When I was in high school, I knew exactly what I was going to do when I got older.
I was wrong.
During junior year, when I told my English teacher that I was going to school to be a teacher too, he shocked me by responding, “Don’t. It’s not what you’re expecting.” As I worked my way through various teaching placements with different schools, age levels, and subjects, I realized that he was right. While there were some aspects that I loved, I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life in schools. Cue the Type A personality-induced panic. My entire life had been spent in schools or working with kids at summer camp. At what job would I ever be able to use those skills in the future?
I took a chance and applied at a local library. Now, I’m amazed at how frequently I depend upon the skills I built up in past positions. My time at a summer camp taught me flexibility, budgeting for a nonprofit organization, risk management, debriefing, programming, and the ability to find things that are out of place (“Miss Kerri, I can’t find my other sneaker!”) My teaching experience helps with instruction, team management, and the ability to give the “teacher look” from across a busy room. I also was lucky enough to student teach in an urban school, where I had the opportunity to interact with a wide range of cultures and work alongside my students as we learned how to have open, honest discussions about diversity, privilege, and a number of other traditionally difficult conversations. I also worked for a while at a daycare, so I can give a mean story time in a pinch. My path, which once appeared warped and twisted, actually led me right where I wanted to be.
After three years at a library, I’ve discovered how that isn’t true for just me. So many fascinating individuals fell into librarianship after other careers, and everyone I’ve spoken to has been able to utilize the skills they gained elsewhere in their current lives. I took to social media and asked library staff members to share their stories. Here are a few of them:
Anonymous: “Fraud investigator who is now a Circ Manager…Let’s just say that families creating more imaginary kids to ‘borrow’ thousands of dollars of library items that never get returned may be decreasing and theft is declining.”
Eric: “I was a chef and operations manager for a warehouse. Being comfortable with a chaotic service environment and a focus on process-driven solutions helps me each and every day, likely even more than my Masters Degree.”
Jennifer: “I tended bar one summer and worked in several kennels. Taught me about listening, being bored but minding the store (not leaving, arranging tasks to keep me alert and to keep the space ready). The dogs taught me how to value the smallest win, and how to clean up.”
Cecilia: “I was a paramedic for 16 years, and worked in an ER for 19 years. This has taught me how to deal with the most difficult people (I dealt with drug addicts, drunks and mental illness almost every day). I can also sense when someone isn’t telling me the truth (I did bring that book back). I also have a tough skin when someone decides they’re going to insult me, call me names, or ridicule me.”
GayNell: “I was a litigator for ten years. Went into high school media center. The research skills definitely translated from one to the other. I also instruct on first amendment issues, government and civics.”
Ingrid: “I spent 20 in sales, insurance and then pharmaceuticals. Totally prepared me. I now sell literacy to my students, my stakeholders and my admin. Wouldn’t change a thing.”
Joanna: “Professional in the equestrian world – groom, rider/trainer, property manager. Horses teach you a lot about nonverbal communication and emotional intelligence.”
Jon: “I managed apartment complexes for the mentally ill, and it TOTALLY has come in handy as a librarian. As did, of course, years and years of customer service background.”
Emily: “I was a singer before…those performance skills have served me better than anything I ever learned in library school.”
George: “After I dropped out of college at 18, I did a bunch of different jobs and eventually became a bus driver. Then I met my wife and, at 28, I decided to go back to college…[and] I found a part-time job at Boise Public Library as a shelver…the Boise Public Library Bookmobile driver quit without warning after 9 years on the job and I casually mentioned to the person who supervised that department that I had the Class B commercial drivers license required to drive the Bookmobile. So, in 1 week I went from being a full-time student with a 9 hour per week shelving job to being a part-time student with a full-time Bookmobile job (and full benefits).”
Have your prior skills impacted your library career? Share in the comments below! And if you’re thinking about entering the library and information services field and you’re not sure if your past experiences would make any sense in context, think again. There’s a very good chance they will, and everyone around you will benefit from what you bring to the table.
Kerri is a MSLIS student at Drexel University. You can find her on Twitter @klmillik.