How to become a librarian
Molly the librarian!
Sam the librarian!
Interview with librarians Molly and Samantha by m
Career guides: Molly and Samantha are two librarians who feel they have finally found their calling in life through librarianship, a job with endless variety.
What made you want to go into this profession?
Molly: It actually happened unexpectedly! When I was 21 years old, I was majoring in social work at Salisbury University, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I wanted to be more active in my new community, so I began volunteering at the local public library. I worked as a computer lab volunteer for a month or so and then I was hired as a library assistant. In this position, I had the opportunity to provide reference and readers’ advisory assistance to customers of all ages and to assist with children’s and young adult programs. I loved my co-workers, serving customers of all ages, and the challenge and excitement of working at the information desk. I never knew what questions might come my way, and I learned something new everyday. I truly loved going to work each day!
For many years, I had planned on pursuing a master’s degree in social work. However, I loved working at the library so much that I decided to go for a master’s degree in library science. Making the switch from the field of social work to public libraries has been one of the greatest decisions I have ever made. I found my true calling at the age of 21 and I feel very grateful.
Samantha: I worked as a Page (person who puts the books away) at my local public library all through high school and college. For a year after I graduated from college, I went to work at a local radio station and while working there, I realized that what I really wanted to do was have people call in and ask me questions! So I applied for a part-time position at the library and I’ve been working the Information desk ever since.
How long have you been doing this?
Molly: I have been working in libraries for almost 5 years. For 3 years, I worked for Wicomico Public Library (WPL), located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. For the last 22 months, I have worked for Harford County Public Library (HCPL), located in Northern Maryland.
Samantha: If I combined my full-time and part-time work, I’ve been a librarian for about 4 years now.
How does it pay?
Molly: Based on my observations, starting salaries for entry level librarian positions typically range from $30,000 to $45,000. My starting salary was around $40,000 annually. The starting salary may vary a great deal depending on location and prior library experience.
Samantha: I’m not going to be buying a mansion any time soon, but it’s enough to do all the things I like to do. My current salary, after four years of step increases and with my Master’s degree, is now about $40,000.
What sort of qualifications/training did you need?
Molly: For my position, a master’s degree in Library Science (MLS) is required. However, there are many other positions in libraries that do not require a master’s degree.
HCPL provides many different types of in-house trainings for librarians. There are also a wide variety of trainings offered on a statewide and national level. For more information on trainings available for librarians, you may want to check out the websites for the Maryland Library Association and the American Library Association (links provided below).
Samantha: First and foremost you need to have amazing customer service skills because you spend a lot of time interacting with all different kinds of people. You also need to be very comfortable with computers since you will using them to search for materials as well as helping patrons use them. Patience is important because you will end up explaining things that seem simple to you (like setting up an email account) to someone who has never touched a computer in their lives. To start working at the Information Desk, most library systems require you to have your bachelor’s degree. If you plan on advancing up the supervisory ladder, you will need to get your Master’s in Library & Information Science.
What are the perks of the job? What is the most satisfaction you get out of your job?
Molly: Being a librarian has so many perks. Some of my favourite parts of the job include: having the opportunity to work with children, young adults, and adults, helping people find information, delivering story times, and setting up book displays. I also love book talking at local elementary and middle schools, developing library collections, and getting people of all ages excited about books and reading.
My greatest source of professional satisfaction comes from having happy customers and doing my job well. People are so appreciative when you help them find important information or when you recommend the “right book at the right time.”
Samantha: I love the variety. I love that I can help a little kid find a copy of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, then help a teen work on a research project for school, show a patron how to download audiobooks to their iPod, and then print out tax forms for someone else. It’s always different. The library is also part of a community and you get to really know your patrons and interact with them. When I switched library systems last year, I was touched by the goodbye cards that some of the local kids brought in for me.
What are the not-so-perky parts of it?
Molly: Dealing with unhappy and unsatisfied customers is one of the not-so-perky parts of the job. Anyone who has ever worked in the customer service field knows that you cannot please everyone all the time.
However, I have come to view customer dissatisfaction as a learning experience and an opportunity to be of service. If I am willing to listen to the customers, remain calm and balanced, uphold library policy, and make accommodations when necessary, the customers often leave feeling satisfied.
Samantha: Well, you are working in a public building so anyone and everyone can walk into the library. You’re a public service so sometimes people feel like they can abuse you because it’s “their tax money” funding the library. And since we are funded by the government, budget cut times like these past two years have been very scary and public libraries seem to be the first on the chopping block.
