I know what you’re thinking. “Another article about defending your library career? Didn’t someone write one of those a couple of weeks ago?” The answer? Yes. Also, “I think someone wrote something similar a year or so ago.” And you would be right again. So why am I bringing it up? In a nutshell, because I feel the need to address a few reasons why we should be far more confident in our career choice.
It’s true that if you choose certain professions deemed respectable, in demand, and lucrative (think doctor, lawyer, software engineer), you are far more likely to get a smile and a “good for you!” It’s nice to get this kind of validation from others. However, as we are all well aware, we in the library field are far more likely to get quizzical stares and awkward questions than a pat on the back. It’s enough to make anyone doubt their career choice, but I think that there is far too much of that in our profession, and I’d like to put a stop to it.
I have to start by admitting I used to be one of those quizzical look-givers. And I’ve volunteered and worked in both academic and public libraries for almost seven years. I used to harbor all the misconceptions about the library field that are constantly thrown at us: perceived irrelevance of the profession because of the internet or not wanting to be seen as a stereotype, to name a couple. I had initially worked in libraries because I liked them and it was convenient, but I never took it seriously as a career. I was convinced I wanted to be a graphic designer, and then realized after two years that I hated it, and I was much happier when I was working in a library. I realized a few things that are so awesome about it:
There are SO MANY specializations to choose from. I was recently interviewing a volunteer, who was looking to gain library experience as she starts her MLIS program. She was picking my brain about the different kinds of jobs you can choose from, and even I was amazed at everything I came up with! Besides academic and public librarianship and their subcategories, you can focus on cataloging, archives, systems, public services, programming/outreach, management, oh my! Personally, I can pursue a systems specialization that also allows me to include my favorite parts of being a graphic designer, which excites me to no end (See also this article on choosing a specialization, from the archives of HLS).
The ability to combine interests. Even once you choose a specialization, there’s usually a lot of room to dabble in other areas once you’re employed. The nature of the field is one of learning and collaboration, so if there is a program or project you want to help with, usually all you have to do is ask. Even if you aren’t needed, you’ll be remembered as being interested in it and you may be asked to give input in the future. In the academic library I worked at, I expressed interest in the creation of an institutional repository for student and faculty work. Though I wasn’t in a position to shape its creation, the librarian on the project came to me for input and made sure my ideas were expressed to those with the decision making power.
Flexible workplace choices. Guess what? You don’t even have to work in a traditional library! Though my experience has been very library-centric, I’m now learning how wonderful museums, archives and special libraries are as potential workplaces. In addition, if you are really into systems and data, you can become an information scientist and work pretty much anywhere that has data management needs. Then there are the specialty libraries: law, medical, corporate…the list goes on.
These are just a few reasons why I believe a library career is, frankly, one of the best out there. So, next time someone challenges your career choice, just remember: you chose it because there’s something about it that speaks to you, or fulfills a deep-seated desire to help people. Or, if you’re like me, you chose it because you love it.