Editor’s note: This article was originally published January 14, 2015.

I mostly read HLS posts from my fellow contributors and nod along – I learn new things all the time but I can usually relate – not so the recent post on picking your modules! Our system is radically different here in the UK (which might be the subject for a future post) so I was slightly agog to hear about the difficulties students in the US can face.  Then I got to musing on my current situation and the challenges all students can face as our studies progress – juggling our expectations with the realities of our jobs and lives.

How far can I push this metaphor, you might ask... Taken by Pedro Moura Pinheiro CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

How far can I push this metaphor, you might ask…*
Image by Pedro Moura Pinheiro

I study part time, so I am on campus and in classes one day a week – I’m actually in my last term of teaching, which is thrilling and beyond terrifying as my cosy dissertation buffer slowly melts away and the thought of having to do a proper Job Hunt in the future looms closer. I have two part time jobs and while I am a Library Assistant at both, my actual roles are radically different.


One of my jobs is front of house – I’m on the circulation desk and we also do enquiries out of hours, I do library inductions and potential member tours, I help with the stubborn photocopier and cover reception’s breaks. My job is one that many people can slip in and out of, and everything is arranged so that multiple people are responsible for the same tasks.


The other job is very much behind the scenes – I do emerge from the office to work on the enquiry desk from time to time (and to do my shelving, and to hunt things down for document delivery) but a large chunk is office bound. I have my own desk, which is a first!  I have responsibilities and tasks that are mine and mine alone – though thankfully my colleagues will cover for me if I go on leave or if I get swamped and need help.


At university, I’m learning how to be a fully fledged library professional, which can conflict with my non-/para-professional jobs.  I’m starting to discover my professional interests and to have actual opinions and sometimes I just feel so ready to get out there and start… but I haven’t finished library school yet! As I’ve learnt more at university I’ve had to face a series of mental adjustments at both jobs to keep myself sane and productive – it’s sometimes difficult to go from learning about the finer details of RDA one day to going into work the very next day and knowing that it’ll be months before I get to put these things into practice.


I’m incredibly fortunate that both employers have been sympathetic to this and have given me opportunities to use my new experiences – from encouraging me to go to professional conferences at one job to not minding if I’m typing furiously away trying to get my HLS posts written while waiting for people to come and ask me things at the other.


This is my 'oh god spreadsheets' face Image taken by Hans Splinter CC BY-ND 2.0

This is my ‘oh god spreadsheets’ face
Image by Hans Splinter
CC BY-ND 2.0

The bottom line, though, is that just because I’m learning and growing doesn’t mean my job roles are too – I was hired to do a certain job and that is the job I have to do. I can get involved with loftier pursuits and help out with projects, I can go to conferences and spend time finding extra learning but at the end of the day (or rather, first thing in the morning), I’m still paid to do the shelving, and make photocopies, and scan books and change the date on hundreds of spreadsheet entries one at a time (curse you, non integrating systems!).


This is almost a mirror to Kara’s post from last year on keeping motivated and her tip on spending some time looking for stories of librarians doing cool things has been really helpful. This is also the year I sought out more opportunities to really grow (within limits!) and push myself as a professional – I’m writing here, for a start! I’m also chairing a new national student committee here in the UK and trying to get to as many conferences as I can (work and funding applications permitting).


My tips would be to always keep your final goal in mind – if you can’t remember why you’re putting yourself through this everything will seem so much gloomier. The old adage about paying your dues and starting at the bottom are all well and good but when you can’t see an end they can also be a bit disheartening! The key is to stop, take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come and then to go out and find your outlets and make opportunities to really engage with the profession in your own time if it’s not an option in your working life. And let yourself be frustrated from time to time and take a day off just to lie in bed and eat slightly unseasonable Easter chocolate.


On a practical, every day note – always, always keep in touch with your cohort. Have you got a Facebook page for sharing study woes and asking for help? You’ll have a wealth of experience to tap into right there, as well as a network of people who could help you find volunteering opportunities or maybe that perfect job listing when the time is right.  There are people at your jobs who will remember this sort of stuggle, or if you can’t find them there head to Twitter or the legion of blogging librarians (one day I will write a HLS post and not mention Twitter, but this is not that day). Are you also remembering to eat and sleep and possibly spend time on a hobby? (Ask me about crochet Darwin and Mary Anning, I dare you)


If you’re also studying part time and experiencing these frustrations, I’d love to hear from you how you juggle your jobs and your library school inspired aspirations!


* Very far. I can push this metaphor very far. Sorry.

Categories: Honesty, Professional Life

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3 replies

  1. This is a great post! Thank you for sharing your experience.
    I am in the same boat, I am heading to my second semester in library school, and a new Full time library assistant position for work. The key to keep myself sane, is scheduling absolutely everything, even buying milk! It’s truly chaotic at times,laundry doesn’t get done at the right time or at all, at times. But I always try to remember how much I want to be a librarian and take each day, and each project, bird by bird.


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