Information Problems vs. Emotion Problems – Or, Why I Became a LibrarianPosted: August 14, 2011
“You should go to library school.” When I first heard those words, I honestly laughed.
It was late 2007, and I was riding in a car with some coworkers. I had been complaining about how frustrated I was with my first semester as a Master of Social Work student. While I was succeeding academically, my first few classes had left me with nagging feeling that I was out of place. I wasn’t interested in becoming a therapist, and I could feel the program pushing us in that direction. One of my coworkers chimed in and suggested I go to library school instead. Was she kidding? I couldn’t just give up on the MSW after three classes, could I?
No, I couldn’t just quit. I decided to give social work one more semester to see if I’d feel any differently. The research and policy courses were coming up next, and I was certain I’d like those better, given my undergraduate background in political science. Unfortunately, my classmates’ apathy toward these subjects and ignorance of related concepts just further convinced me that I didn’t belong amongst them. At the same time, I couldn’t seem to shake my coworker’s suggestion.
The more I thought about the idea of library school, the better it sounded. My job already involved a considerable amount of work in the agency’s special library, and that was usually my favorite part of the day. After doing a little research and a lot of thinking, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to take the summer off from social work in order to enroll in a library science course. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. While I did learn quite a bit from that first class (reference, if you’re wondering), I had a more notable epiphany that summer: I am much better suited for helping people with information problems than emotion problems.
When I thought about it that way, an MLS made a lot more sense than an MSW. I had stumbled onto the career path I never knew I always wanted to take.
I think I have always been looking for a career in which I could help people, but I certainly made quite a journey out of looking in all the wrong places. Reflecting back on the obligatory career exploration papers completed in middle school and high school, I see “helping” professions as a common thread represented by fields such as environmental science and pediatrics. In college, I all but abandoned the biological sciences for the social ones, majoring in political science and Spanish. Of course, that’s not a degree with clear job prospects! The most obvious next step would have been law school, but as many times as I considered it, I was never really excited about the idea. Instead, I served for two years as an AmeriCorps member, racking up priceless experience as a tutor, mentor, program coordinator, team leader, event planner, volunteer manager, grant writer, and more.
When I moved to Indianapolis to begin my second year of AmeriCorps service in 2005, I intended to follow my VISTA experience with a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree, concentrated in nonprofit management. Instead, I became intrigued with the idea of returning to direct service as a school counselor/social worker, so I chose to go for the MSW. You already know how that turned out.
The good news is that I was fortunate to have stumbled into a full-time job upon completion of my VISTA service – one that has offered the balance of professional growth and personal stability needed to support my changing academic endeavors. And of course, it was also the first time I had ever worked behind-the-scenes in any type of library. Without this opportunity and my coworker’s suggestion, I doubt I would have considered this fabulous profession, which I now see as the closest match for my interests, skills, and values.
My experiences among SLIS students and librarians have made me confident in my decision, as I have felt much of the kindred spirit that was missing in my previous academic and professional endeavors. Like me, the librarians I have met tend to be people who love to learn and to share knowledge. I always used to say I was born to be a “professional student” because I liked to study just about everything and never developed a particularly burning passion for any one thing. I am thrilled to have discovered that being passionate about learning and sharing information can lead to a productive career.
So, as you can see, my decision to pursue a career in librarianship had nothing to do with books, although I have always loved books. I’ve always loved libraries, too, from my days in the summer reading program as a child to my late nights studying in the 3rd floor carrels in college. I’m only sorry it took me so long to figure out everything else libraries and librarians have to offer.
I am excited to discover the best way to use my shiny new Master of Library Science degree and transfer the skills from my varied professional experiences. I haven’t figured out exactly what the next step in my journey will be, but as I continue to immerse myself in the profession, I am at least convinced I’m on the right path this time.
And should I ever strike it rich as a librarian, I will reward that coworker I laughed at. Until then, she’ll have to settle for my thanks.