Still Undecided: Public vs Academic Libraries

I entered library school undecided as to what path I wanted to take in libraries. I had worked for four years in my college’s academic library, so I was leaning towards the academic route, but I made sure to keep myself open to anything. I even worked in a hospital library for a year (though I found out that wasn’t quite for me). I thought, and hoped, that my two years of courses and gaining experience while in library school would offer me some clarity. However, I have finished my classes, I am less than a month away from my graduation ceremony, and I’m not much closer to an answer. If anything, I feel more undecided than when I began.

I’ve worked in a public library for over a year now, and I’ve found I love this work. I enjoy working with the public in whatever form that comes in, and trying to find answers to obscure homework questions or recommend a “good book” as tiring as it can sometimes be. I haven’t had the opportunity to do programming, but I know I would enjoy that as well, because I thrive on creating connections and planning events for the community. I also work at McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services department, where I get to work with undergraduate and graduate students, helping them with academic and professional skills. I love meeting and working with students, showing them the resources available to them.

I love instructing, a role I know I would do less in a public library. But I also love talking about and recommending popular fiction, something I would lose in an academic library. There are so many more pros and cons to each position – and trust me, I’ve been through them all – so that every week I change my mind on where I want to end up. I do know that if I were in an academic library, I would enjoy positions often called “Student Success Librarians” that are less traditional liaison librarians, and more holistic resources. I had an interview for this kind of position and I was very much interested in this kind of work. For public libraries, I would enjoy all of the traditional roles like outreach, reference, collection development, and yes, even the occasional cataloging.

So where does this put me? I’ve heard from many of the librarians I’ve asked for advice that, in order to get your first job out of grad school, it really helps to move. You are almost assured a position if you’re willing to move for it. But if I don’t fully know what I want, it’s harder to look for positions in any location. And to research each institution and region to personalize each cover letter can be incredibly time consuming and tiring.

I think I have somewhat figured a solution to this problem. I’m not sure what I want, but I do more or less know where I want to be. I would absolutely love to stay in Montreal. I have made incredible connections here, professional and personal, and it doesn’t quite feel like I’m ready to leave the city just yet. I am open to moving back to Minnesota, where I have more personal, and also some professional connections, but my priority right now is Montreal. So, ignoring all the wise words of mentors from years past, I won’t move anywhere for the job. I will make a job work for where I am. I have tried to turn my uncertainty into my strength. I am willing to work in any position, if it means I can live in a place I want to live. My mentors have also told me that my first job will definitely not be the one I’m in forever, so I’m willing to explore the field a bit before I settle into something.

As a librarian, it is unsurprising that I’m the kind of person who likes to plan. This uncertainty can sometimes drive me to my wits end. However, it is the reality of the situation I’m facing, and I am finding myself excited for this next challenge in my life.


Cover image by James Wheeler from Pexels


Carrie Hanson is a MISt Candidate at McGill University’s School of Information Studies in Montreal. She currently works as a student librarian in a public library and is involved in numerous student associations. Connect with her on Twitter @icarriebooks

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