December’s NMRT Live Chat took place on Twitter and covered the topic “What Kind of Librarian Are You?” which asked participants to think about how they can “find themselves” and where they belong as a librarian. Typically, when someone thinks about what a librarian is, the most common image is of a person sitting at the reference desk of a public or academic library. However, librarianship is more than just reference work. There are a myriad of places and roles a librarian can take on – from art librarian to archivist to systems librarian and everything in between.
But how is someone supposed to find where they belong in a profession with so many options? There is no easy answer to finding your place as a librarian, but the participants on the Twitter chat contributed great advice and stories that any soon-to-be librarian or one still looking for their place in the profession can use.
The chat addressed 4 different questions during the hour it took place. The first asked, “Is the library you work in now where you want to be? Or, if you are graduating soon, how did you decide where you want to work?”
Participants were very candid in their responses. Some were happy in the places they worked currently. One described,
“For me, it took working in a bunch of different library settings – public, academic, K-12 school and for-profit college – to realize what the right fit was.”
While another participant said,
“It definitely wasn’t where I would thought I would be when I was in library school. But definitely a job I love and got here by embracing opportunity.”
Sometimes finding a job you love is done entirely by accident or by just trying out different roles until you find one fits. However, sometimes we may find ourselves close to where we want to be, but not quite. As this participant noted:
“I really enjoy where I work because our library team works together so well and it’s a small college where I can really impact the students. However, I’d enjoy working with at a larger institution as well with more opportunities for student engagement.”
Or you can see your career as an evolving thing rather than something with a defined endpoint.
“I suppose it’s an evolving process. I used to be into archival work/collections because of my academic background. Now it’s more towards scholarly communication, sustainability, data & distance education services, will probably evolve again in the future.”
Question 2 , “What struggles have you faced in trying to determine what kind of librarian you want to be? How hard has it been to “find yourself” as a librarian?”
Finding your place in the profession can be a tough process and as one participant noted,
“I don’t have a chance to build lasting relationships with students, and I miss that about being in the K-12 classroom and library. My identity is more ‘teacher’ than ‘librarian’ or ‘professor’ and I am trying to figure out how that works with my current position.”
Another noted the difficulty of the experience of work-life balance and libraries:
“From a parent perspective, I was only a librarian for 3 ys before my son was born & I have to balance “experiencing” different jobs with stability for my family. Switching jobs is not as easy most times. I use prof. develop. to experience other libraries sometimes.”
One noted the difficulty of finding library jobs in general,
“I think the biggest challenge has been finding jobs that fit skills and want I’m looking for. It’s difficult to get library jobs anyway but if you are looking for something specific that narrows options”
Question 3 sought to dig deeper and examined, “Why do you think it is important to “find yourself” as a librarian? Or is it important at all?”
Multiple participants noted the importance of fulfillment:
“It’s important bc I get a lot of fulfillment/satisfaction form my work – it somewhat defines me (although I would say educator/teacher before I would say librarian/professor). Not everyone needs that though & that is also good! It’s fine to NOT find yourself!”
On fulfillment, another said,
“For me, being fulfilled in my work is an important component of my life. I am a career woman who is defined by her work. Being happy with my job and feeling that I am accomplishing things and contributing good to the world is important to me.”
The last question covered “what advice would you give to someone who is trying to figure out their path as a librarian?”
Plenty of helpful information abounded for this question. There are many paths to discovering different parts of the profession and one participants in particular encapsulated many of the useful things you can do to try out new things:
“Residencies/internships/practicums/volunteering/prof development are all useful for exploring career options in librarianship BUT I definitely recognize those options are not accessible/affordable/possible for everyone!”
When you are working somewhere, it is always important to build connections both within and outside of your job. And as this participant suggested,
“Finding allies at work, building a support system outside of work & knowing that belligerent patron interactions are not about you.”
Also something important for all of us to remember:
“Never settle. Too many people I know have settled into jobs they hate. Keep trying and keep pushing to find a position you like even though change is hard. Find a new job, volunteer, and/or intern. Keep trying things until you find something you like.”
A lot was covered during this chat, but there is a lot of great advice to consider. Some of the best advice to find where you belong in the library profession is to get out there and try new things. Volunteering, internships, practicums, and professional development courses are great places to get started as well as networking and making connections with professionals in the field you might want to work in. And, of course, remember that there are plenty of other librarians who have struggled to find their place. Talk to other professionals to learn from their experiences – you might be surprised by the stories and advice you get.
Submitted by: Elayna Turner