We all know the quintessential librarian stereotype: meek, bookish, bespectacled folks who sit surrounded by stacks of books all day long, shushing children and wielding large inky stamps with which to brandish book covers with due dates. Even in the ripe year of 2020, I received admiration from well-meaning patrons and acquaintances who told me how lucky I am to be able to sit around with my nose in a book all day long as a job. I’ve yet to find anyone who is actually able to make money this way, least of all a librarian; but if anyone does know how to get that gig, I am available for hire immediately.
Of course, this stereotype is a far cry from the reality of working in a library or what sort of work librarians actually do. Luckily, I knew this long before I ever enrolled in an MLIS program, having grown up actually going to libraries and then working in one for the better part of a decade. But, I have to admit, even with all of this experience under my belt, I wasn’t totally sure what librarians did all day long. I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. I remember searching through job boards, dreaming of the fancy job titles I might be able to have someday. The details of these jobs were shrouded in hazy fog that I was hopeful a graduate program would help clear.
And, luckily, I was right. This in itself is problematic in some ways – I don’t believe that professional practices should be subject to gatekeeping like expensive degrees in the way that librarianship, for better or worse, definitely is. But this aside, so far my MLIS program has not only informed me that there are many different types of librarians who do all kinds of different things; but also, that a librarian is just one of many different types of information professionals. The world of information science is huge; and growing all the time as our communities continue to shift in response to the myriad challenges we face each year.
As I continue to learn about the field and try to carve a space for myself within it, I have taken to thinking of my professional goals a bit less concretely than I did at the start. Rather than getting caught up in thinking about particular job titles I might like to have, I instead try to focus on the skillsets I have and the ones I would like to develop. Personally, I know I really enjoy digital curation and organization, and have taken classes where I’ve learned how to create and implement metadata for collections, how to build website databases, and the best practices for writing usable finding aids. I also know that I love to research and write, and plan to continue to look for more opportunities to engage with these practices. And, I would like to develop my skills in physical preservation for archives, and I hope to grow that skillset more in the coming year.
When I think this way, I feel less bogged down by the uncertainty that comes with being in, what I’ll define as a “growth period” of my life. I decided to pursue an MLIS degree because I wanted to step into a career, and I was ready to take on the risk that comes with making a change. I cannot predict what the job market will look like when enter it in 2022, or what sort of positions will even exist then. But, it doesn’t serve me to worry about these things when I can’t actually do anything about them. What I can do is focus on cultivating my skills to the best of my ability.
Has your perspective on your career goals shifted lately? Let me know how in the comments!
Mary Elizabeth Allen is an MLIS student at San Jose State University. She holds a B.A. in Literature with an emphasis in Fiction Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her professional interests include: archives studies, the intersections between critical librarianship and social justice, and radical feminist scholarship.