Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thing 20

In Thing 20 we are asked to blog about our library roots and routes - how we got into the profession, and the path our careers have taken, and to link the posts to the Library Routes Project Wiki.

Roots : how and why you got into the profession

It may have been destiny. When I was a kid I had a set of Little Golden Books with records, and they all fit into a neat little box with a cover. All the titles were listed and numbered on the back. When I recently took this set from my mother's house after not seeing it for years, I opened it and discovered that I had gone through the set as a child and written the number corresponding to the list on the box on each freaking book with a marker, and then assembled the books in numerical order.

My high school work experience all consisted of babysitting and food service, so my work-study assignment in college was of course the glamorous job of working in a dining hall. But I stayed on campus one summer and scored a job in the library, where I continued to work until I graduated. It was a great job but I never thought of it as a career path. Then when I graduated from college and had no idea what sort of work to look for, I ended up in a horrible retail job from which I was fired after one excruciating year. Desperate for more relaxing employment, I applied for a job working in the cataloging department of a library at a college in Boston.

After working there for a while I began to consider libraries as a career option. At some point I also worked my way through "What Color is Your Parachute?" Library school seemed like the answer. It was expensive though, at least if I went to the local school. I considered moving away for library school but was just becoming acclimated to Boston and didn't want to make another move. So Simmons it was. I couldn't afford it on what I was making so I left that job for a better-paying job at a small company that did fund-raising for non-profit organizations. I learned a lot about databases, lessons that have served me well in my library career though I had no idea they would when I took the job. I started library school part-time, but soon grew impatient to start my new career, so I quit that job, got a part-time library assistant job in a corporate library and went to school full-time.

Routes: the career path you've taken so far

"Path" isn't a good descriptor for the shape of my career so far as it implies a linear, forward motion and my career, sadly, has not taken that form.

I graduated from library school 10 years ago and got a job as a reference librarian. After a year or so I started looking for a department head job. I am still a reference librarian. Competition is fierce, the economy sucks, and at the risk of sounding cynical and jaded, my impression is that nobody wants to hire someone for a job that they haven't done before. I've gotten little bits of supervisory experience here and there, including as a volunteer (which I'll talk more about in Thing 22) but when I've interviewed for Reference Head positions (or Circ Head or Assistant Director or any number of managerial positions for which I've gotten interviews), no matter how well I interview - and I interview very well - it always comes down to someone else having more experience. And there will always be someone else with more experience. I've been stuck in this loop of purgatory in which I can't get the right experience because I don't have the right experience.

But right now after being laid off and spending two years job-hunting, while working at a part-time/temp job, I'm pretty damn happy to have a full-time reference job again. Also? I am doing a shit load of collection development which I've always wanted to do, but haven't been allowed to do much of in the past. I did a little collection development in reference (boring!) and ESL (interesting, but a small collection). Now I'm buying music CDs, knitting books, large print, Russian books and all manner of interesting items. There is a lot of change at my workplace and I've only been there for about three months myself, but I think I'll have opportunities for all sorts of programming, outreach, and other fun things.

Yes, someday I'd still like to be in management. I have no idea how to get there. It seems like the best way is to apply for a job within the organization where you already work, but people in libraries tend to stay in their jobs for a loooong time and if they leave there are no guarantees. At my last library the union dictated promotions according to seniority, not based on strengths of the applicants.

Anyhow, I'm done with applying for jobs and interviewing. I spent so much time and energy in the last two years trying to land a full-time job that I'm just not interested in doing it again for a long long time. Right now I just want to work on my projects and stay at my job long enough to see them evolve, and take an active role in making my library a better library.

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