Does a stereotype exist for this job? How accurate is it? How does it affect you?
Molly: We all know the stereotype of the “typical librarian.” How can we forget the image of a middle-aged woman, with glasses and a bun in her hair, who wears button-down sweaters and long skirts, and whispers shhhhhh? This image certainly does not describe me!
The face of librarianship is changing and I do not think this profile fits the “typical librarian.” In the past 5 years, I have met several people who do meet the above profile. However, I have met MANY librarians who do not. I have had the opportunity to work with male and female librarians, ranging in age from 23 to 70, representing many different racial and religious groups. Some librarians ride on motorcycles and others have fancy tattoos.
Samantha: Oh yes, the little old lady librarian telling people to “Shhh!” stereotype is still out there. I don’t think it’s very accurate because librarians are some of the loudest people I know! I think that this generation of librarians is very “plugged in”. So much of what we do now is online. You’ll find that most librarians, even little old lady ones, have quite the grasp on how to manipulate databases and internet searches.
Is there a gender prejudice factor?
Molly: I think the gender prejudice factor has become less over time. Many people still view the fields of librarianship, teaching, nursing, and social work as feminine professions. And there are still more women then men working in each of these careers. However, librarians do make a decent living and the number of males in the profession appears to be increasing. I also think that more people are realizing the importance of libraries – and the career of librarianship is becoming more recognized and respected over time.
Samantha: I don’t really think so, though the career is definitely dominated by women.
How physically/mentally demanding is the job? What sort of hours do you work?
Molly: I do not find the job to be very physically demanding. I am on my feet about 65% of the time and I have never had to lift more than 30 pounds.
I do find the job to be mentally demanding (in a good way). Sometimes, I am asked very difficult and complex questions at the information desk. I find it a challenge and an opportunity to use many different resources (and people) to help me find the answers. I learn something new everyday, and I am always looking for ways to improve the reference and readers’ advisory services I provide.
I typically work 37.5 hours per week, including one night a week and one weekend per month.
Samantha: My boyfriend told me that his psychology textbook listed “Librarian” as one of the least stressful jobs, which I think is mostly true. I mean, no one is going to die because they didn’t get a book. But, at the same time, you do spend a lot of your day on your feet, walking around and finding materials for people. You have to be pleasant to each customer no matter how the last person treated you.
You also have to learn how to use the library catalogue from both sides (there is a very bare-bones database that we use on the desk and then a more user-friendly one that the patrons have access to via the Internet). You have to learn how to use the online databases and be able to explain them to someone you are helping. You have to keep up with book reviews so you can do Reader’s Advisory (library lingo for suggesting a good book), you have to remember the name of that movie with that guy so you can find it fast, and you’ve got to be knowledgeable when it comes to using the computer and the Internet.
Most public libraries have evening hours and they try to arrange so that no one works more than 2 nights a week. My current schedule is Monday and Tuesday 9-5, Wednesday and Thursday 1-9, and then my Fridays and Saturdays alternate, with 9-5 hours. But this varies system to system, depending in the kind of hours they offer and the amount of staffing. The previous branch I worked in closed at 8pm and had a lot of staff, so we only worked one night a week and we chose which Saturdays we wanted to work.
Most glorious career moment to date?
Molly: One of my most glorious career moments was when I successfully trained, supervised, and engaged 10 Lead Volunteers and 40 Summer Reading Volunteers, who assisted with many different aspects of our 2009 Summer Reading Programme. The volunteers did a beautiful job, the Summer Reading Program ran very smoothly, and I received a great deal of positive feedback from volunteers, staff, and patrons alike.
Samantha: In 2008, I received our library system’s award for Individual Achievement for my work on the Staff Development Committee where I helped to create a Web 2.0 training for the library system. The thing that was so amazing was that they gave it to me even though I switched library systems the month before. But I was able to take the day off from my new job to attend the award ceremony.
Most hideous career moment to date?
Molly: I have been in the work world for the past 11 years, and I have not had a hideous career moment. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will never have to experience one.
Samantha: The first time I had to fire someone. I was in charge of the Page staff which consists mostly of high school students and it was really hard to tell one of those students that they were not cut out for that kind of work. I learned a lot from that moment, but at the time I just wanted to sit at my desk and cry because I felt so bad.
Is there a danger factor?
