. BORING. True story – I was doing a good enough job coding that they let me do some code design. I literally wrote documents spelling out the lines of code that needed to have the letter ‘D’ changed to a letter ‘P’. I found the code that needed to be changed, and wrote out what the new code was supposed to be, but because I was the “designer”, I didn’t actually make any of the changes. Some poor, newer coder had to take my documents and follow my design to make those changes. There was little joy to be found in that, though I know the work would have eventually gotten more challenging. When an opening came up on the customer support team, I jumped at the chance. This was the team that would investigate and research why code wasn’t working, and then fix it. There was actually some satisfaction to be found in fixing things and getting them to work. But I found that what I loved the most was doing the research, figuring out how the software was supposed to work and explaining it to our customers. I started to move into Knowledge Management, which sounds super cool, but is really just keeping track of information that people have and documenting it so that if that person leaves, you don’t lose their knowledge. I even got the title of Knowledge Engineer for a bit, which is certainly the loftiest title I’ve ever held. (Embarrassingly enough, I accidentally misspelled “Knowledge” on an application later on when listing my title.) I learned that the best training for knowledge management was to go to library school. Who knew?

Since there was a library science program at a local school, I enrolled and took weekend and evening classes while working. I even convinced my software company to help me pay the tuition. I thought I’d be a corporate librarian, maybe work somewhere like 3M. But within the first day or two of intro to library science, I realized that you can be a science librarian at a college or university, and it was like something clicked and I realized that this was exactly what I’d been looking for. I changed my focus and took classes specializing in reference sources and academic libraries. My luck continued, and a new science librarian position opened up at Carleton just a couple of months after I finished my MLIS. That was 4 years ago, and I’m still in love with this job.

It’s a little funny in retrospect. I keep thinking that if I went back to my high school reunion, I’d probably be voted “least surprising career”. Ann, in a library? Doing science stuff? Yeah, no surprise. My first multi-syllable word was “library”, all four years of college, I worked at the library and loved it. I even thought maybe I’d volunteer at a library after graduating, I loved it so much – it just never occurred to me that it could be a career. Only took me 6 1/2 years, and a circuitous route to figure it out.

If anyone is still reading after that long story.  I’d love to hear how you arrived at your career, especially if you work in a library-related field.


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