Becoming a Professional: My Experience to the MLS

When I look back on my career experiences over the last three years one word comes to mind: “Wow!” Truly it has been an intense ride. My journey has taken me both high and low, and caused me to be excited and frustrated and everything in between. I’m sharing this story because through my experiences I’ve learned three things: one, that you can accomplish great things in a very short time frame; two, that there are many different paths to a career in libraries; and three, sometimes the only thing to do is jump in with both feet.

My journey begins in the late summer of 2006…

I had a B.S. in biology, a husband, a toddler and a part time job. I also had no idea what I was going to do next. I was frustrated and depressed. I knew I didn’t want to pursue a career in biology but had no other real skills or experience. All I really wanted was to make a difference. On a whim I happened upon a book called Careers For Bookworms & Other Literary Types (1990), and was struck by lightning: “That’s right, you get paid to work in a library!”

That very day was my first visit to the ALA website. I read everything I could about possible careers in a library, how to become a librarian, what schools to go to and – the most important page – “Me, a Librarian?” which detailed characteristics that many librarians share. I looked through that list and saw a profession that believed in and felt strongly about the same issues I did, and still do. I walked up to my husband and said, “This is it. This is what I’m going to do.”

I quit my $10/hour job and began working as a page at my local public library making minimum wage (whatever that happened to be in 2006). I picked the brains of every librarian in that building trying to learn as much as I could about librarianship. I filled out an application to begin an online program for my MLS so I could continue to stay at home with my daughter (and soon my son). I was obsessed with the success of my venture. “I will not fail” became my motto. Then life caught up with me. Taking such a huge salary cut began to make a real impact on my family. I needed to find other employment, and the pregnancy with my second child began to make it more difficult to shelf books. Anyone who has done such a job knows why.

At the urging of a mentor, I stopped my work as a page and instead became a volunteer, allowing me the opportunity to stay in the library and still have time to work a job making a little better money. Unfortunately I was unable to find steady work. My husband and I discussed going back to my previous employer; it was disheartening to say the least. It was a huge leap of faith but I held my ground and two miraculous things happened: I was accepted into the MLS program, and I found work as a library assistant. The leap of faith had paid off.

Thus begins the summer of 2007, my first complete year on this voyage. One month after the delivery of my second child, I began school and found a job working as the library assistant for a small career college near my home. It was serendipitous to say the least, almost as though it was meant to happen that way. The head librarian filled me with promise as she spoke of the college’s growth and the possibilities in the future. I strongly believe that this opportunity changed my life. Now, not only was I able to use some financial aid to help the offset expenses, but I had gotten work, in a library, making significantly more money.

Working for a small proprietary school was a learning experience I could never have duplicated. My supervisor was a solo librarian, and as a result I was able to put my hands into every pot of librarianship. I assisted with everything from reference to acquisitions, from readers’ advisory to cataloging. I was able to stretch my management skills by supervising student workers. It was phenomenal! Not quite one year into that position, the school opened a branch campus just on the other side of town. Only about three-quarters of the way through my MLS program I applied for the position of Head Librarian at that campus. I received the position. The leap of faith really paid off.

I won’t try to tell you that the transition was easy or make it sound like I went into the job really knowing what I was doing. I was going to be a solo librarian for a career college that didn’t have a book on the shelf, and I had just finished my cataloging class. All I really knew was that I wanted to do the job right and that I had a lot to prove. Taking that position was incredibly scary and the learning curve was intense, but it augmented my formal education in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I honestly have to say that if it weren’t for the fact that it was a small career college I probably would have sunk right to the bottom. My patron base when we opened was only about 30 people (staff, faculty and students) so the library didn’t get much traffic in the beginning. That allowed me the time I needed to focus on implementing (and learning about) library policies and procedures. I was also able to take a lot with me from the first campus and cater it to fit our new campus’ needs.

I never imagined my career would be such a whirlwind when I entered into the profession. To go from not really knowing anything about the profession to managing my own little library in just over two years was incredibly intense, thoroughly rewarding and humbling (I still have so much to learn). I didn’t anticipate enjoying myself as much as I have, nor could I have really appreciated all the challenges that come with library administration and management. I’ve learned a lot about myself and have gained a sense of confidence with my skills I wouldn’t have received if I had followed a more traditional path. I hope that my experience shows that there is no one right way into the profession. I hope that someone takes away some confidence in their own skills after reading this and that they know sometimes the best way to go is to jump in head first and hope you land on your feet.

Works Cited

American Library Association [Kahle, Brewster]. “Me, a Librarian?,” American Library Association.

Eberts, M., & Gisler, M. 1990. Careers For Bookworms & Other Literary Types. VGM career books. Lincolnwood, Ill., USA: VGM Career Horizons.