Being staff, student, & (aspiring) librarian

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

I apologize in advance if this post is a bit rambling… it’s an attempt to to put pen to paper (or rather keyboard to computer) regarding thoughts that have been swirling in my head since graduating with my MLIS this past December. I finally have the time and space to reflect on this experiences and the path that led me to this point. In this reflection, I’ve specifically thought more deeply about my experience as a non-librarian staff member pursuing their MLIS, which has been the reality for many librarians/library science students I know. I wanted to share some of my experiences and feelings of being situated in this space between both staff, student, and aspiring librarian.

Some brief background about myself… I’ve been working, as non-librarian staff, in various positions at the University of Michigan Library since 2013. I graduated with my MLIS in December 2018, but am still currently employed in my non-librarian, staff position at the U-M Library. I have sort of been on the job market, looking some but not necessarily fervently, as I am fortunate enough to have the stability of my current job. It is a good paying, engaging, flexible job and honestly, after going to school continuously for two years while working full-time, I have really needed this moment to pause, give myself a break, and reflect.

Having completed my MLIS, I realize just how much stress being in graduate school caused for me. The past couple of years have been an emotional rollercoaster for me and I didn’t fully contribute this to the build-up of stress created between juggling my job and schoolwork. Now that I only have to dedicate myself to one of these things, it’s like a huge weight has been lifted off of me! This could just be part of my personality, too. I tend to put a lot of stress and pressure on myself and while most times my work stress can be left at the library at the end of the day, the stress of school felt omnipresent. When I wasn’t working, I constantly felt like I should be doing something related to my education- gotta get a head start on that paper, on the readings, on that project. If I was already ahead, what else could I be doing to making sure I didn’t fall behind or what could I do to build my resume. Looking back, I would have tried to not be so hard on myself and to trust myself more.

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

As part of my current job I’ve managed our library’s graduate student reference assistants, many of whom are School of Information students, pursuing a career in librarianship. I have to admit that there were times I’ve been envious of the flexibility my students have in pursuing a variety of internships and opportunities available to them which, having a full-time job, were not a possibility for myself. However, it’s easier to think the grass is greener on the other side. I vicariously experienced their trials and tribulations as they worked and stressed through job apps, interviews, presentations etc. after graduating, not having any idea what the immediate future was going to bring them, and in this way, I feel very fortunate for the security and stability of my current job.

I’ve worked in varying departments across my library, but I often worry about getting pigeon-holed into a specific aspect of librarianship when I still feel very unsure of exactly which path I want to continue on! This felt true when I was working in acquisitions, a department heavily reliant on non-librarian staff. While this position was certainly beneficial in introducing me to the work of technical services librarianship, when reading through job postings for technical services librarians, I don’t really feel like my experience has been enough to actually qualify me for these positions. During my technical services days I also worried about my lack of public service experience being a hindrance for future job prospects.

Now that my past few positions have been public service focused, I feel a bit like I’m stuck, where I must continue pursuing public service librarianship, even when I’ve actually been feeling myself drawn back to the more technical, collection-based aspects of library and archival work. The conundrum is how does one transition to other aspects of librarianship when you are already working a full-time job in an entirely different arena of the library? I’m curious to hear the experiences of others who have transitioned to different jobs within libraries or from library to archive work, vice versa, from non-librarian staff to librarian, and how they made this move and the similar or different challenges they experienced.

Photo by David Clarke on Unsplash

I believe there are unique challenges for non-librarian staff as they work towards a career in librarianship. I plan to keep thinking about this as I continue to navigate my own winding path in librarianship. My feelings of being cornered come and go. My feelings of contentment in my current position, both directly related to the specific work I do, and within the context of a larger, professional identity, also come and go. The variety of interests and experiences I’ve had in academic libraries is what drew me to pursue my advanced education, in the hopes that I could continue to pursue a variety of interests and experiences as a librarian. I’m still trying to figure out how best to achieve this reality.

I am hoping others will share and discuss their own experiences, challenges, joys, frustrations, etc. in the comments below. How have you navigated (or are navigating) your career in librarianship?

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