[Series] Experiencing LIS: Route to School

One of the fascinating aspects of librarianship is the variety of backgrounds represented in the field. The paths that lead us from a childhood love of books, or a respect for sharing knowledge and supporting local communities, are from many disparate points of view, educational and political stances, and personal histories. Tracing those paths is a subject not unfamiliar to LIS folks on the web; in fact Ned Potter (@theREALwikiman) and Laura Woods’ Library Routes Project and the Library Origins Stories [found on @evagro ‘s blog] have already done much chronicling in this area. Inspired by such projects, the HackLibSchool teamsters decided to share our “Routes To School.” We encourage you to share your own in the comments, on our Facebook page, or on either of the linked projects above.

The stories that led us here are as integral to our professional growth as the stories we have yet to create.



It’s a classic story.  Girl grows up wanting to work at an investment bank.  Girl goes to college and pursues degree in business administration while interning at some of the state’s biggest banks.  Girl gets dream job a few months after graduating at an investment bank.  Girl works for 3 years for them before being transferred to London for another 3 with the investment bank.  Girl faces early career crisis at 28 wondering if “this is it” for the rest of her life.  Girl decides to move back to Boston to pursue degree in Library and Information Science.

Isn’t that how most end up here?!  That’s actually one of the things I’ve found so fascinating about this degree…is how it brings together people with all sorts of different experience.  I think that really allows for such a diverse set of views and thoughts, which strengthens the experience.  I myself was looking for a change, looking to stop working 50-60 hour weeks, looking to get back to the States, and looking to do something with my career that may serve others in a way that my one in banking didn’t necessarily do.  I wanted to be learning on a daily basis and to feel challenged.  I also was looking for flexibility in my career and a way to move around if I chose to do so; both location-wise and career-wise.  Already I can see that working it’s way into my new path.  I came into the program convinced that I would find work in a public library.  Through some other means, though, I have found myself working in a corporate setting again and doing research in a private equity firm.  And I absolutely love it.  However, I also realize that the skills I’m learning both on the job and in my classes, are ones that I could use in several settings; not just my current one.  And that makes all the difference to me.  And what has made this experience so worthwhile.  And what makes me never look back to the day I gave my notice at the bank.


I am and have always been a huge bookworm, and my friends always used to tease me (in a bad way!) that I was going to be a librarian when I grew up.  I always used to huff that just because you like to read doesn’t mean you’re going to be a librarian.  My “epiphany” came while sitting on the floor of the San Francisco Public Library, doing research on gendered portrayals of violence in children’s literature.  I looked up and looked around at the diversity of the patrons using all these resources for free, and realized the library is for me. I felt an almost physical shift in my body, and I swear, there was a beam of light shining down on me.  Angels sang.  Pages looked at me funny.  I was meant to be a librarian, and my third-grade self was right: my decision to become a public librarian had nothing to do with books, and everything to do with politics.  My personal beliefs align perfectly with I feel the library represents at it’s best, what I saw in SFPL that day: open, democratic, non-corporate, non-Capitalist, citizenship-status blind, locally active.  The creativity, the daily interaction with people, the continuing education, all just icing on the cake!


I have a dirty secret: I didn’t start out wanting to be a librarian. Or an info pro. Or anything close. I started out majoring in Drawing after a lifelong obsession with creating art. After one semester, I realized that I shouldn’t turn it into a career (although I still make plenty of art). I switched to Psychology, hoping to work with sexual assault victims. I volunteered and lectured and did many exciting things. And then I applied to 12 PhD programs and was rejected from all of them. Hindsight being 20/20, this was a really good thing because it saved me from jumping into a field I thought I loved, but now realize was not a good fit for me. Around this time one of my best friends suggested library science. Another one of my best friends had suggested it for years, but for some reason it took two people to make it stick. I remember applying and when I got the letter I told my cats (yeah, I live with lots of cats–big surprise there!) ‘well, here’s rejection #13.’ I opened the envelope and was so excited, I even called my poor friend and woke him up to tell him about it!

Like Britt, I had always been famous for having my nose stuck in a book, and was often found quietly tucked away in a corner either reading or drawing. I have an unhealthy obsession with special collections, but beyond that I wasn’t fully sure what I wanted to do when I got to my LIS program. I wasn’t sure why I was learning computing and I felt swamped with information. I finally found my niche through opening up and interacting with other students and forcing myself to branch out and try new things. Now I get the best of both worlds–I get to do art and bury myself in special collections materials, but I also get to connect with people worldwide through social media and OA publishing!