Molly: You could get a paper cut or a big reference book could fall on your head and knock you down. On a serious note, I do not think of librarianship as a dangerous profession and I have not been in a truly dangerous situation in the past 5 years. However, libraries do have policies and procedures in place that should be followed should a real emergency occur.
Samantha: Did I mention working with the public? Sometimes people will come in off the streets that should really be in the care of someone else. Staff knows that we should always call the police if we feel unsafe, but at the same time, things can get a little tense. I’ve never seen anyone get hurt but both of the branches I have lived in have been in relatively safe parts of town. I’ve heard of branches in more urban areas that have problems with gangs hanging out around the building etc..
Do you meet fit clever, solvent gentlemen/ladies in this line of work?
Samantha: Yes, the public librarian crowd is very diverse and you meet people from all walks of life with all different kinds of interests. At the same time, we all are brought together by our love of learning and reading. When you’re hanging out with librarians, there’s always something to talk about!
Is there a sexy uniform?
Molly: I have yet to work for a library system that provides it’s librarians with a sexy uniform! Dress codes in libraries tend to be casual/dress. Most of the time, pants/trousers and shoes are OK, but jeans, flip flops, sneakers/trainers and short skirts are discouraged.
Samantha: There’s no real uniform. I tend to dress for comfort. When you’re on your feet all day, crouching down to get to lower shelves, it’s just safer to wear some slacks and flat shoes. But I know some people that can pull off the sexy librarian look and I say more power to them!
Can you still see yourself doing this in twenty years’ time?
Molly: I can absolutely see myself working as a librarian 20 years from now. I have been working in libraries for the past 5 years, and each day, I find myself becoming more invested in the profession.
I have been a full-time Children’s Librarian for the past 22 months, and I recently accepted a Young Adult Librarian position (still with HCPL), which begins on February 1st, 2010. I look forward to being a Young Adult Librarian for the next several years, and I plan to begin applying for leadership positions 3 to 5 years from now.
Samantha: Actually, yes, now I can. I test drove a few other career options but this is the one that makes me happiest. I might not be working on the desk in twenty years, but there are so many other things to do in the library behind-the-scenes, that I know I will be part of a public library system.
What advice would you give to young women who are interested in becoming a librarian?
Molly: If you enjoy working with people, plan to be a lifelong learner, love books and reading, and embrace new technologies, you may want to consider a career in librarianship. If you plan to work in a public library, you may have the opportunity to specialize in working with children, young adults, or adults, or you may be a generalist who works closely with all the age groups. With an MLS, you are not limited to a career in a public library. MLS-level librarians also work in academic libraries, business libraries, government libraries, and other types of special libraries (such as legal or hospital).
Libraries are constantly growing and adapting to better meet the needs of the changing world. There is never a dull moment in the library world. To learn more about the wonderful profession of librarianship, consider talking to a librarian near you or checking out the resources listed at the end of this interview.
Samantha: If you’re interested in becoming a librarian but have no experience in the field, I would suggest seeing if your public library has any positions you can apply for. Even volunteer work – just get into the library to get a feel for it. You do NOT need to major in Library Science for your undergraduate degree. I don’t know any librarians in my circle of friends who did that. Get your undergraduate in something you love because you will use those skills as a librarian, believe me. The public library is never going to pay you tons of money but if it’s something you love, then you will enjoy this job and feel very fulfilled at the end of the day.
What’s your favourite book?
Molly: My absolute favourite book is Spirituality of Imperfection, by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham. This book was recommended to me by my philosophy teacher and I have read it many times.
Samantha: A very tricky question for a librarian! I’m going to give you two because it’s impossible for me to pick just one! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Anything else we should have asked but forgot?
Molly: If you are interested in finding out more about the field of librarianship or pursuing an MLS degree, you may want to consider:
1 )Reading a book on the topic. I highly recommend the following books: Straight from the Stacks (Kane, 2003), Bare Bones Children’s Services (Steele, 2001), Bare Bones Young Adult Services (Vaillancourt, 2000), and Going Places with Youth Outreach (Pfeil, 2005).
2) Interviewing a librarian. Librarians love to help people find information and most librarians would be happy to tell you all about the field of librarianship and to answer any questions you may have.
3) Volunteering at the library. If you are considering a career in libraries, you may want to volunteer at your local public library (or other type of library) to gain some hands on experience.
4) Google for ‘library association’ for your area to find out more.
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