Margaret the Reference Librarian
1. Can you tell us about your current position?
I am a reference librarian in a mid-sized public library just outside of Richmond, VA. Right now I do a little bit of everything, I help with story-time, book-club, teach computer classes, teach patrons how to use their E-readers, manage the reference desk, and fix computer problems. Being a public librarian to me means being pretty good at everything and I have learned to be very flexible and to adapt to many situations. I love my job, I love working with the public, and I love being challenged every day as it makes me be an even better librarian!
2. How did you get into librarianship?
I lived in China my first year after college teaching English to high school students where I learned that I really love interacting with people as well as instruction. When I moved home I thought I could be happy taking a job in finance and managing money. After two and a half years working in this field I was completely miserable and hated going to work every day. My then-boyfriend/now-husband convinced me to try and find another career I thought I would really enjoy. I did some research and discovered that librarianship had a lot of aspects that were a good fit for me. I loved learning, interacting, teaching, tech-stuff, organization and of course, reading! A month of studying for the GRE, talking with staff at the UNC Greensboro LIS program and submitting my application, I was sure I was making the right decision. I got into school and started my LIS degree in Fall 2008.
3. What work training and education did you have to prepare for your career?
After my first semester in library school I was lucky enough to receive a graduate assistantship and work with an awesome UNCG professor, Dr. Anthony Chow. By working with Dr. Chow on projects and grants, I was really able to tweak my organizational and project manager skills, met a ton of awesome librarians from around the country, learned a lot about library technology, and attended and presented at a few conferences.
I was in library school 2008-2010, some of the worst years for libraries and though I applied continuously, I could not find a library that would hire me while I was in school. I was living in Charlotte, NC, at the time and in retrospect I know why I couldn’t land an interview now (they were being told that they were losing $17M of their $31M budget in 2010, they probably weren’t concerned with hiring an LIS student as they were about to let go over 100 people with years of experience). So I volunteered at PLCMC for a year and also with Richmond public libraries for 6 months, until I finally landed a part-time librarian position. I learned a lot during this time, volunteering is the way to go if you cannot find a job. I was able to be really involved in circulation, instruction, and general weeding and shelving projects. Also, after I got my MLIS degree I was able to start shadowing on the ref. desk, which was crucial for job interviews, being able to say I actually had reference experience was part of the reason I was able to break into the field.
4. What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the field?
I am obsessed with other people, even the not-so-nice ones because I find them challenging and I get a feeling of satisfaction when I’m able to “talk them off the ledge”. The nice people I encounter are obviously the best, I love helping them learn new things and solve problems. The other day I helped a patron navigate craigslist and he told me after it all: “If no one else tells you this today, you are wonderful.” How awesome is that?! Patrons are there because they need assistance and being able to provide that is so fulfilling to me, I genuinely enjoy interacting with them every day. I also really get a kick out of kids, I love story-time and getting silly and talking with the children about their interests. Helping a child find a book they really love and instilling that love of reading is an amazing feeling, it reminds me so much of when I was growing up and being in love with stories so I really connect with that area as well.
It’s hard to say what I don’t like about the field because I really do enjoy even the uncomfortable parts of my job (and frankly I don’t want to lose my job if this was ever connected back to me). I would like it if the profession as a whole became better advocates for our field. Librarians at their best provide such great service but I have seen instances where librarians wish to be the “shushing, no running, I don’t know/care about technology” librarians of times past. That time is done and gone and the better we are able to change into a modern, helpful, tech-savvy group as a whole, the better for our field.
5. What is your advice for readers interested in librarianship?
If you’re not already in the field, make sure this is really what you want to do. It took me from March 2008 (when I decided to begin the work to becoming a librarian) to December 2011 (when I was offered my first full time position) and the years in between that time were not the easiest. There were a lot of ups and downs, working 2 jobs to make ends meet, interviewing, applying, and really working hard to get where I am now. It is an awesome career but there definitely is a lot of competition out there, make sure you’re ready for it.
I would start with getting as much experience as you can, if you’re not working in the field, start volunteering ASAP. Think seriously about what areas appeal to you. Do you like researching? Are there certain age groups you want to work with? Are you interested in teaching? We all have our niche and the sooner you figure out where you want to be, the better. I have found that we really do go to where our focus is, never underestimate the power of hard work and dedication, it really does pay off.
Also, NETWORK, seriously. This is a people-person career so you want people to know your face and like you. You never know how much meeting the right person will pay off down the line. Find out what library meet-ups there are in your area and become a part of them. They are there, trust me, and if there aren’t you should start one. Once you’re in library school, join ALA and as many organizations as you can and be involved. I know someone whose first librarian position was in management and she was able to land it because she had presented and been so involved in library committees. Her resume was impressive even though she had never worked a reference desk, definitely not a small task.
Margaret blogs over at her fancylibrarian tumblr. When she’s not librarian-ing, Margaret may be found caring for her very large poodle and tiny German spitz and engaging in her interests in vegetarian cooking, yoga, wine, dry humor, Asian food, correcting her posture, podcasts, and of course reading. Wife to “World’s Funniest Man”.
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