For my first post with HLS, I want to talk about everyone’s favorite topic: failure. A few HLS writers have written about this topic, but for me failure in library school means something specific. In my eyes, failure would be paying all this money, moving thousands of miles, and discovering I didn’t like what I had decided to do.
This is about a certain, more specific instance of failure. Or, more so, a failed experiment. When I started library school last year, I heard from almost everyone I solicited for advice that the most important part of the library school experience is, well experience. The courses and degree are a necessary step, but where you should focus your time and energy is working in the field. And if you can get paid for it, all the better.
While I worked in an academic library during my undergrad, I wanted to explore something new. I discovered a position at the Montreal Neurological Hospital Patient Resource Center (aka patient library) and I was eager to enter a side of the field I had never been exposed to and was intrigued by: medical librarianship.
During the interview it was clear I was not fully qualified. It was a position usually offered to second year students. I had never even searched a health science database, having studied French in undergrad. I didn’t get the job. But then (plot twist!) the person who did decided a week in that they didn’t want the job (bad sign?), so I was hired!
Throughout the year, though I got along really well with my boss and coworkers, I realized medical librarianship was not my cup of tea. The major reason was that I just wasn’t passionate about it like I am with information literacy, outreach, and instruction. I wasn’t as invested or interested in the medical field. Though I referred the tougher reference questions, I found myself slightly relieved that I didn’t have to do that research. Don’t get me wrong, I love reference and helping patrons, but in this context I wasn’t as excited to help as I was in my other job at a public library, or as my previous experience in academic.
My mental health was also a factor in this decision. I discovered I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth for this kind of work and I applaud those who do. One of my projects was to call patrons to track down overdue books. A quiet Saturday afternoon, I called a patron about a book. He told me in a shaky voice that the book was for his wife who had passed away 5 weeks previous. Understandably, he entirely forgot to return the book but would look for it. I listened, unsure how to proceed. I got out something about we understood and to give us a call back if he finds it. A week later, I had almost an identical conversation with another patron. While I was more logistically prepared this time, I was nowhere near emotionally equipped to handle this again. Going in to this position, my supervisor warned me that this kind of thing could happen given the nature of the field, but the reality of it still shook me.
I began this job hoping I would discover a new passion and direction with with this degree. But I didn’t. It was a failed experiment. After coming to this realization, I also thought about how I put myself out there and tried something entirely new, which is an accomplishment in itself. I highly value what I did learn while working there – how small, special libraries operate, basics of searching in a medical context, and how to adjust to an unfamiliar environment. I think my experience will make me a better information professional in the long run. And the failure brought me one step closer to figuring out what I do want to do.
I encourage anyone who is looking for a job to add to your resume as you enter library school to try something new, even if it scares you (as cliché as that sounds). You might love it! Or you might not, which is an equally valuable discovery.
What kinds of failures have you experienced when trying new things? What jobs did you get when you entered library school?
Carrie Hanson is a MISt Candidate at McGill University’s School of Information Studies in Montreal. She currently works as a student librarian at a public library and is involved in numerous student associations. Connect with her on Twitter @icarriebooks