Libraries and Me

“Libraries are as the shrine where all the relics of the ancient saints, full of true virtue, and all that without delusion or imposture are preserved and reposed.” -Sir Francis Bacon

When I was young, I never really enjoyed libraries.  I liked reading the books there, but I never liked interacting with the librarians.  They were mean, strict, and old.  I found certain sections of the public and school libraries, I found the books I wanted, and I got out as quickly as I could.  In high school, there was an “Info Skills” class which you could say was an “Introduction to Library/Information Science” class, though I never thought of it that way.  I liked the creative projects we made there and even learning the Dewey Decimal System.  The practice of organization and being able to put everything in its proper place was somehow satisfying to me.  Still, I never thought about being a librarian.

In college, I rarely entered the university library unless compelled to by the professors.  Now, I did use its online resources from my dorm/apartment rooms.  If you asked me then if I used the library, I would have said “no,” but in hindsight, I used its online resources often.  I returned to public libraries near the end of my senior year while completing my thesis.  I learned, though, that getting anything done in terms of research meant avoiding librarians as much as possible since they didn’t seem entirely too happy to work with other human beings.  My times at the college library, though, got me to thinking that maybe libraries could be fulfilling and friendly places to work.

I had considered graduate school to become a history professor or museum worker, but my persistent anxiety attacks and general indecision about my future meant over a year before I decided to give libraries a go.  I had no license nor car nor means of attending museum/history graduate schools anyway.  The idea of perhaps ten more years of school and writing a long dissertation about obscure historical topics did not appeal to me.*  So, I went to library school online and got a Master in Library Science (MLS).  The school was not at the time accredited with the American Library Association, so I was able to transfer most credits to another library school and got a second, but ALA-accredited, MLS.

I came close to a library page job while working on my first MLS, but after failing to get the job, I decided to focus on my studies before throwing myself into the job hunt.  It hardly mattered as the Great Recession hit at the moment.  I watched as one of the largest regional public library systems nearest me nearly fell apart and a multitude of librarians were left without jobs.  Volunteers were the only thing keeping several branches open at all.  For several years, I focused on getting any kind of library job only to find them few and far between.  I eventually gave up and took web design courses at my local community college and started volunteering at a museum and library.  In 2014, I found a job coach and mentor who encouraged my volunteering and finding a job.  ANY JOB.  Yes, employers can discriminate against those “over-educated” in “under-qualified” jobs, but they discriminate even more against those with NO JOB AT ALL.  Even a fryer at the Beanie Weenie Hut is at least something.   In late 2015, I found a part-time retail job and the company is investing more employee wages and career expansion programs, so I was glad to get it when I did.

Slowly, I have been explaining my life story to others.  Most have not been judgemental, but I still get what I feel are “jabs” (intentional or non-intentional) that I should still be fighting for my “dream job” in libraries.  I have spent nearly eight years looking, applying, interviewing, and traveling to libraries only to be rejected or never being told at all of my status.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not even expect librarian employment to increase for well over ten years and public funding for libraries is not stable at all.  The Great Recession proved that.  I never considered libraries my “dream job,” but places with a good, organized stable environment where I could get good job satisfaction while helping people find information or whatever.  I have never been “passionate” on the level of “I MUST be this” or “I MUST be that for I love it so!”  No, that is not me nor my personality.  I love history, discovery, and connecting people with what they want or need.  If I can get that from a job/career, more power to me.  Otherwise, my retail job (jobs?) supplemented by museum and library volunteering will be fine.  This explanation does not always satisfy people.  We live in a culture where you are expected to chase and sacrifice for your dreams and anything less means you are lazy and a failure.  The reality of… well… reality, practicality and sunken costs often guides us to other paths.  Love it, hate it, meh it, that is how it is.  Let others think as they think.  They are not you.  Let it go.

I have been cleaning out my old library science books, yet I feel a sadness in giving them up.  Is this really the end for me and libraries?  My skills are long outdated as I have not taken a library science class in other five years.  Library assistant and page jobs rarely go those with an MLS.  I look again at librarian job advice websites and find the same venom of “failure” because I never, evidently, knew that I would need experience in a library before getting an entry-level library job.  Well, forget that.  What a bizarre world these professionals must live in!  The anger, sadness, and depression hit me.  After a time, I think about my job coach’s advice of looking at jobs as angles to other jobs.  You can start in one job and end up in a completely other place.  So, let me compromise.  I will focus on my retail job and volunteering and look for opportunities.  If it ends up in libraries or not, so be it.  Let it go.  Be Free.

*I’ve never quite given up the idea of going back for a Masters in History or Military History, though that option is a long way off.  Time and patience will decide if that is plausible at some point.