As I mentioned last month, it is important for you as a library school student to begin researching not only potential job and internship openings, but employers as well, as early as possible so you can gain as much perspective as you realistically can on where you may best fit within either the library and information science field or an adjacent field. This perspective is especially crucial in our current times as we all collectively try to figure out how best to navigate an ever-changing job market, among other facets of life. But, I feel it is also important to mention that gaining this perspective may be difficult to gain if you do not take the time while in library school and out to actually figure out what interests you, drives you professionally, and what work you find fulfilling.
In 2015, I read a short article in Glamour that brought up a very poignant point that has stuck with me in the years since first reading it: regardless of what you do, you have more than enough power to create the job you want so you can feel fulfilled by your work. This has been a driving factor in how I have approached exploring potential career paths and professional interests before and during library school as I want my career to reflect what I am passionate about and what I bring to an employer’s hypothetical table; and not be something I pursue just for the sake of pursuing it. Thus, over the years, I have actively learned how to translate my personal interests and values into professional ones, as well as cultivate my strengths and identify my weaknesses. In turn, I am now actively seeking out career paths and professional opportunities that align with those interests and values ahead of my graduation in May.
Since one’s work can demonstrably impact their mental health, especially now during our current pandemic, I recognize that finding a job or internship you genuinely enjoy and feel fulfilled by is incredibly important. However, I also recognize that this goal may not be easily achievable given multiple different factors that are currently impacting us all seeking out professional opportunities, including but not limited to opportunity availability, geographical location, and whether or not the opportunity pays a livable wage, if at all. Thus, those of us seeking professional opportunities have to continuously walk a fine line between pursuing the ones that fulfill us and pursuing the ones that pay the bills if they are not one in the same.
But, as we walk that fine line, how can we best prepare ourselves for the careers we want that will fulfill us as we hope they will? Before, I have pondered whether we should approach our library school education as generalists or specialists, and I am still pondering this question within the realm of the current job market. Do I want to pursue professional opportunities that afford me the opportunity to further hone select existing skills, or that allow me expand my skill set further and provide me with new challenges? Which opportunities would afford me a greater sense of fulfillment, while providing me the chance to make a livable income? While being information professionals afford us the opportunity to arguably make a difference in patrons’ lives, how can we best approach our careers to afford us the chance to be fulfilled in our lives? The questions these days seem endless.
While I do wholeheartedly believe that attending library school is one of the best decisions I have made in my life to date, my upcoming graduation has made me seriously consider how I can best apply my degree to my career and maximize fulfillment because now I am not only selecting courses to fill out my course schedule and internships to bolster my resumé – I am now trying to determine how I can apply what I have learned in my courses, as well as through my student leadership opportunities and internships, to my career; and it has been difficult, pandemic notwithstanding. In turn, the only recommendation I can really make for others who may be in the same position to me, or are close to being in it, is to learn what fulfills you however and wherever you can. Whether it is in library school, in a professional development course offered outside of your school, during a webinar you are attending for school/work or fun, or simply researching a topic on your own in your free time, I advocate for continuously keeping your mind open to learning, even when you may not be working towards a grade or certificate, as what you find purpose or fulfillment from may not be included on a course syllabus. This is an approach I have taken that has benefited me while in library school and out since there is no one way to learn, nor is there only one place to learn from. So, it is essential for you to afford yourself the opportunity to learn what drives you professionally and what fulfills you so you can get the most out of your career.
For example, I completed a for-credit internship through my iSchool with the San Francisco Public Library’s Jail and Reentry Services Reference by Mail program last Fall, which was an incredibly fulfilling experience. During this internship, I not only learned how to be a better reference librarian via answering asynchronous reference inquiries that were mailed to the program by incarcerated patrons under the supervision of my supervisor and within the program’s rules and regulations, including, but not limited to, the use of pre-approved templates in my responses; but I also learned how to better advocate for incarcerated patrons’ right to information as their access to information is incredibly limited. Since I could not conduct a reference interview with the incarcerated patrons I responded to on the behalf of San Francisco Public Library and not as myself, I acted as their connection to the best information sources I could locate within the program’s rules and regulations; which was not a responsibility I took lightly. Thus, I found this internship incredibly fulfilling because I knew I was genuinely making a difference in the lives of the incarcerated patrons whose reference inquiries I was assigned to answer during my internship by providing them with the best information I could find; and I genuinely like helping people, which is something that drew me to library school in the first place.
Additionally, with my current not-for-credit internship with the Law Library of Congress, I am finding fulfillment in the fact that, once the metadata project I am contributing to is completed, I will have directly and indirectly helped people learn more about past legislation and become more knowledgeable of the legislative process the United States Congress supports; all while learning about metadata creation on the job and expanding my current skill set. In turn, my experiences with both of these unpaid internships are all experiences I could not necessarily have had in a typical online class environment; and I am grateful for the fulfilling experiences I have had with each because they have helped me further determine how I can find fulfillment in a professional environment outside of the courses I have taken and student leadership positions I have assumed to supplement these experiences. So, while I am still trying to find the right professional opportunities that afford me the chance to feel fulfilled by my work while making a livable income post-graduation, I remain confident I will find them – it will just take some more time.