Some (so-called) friends tricked me into going to library school! Tricky librarians! I’m sure there were other influences, but essentially, I got a student job at the computer help desk at my undergrad library at the end of my first year. I LOVED THE JOB (the librarians, atmosphere, students, work, etc.) and continued working there until I graduated. The summer before my final year, I was given some “special projects” to do for the library. Working on these fascinating projects (a scanning project, inventorying, creating reports, making a wiki, etc.), the summer flew by and suddenly my senior year was starting and I told my (so-called) friends I was headed for my MLIS. They snickered quietly (they’re librarians, remember?) and said, “Yeah. We take complete credit for that brilliant idea.” They totally set me up! Tricky librarians! (Thanks, ladies!)

So, where am I now? I’m about 20 days short of graduating! I’m heading back “home” — to provide library services for people in small, rural libraries. I’m all about service, folks. If there’s one thing I’ve learned these past couple of years, it’s that the best resources are the people you serve! Who knows! Maybe I’ll be a “tricky librarian” and set an unsuspecting person in the IS direction.


From a very young age, I thought that I wanted to be a teacher or a librarian. My elementary school librarian, Mrs. Dodd (no relation), embodied the classic stereotypes of librarians–gray hair, glasses, shushing–but she was so sweet and encouraging, and I adored her. She challenged me in reading from a very young age, giving me scores of advanced reading recommendations before she retired. I’ve since found that I do not want to be a school librarian, but her love of service sent me an important message – librarianship was about people, not necessarily reading or books.

I worked in my community college Learning Resource Center as a work-study student for two years, performing a variety of tasks—circulation, reference, government documents, and more—and was essentially another staff member. I loved the college atmosphere and helping both patrons and faculty with their research needs. This shifted me toward academia, and eventually toward academic librarianship. I took a bit of a detour, thinking that I wanted to be an English professor, but when I finally realized that that wasn’t my path, I knew exactly where I was headed. Librarianship wasn’t my back up plan – it was what I had really wanted all along. I could not be happier with my soon-to-be profession – it contains the perfect amount of service, teaching, and research. Now that I think about it, I should probably give Mrs. Dodd a call and thank her for her service and inspiration!


I went to library school because I didn’t know what else to do, and the application deadline was late in the summer. I enjoyed books as a kid, did well in college as a Humanities major, and went on to a Masters program in American Studies simply so I could write a thesis on punk rock. Which I did. I had the pleasure and honor to work with Dr. Wayne Wiegand in my MA program, and as the doom of graduation started to hit me, Dr. Wiegand took me aside one day and said, “Hey, we could use folks like you in librarianship.” It was not until halfway through my very first semester, in a Digital Media Concepts and Production course, that I realized that LIS involved a lot more these days than books and Dewey. And I was hooked. I have warmed to the idea of books, and enjoyed learning about the history and theory of the profession, but to be brutally honest, I’m still not really sure “librarian” proper is what I’ll end up being. The things I like are all on the outskirts of Librarianship (cultural heritage, digital archives, digital humanities, tech journalism, web technologies, information technology, communications media, etc), and so I think my place may be mediating relationships between these different (yet similar) fields. The best part about all this though is that I do well in communities, and it seems that the LIS field is a community-focused profession, and one I’ll be proud to represent and contribute to, whatever job title that ends up being.

Categories: Starter Kits

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15 replies

  1. It’s great to read everyone’s stories!

    Like many of you I sort of stumbled into librarianship by accident. At my high school we had to do a senior career project. I was a bit younger than my peers and didn’t have a car so this limited me to do my interviews and career exploration at the community college down the street. My counselor set me up to interview and job shadow a librarian for the day, and after a week of complaining of how boring that would be, it was finally the big interview day. Surprise surprise I loved it! I learned that libraries are very people oriented, I watched the librarian teach a class, we filled out order cards, we went to a meeting, and by the end of the day my understanding of librarianship completely changed. I ended up working as an intern at the library the rest of my senior year before going off to college. While in college I shelved books at the science library on campus and debated career possibilities. I ended up circling around to the idea of library school. Now that I’m about to graduate it’s easier to look back and see how it was a great fit all along.


    • Career shadowing is such a phenomenal outreach idea! As we struggle to recruit and bring the best into librarianship, this is really lets people know what we do, and can possibly (as it did with you!) bring new librarians into the field. Kudos to the librarian you shadowed. I’m storing this one in the “idea box.”


  2. While studying political science as an undergrad and working as a Page in Canada’s Parliament, I observed that the librarians who supported the work of parliament had a pretty sweet job. I took a year off after graduating university to unwind, and then started in on an MLIS at UBC in Vancouver, BC.


  3. It’s neat reading everyone’s stories! I kind of fell into it, in a roundabout way. I majored in English Lit, wanting to be a teacher. To pay through undergrad, I worked at a bookstore (for all you Tallahassee people, Waldenbooks in the mall). After college, I became a high school English teacher, which I realized was NOT what I was meant to do. (I loved talking about literature and helping kids…but the lecturing and disciplining and so on became emotionally overwhelming). During all that, I was also freelance writing, so I decided to pursue that full time. I was a copywriter, and now a magazine editor. While writing was (and is) fun, I felt like I wasn’t helping anyone. I was just providing content – how does that change the world? So I was looking for a change and came across the FSU program. Suddenly, it clicked. I wanted to be a youth librarian – I could go back to the old days of working with books, and still talk to kids about books, but I didn’t need to disciple. I could have book clubs and writing classes and not worry about homework. So, that’s what i’m hoping for!


