Yes, the series is back! And with all new contributors! Every Wednesday from now until the end of the year, we will hear from a new librarian telling his or her story. I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I enjoy posting them! Check out the three previous posts in the series here, here, and here.
As an undergraduate student (and library assistant) at a small college with a large international student population, I became increasingly interested in improving access to library materials; I wanted to help provide a learning space for patrons, regardless of cultural background and wanted to incorporate increasing access to multicultural educational resources as part of my professional career, especially primary sources used to teach students about the past.
After graduation, I moved to Charlotte, NC and wrote a few articles on library development issues for the local paper, including one on a digital oral history project run by the public library. I became interested in creating oral history initiative in order to preserve build a repository of knowledge for future generations, and as a way to give a voice to members in under-served populations. I researched trends in traditional conservation and digital librarianship and began volunteering at the public library. While searching for permanent library jobs I saw the majority required an MLIS. I evaluated different LIS specializations and decided to apply to schools with strong archives programs.
In 2009, I was awarded a fellowship to obtain my MLIS as well as work in the university’s library system. My rotations included archives, preservation and public services. I digitized archival material, prepared finding aids and worked virtual reference shifts. I focused my studies on ethics of access to archival materials, censorship, licensing and copyright issues, with a goal of publishing research papers on the subject. I was able to both attend and present at national conferences.
During my second semester, my choice was gnawing at me. Due to the lack of archival job postings, I was worried that I would not be able to find a job after my fellowship was over, leaving me in the same position I was in before I began my MLIS- unemployed, with two chronic illnesses, and without health insurance. I loved that my archives coursework was challenging and research-oriented, but it did not cover archival reference or collection development. A rotation in public services pushed me further in the direction toward considering a career in reference. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with students, helping them to find materials for projects and navigate databases. After talking with my advisor and several professors in both archives and reference tracks, I made the decision to focus on reference librarianship.
I received my degree in August 2010 and began my first post-MLIS library job at an academic library that September. My archives work made me adept at mining primary resources for patrons in the humanities and social sciences, while my reference courses allowed me to evaluate and recommend supplemental materials. I still researched methods of improving access to resources for under-served populations, which grew to include those with hearing and visual impairments. Unfortunately, the experience was negative-a lack of collaboration between administration and librarians to improve user services the proved to be the greatest difficulty. Although there were positive instances I quickly found out that office politics and petty rivalries rather than the quality of work were major factors in placement and work duties. I felt that, as it was widely known that I was on a one-year contract and outside the tenure stream, I was not given the opportunity to participate fully as a librarian. I am grateful though, to a supervisor and several colleagues who tried their best to foster a culture of open communication and support during my employment at the college.
I began applying for my second library job a few months after beginning at the library after hearing horror stories of degree holding librarians being unemployed for years. I am still applying for positions both within and outside librarianship.
Jane is a librarian currently searching for employment in an academic, public or special library. You can contact her at starjammer41 (at) gmail (dot) com. Feel free to ask her questions or give her advice in the comments!