    • Lauren, I never made it to being an English teacher, but I’ve got really similar interests – only I think working with youth will also help me come up with more awesome ideas to write about! 🙂


  4. It’s great to hear everyone’s stories and to see such a vibrant diversity in the community. It gives me hope that we have the insight and innovation needed to work through all today’s changes in the information realm.

    I was a kid who never latched onto a dream job when asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, although geology and meteorology interested me for some time. My mother got partway through her MLS at Indiana before we had to move, and she was the one who suggested I join the junior volunteer program at the library in our new hometown. So, I started library work at the age of 11. I got hired at 16 and worked there even during school breaks in college. In undergrad I entertained the idea of doing something different with my history major and math minor–“I could be an analyst for the CIA! … No, really!” Pretty soon a dose of practicality set in. Also, as a sophomore I had gotten a job at the University Archives way too easily for it to be anything but fate. I applied to graduate programs and went straight to library school from undergrad as an archives/records management specialization. Since becoming familiar with the information field as a whole, I’ve found that reference services suit me better than archives, but that’s another story. So glad to be here!


  5. As my senior year of high school approached, my only career aspiration was the dream career ideal that I’ve had since I was 8 years old: work for Disney. Specifically I had wanted to be a Disney animator (but lost a taste for it when they went to 3D/CGI). I was a senior in high school when Disney announced they would no longer be creating 2D animated movies. So I adjusted my goals and decided that I wanted to take over Disney so I could bring them back into alignment with the “correct” way to do animation.

    How to get there? I did not know where to start, but I thought that I should attend art school. I ran into a major hiccup when my over-controlling parent told me he’d only let me go to the local university on the other side of town. I had no car, no money, and no job so I couldn’t argue with him. So, I studied multimedia (web design, video production, 2D–in Flash– and 3D animation).

    I was miserable. My sophomore year of college, my parent finally relented and let me get a job and a car so my life schedule became: 8 am – 4 pm be in class and 4:30 pm – 10:30 pm I’d be at work. I slept in my car between classes and my grades were embarrassing. The multimedia program was poorly developed as well and only at the end was it revealed that none of us could find jobs.

    So, I continued working at my undergraduate job. After five months of not getting a single job interview, I decided to apply for graduate school. I had been talking to the career center lady at my undergraduate and taking lots of “what should I do with my life” quizzes from every book I could get my hands on. Test after test came back with librarian by a landslide.

    Libraries? I had spent a lot of my time growing up in them. During especially awkward times in high school, I had snuck my lunch in so I could have some me time. I would check out a stack of books on Monday and then bring them back at 7:30 am the following Monday to exchange them for another armful. I couldn’t remember my student ID number but the librarians knew it by heart.

    When I told my coworkers I was going to library school, they all laughed and said knew it. I wore my hair in a bun, had glasses, and often had books shoved into my apron pockets. *OF COURSE* I was going to library school.

    Library school has been a blessing in my life. I was hired as a graduate assistant which helped free me from the unrelated work burdens of my undergraduate life. Now I’m an active contributor to my department, I get to intern, find mentors, lead and present and develop as a budding new information professional.

    I started applying to jobs in October (I graduate in May). Today is my first (phone) interview. My life is better as a library student.


  6. I remember first going into the local public library that was brand new and it smelled glorious – like new books. There were so many new books that I could read – and magazines! And computers! (And this was 1991, so there wasn’t also YouTube, but I would’ve been stoked about that too.)

    I’ve always been an avid library user. I went to college with every intention of becoming a high school English teacher. Well, that didn’t pan out. Somewhere between Romanticism and waking up before 7 a.m. and wearing pantyhose, I decided maybe I’d just get a plain old English BA with a minor in French. It was a scary decision, knowing I’d end up either in grad school or living in a box as a writer.

    I took a job at a proprietary school as an administrative assistant. We were getting ready for accreditation audits, and one of the campuses needed a librarian. “Huh,” I thought. “I could do that.” I thought about it. After all, I did like reading. I did enjoy the educational aspect of librarianship without having to deal with parents as much.

    I found Unshelved, and I laughed. And it slowly dawned on me. I’d always organized my books alphabetically by author. I never struggled to grasp the Dewey Decimal System. The notion of learning all kinds of random bits of information was thrilling. I’d already found resources for people as a Resident Advisor. I loved giving people answers. I’d read encyclopedias and dictionaries.

    My life suddenly made sense: I needed to be a librarian. I enrolled in library school, and here I am, about to graduate if the next two weeks go well.


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