Thursday, February 5, 2009

For All The Aspiring Librarians

Meghan over at Recreational Reading slapped me with the Premio Dardas Award. You're probably wondering what that means. I know I did. Here it goes:
This award acknowledges the values that every blogger shows in his/her effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary and personal values every day. But with great shiny things, come great responsibility.
I'm honored that someone thinks I transmit anything cultural, ethical or literary. Because honestly? This blog started with me throwing random crap up on my own personal Internet wall trying to figure out what would "stick." It's been an evolution people. Which is why I always encourage newbie bloggers to stick with it and not throw in the towel right away. It takes time. It takes patience. And above all, it takes a helluva lotta practice.

Anywho, Meghan asked me a question in the comments of another post and I thought I'd answer it within it's own blog post. Here it goes:
By the way, I'm currently a Library Science student and I've narrowed down my future career path to advocacy/outreach and/or collection development. How did you get to where you are now? (I would LOVE to have your job).
I wrapped up my course work for my Master's degree (yes, librarians have master's degrees) in December 1998, and I had a job waiting for me. Seriously, the late 1990s were a great time to be getting out of college. The economy was booming...everywhere except western New York. I had to leave Buffalo to get a full time job, and I decided to go back home to Michigan. I started working for a small district library system on January 4, 1999. I always remember the date because on the first day I was supposed to report to work? Yeah, major blizzard. Snow day! Also, I spent my entire first year dealing with, and hearing about, Y2K (ah, remember those days?).

Anywho, I found myself working for a small branch system that consisted of 7 small town libraries. And by small, I mean small. A large library in that neck of the woods is around 5000 square feet. Several great things about this job: 1) I had a great boss. Seriously, a great, supportive boss. 2) I had money to spend and I could "learn" on the job. 3) I did a little bit of everything. I checked out books. I answered reference questions. I did programing. And most importantly, I was in charge of buying adult fiction for all 7 libraries.

I always encourage new librarians to not dismiss small public libraries. My former employer offered me the job at a competitive salary for a starting librarian, and I literally got to dip my toes in a lot of ponds. Not surprisingly, I fell in love with collection development and buying adult fiction. I've always loved reading, and I've always adored fiction. But being in college for almost 6 years? Yeah, I had forgotten how much fun it was to read. That job was responsible for helping me fall in love again with reading.

Fast forward, My Man graduates from college around the time the economy in MI takes a dump. It was either 1) do something drastic or 2) Wendy becomes sole earner. So he moved to California, got himself employed within a week, and I eventually followed him 6 months later. This was April 2004.

I ended up working as a branch manager for a large library system. The library I was at is considered "small" by their standards. Yep, 5000 square feet. I felt right at home. But I learned rather quickly that I wasn't cut out for management. See, I tend to focus on the negative. And when you're working with the public? Yeah, that isn't good. Plus, I had no time for collection development anymore. I was a little fish in a very big pond dealing with plugged up toilets, a leaky roof, homeless people trashing the library patio, the lights constantly going out in the parking lot etc. etc. etc. I was totally overwhelmed.

Then it happened. The former fiction buyer obviously lost her mind and took a job managing one of our larger branches. I submitted my resume to human resources, got an interview, nailed the hell out of it and....

Didn't get the job.

I found out on a Friday. Yeah, let me tell you how happy I was that weekend. My Man still talks about it. I was not a happy girl. Not happy at all.

But I decided to make the best of it. I was still overwhelmed. I was still conspiring to figure out a way I could throw rocks at people who talk on their cell phones in libraries without getting sued. I was determined to make it work. No use whining about it. I had to suck it up.

RWA had been in Reno that summer, and I talked my boss into letting me go on "work time." Basically I could treat the conference like "work" and not have to use my own vacation time. In exchange for letting me do this, I gave a reader's advisory presentation to all of our adult services librarians in November 2005. I totally nailed it. I was like the most popular girl in the entire system for about a week. I even took my presentation on the road to other libraries in the immediate area that aren't part of our system.

Then one day in February 2006 I came back from lunch and had a message waiting for me. I was having a particularly not so good day. So to cheer myself up I hit Taco Bell and wandered around a huge-ass used bookstore (that has, sadly, since gone out of business). The message was from somebody in administration, and I figured she was calling to tell me either I or one of my staff had done something "wrong." Nope, she was calling to offer me The Job. Another retirement was happening in collection management, and the woman they hired instead of me? Yeah, didn't like buying fiction. Because she's obviously insane! No really, she's very nice. But she happily gave up fiction and viola! They offered me the job. I took it and started working The Most Awesome Job In The Whole World in March 2006.

Which technically makes me second best - but ask me if I care? For the record, hell no!

Now, I don't know for sure if my reader's advisory talk on the romance genre "got me the job," but it sure as shootin' didn't hurt. So god bless you romance genre. God bless you.

The short answer on how I got this awesome job? Persistence. These jobs do not grow on trees, so my advice to anyone interested in collection management is to get your foot in the door somehow. If you work for a very large system, volunteer for special projects like 1) weeding or 2) compiling a list of recommended titles to purchase in a specific subject area. If you work for a small library? Even better. Because the staff in these types of libraries really have to be a jack of all trades. Again, ask to work on projects. Maybe volunteer to oversee a part of the collection (like paperbacks or DVDs or audio books). Take some initiative. And share with your employers your special interests. My super supportive former boss in Michigan? He felt that my reviewing romance novels for The Romance Reader qualified as "professional development." How can you not love that?

And that's pretty much it. I wish it had been quick, easy and simple - but I've been quite pleased with the progression of my career so far. What will happen next? No idea. But right now I'm happy where I am. And frankly, they'll have to pry adult fiction buying out of my cold dead hands. This job is way too much fun.


joykenn said...

WOW! I totally agree that you have the most kick-ass library job going. Ordering fiction for a large library system is a dream job for those of us who read genrue fiction. I once did a presentation (and a massive bibliography) for PLA on the image of women in genrue fiction. Boy was it fun!

JenB said...

*sigh* I'm in the wrong business. I would love to be surrounded by books all day.

I didn't realize librarian work was so complex. I know it is is an area of study in college, but I've never connected the school subject with the career (probably because my mother's library science education led her to work in medical records and not a Library).

What a cool story!

Oh, by the way, I have a love/hate relationship with your "Random Books from my Collection" gadget. I love it because I've found several cool books to order...and I hate it for the very same reason. ;)

Tracy said...

What a great story Wendy. I loved reading it. I'm so happy for you that you have a job you love. It makes all the difference in the world!

Barbs said...

You've been in CA almost 6 years? where have the years gone? LOL I hope you know you are a minority, not many people love their job! I'm happy for you! for both the Premio DArdas Award and loving the job.

Barbara said...

Congrats on the award, Wendy! You deserve it!

Wendy said...

Joy: Your presentation sounds fascinating! And man, you could go on for days on that subject...especially if you cover all the major genres. Romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy....

JenB: That's the misconception about being a librarian. That you don't have "options." That you're limited to working in public libraries, shushing people and stamping books all day ;-) When I was working on my degree I had plans to either 1) stay in academic libraries or 2) work in a medical library. Also it was the late 1990s, and a lot of librarians were landing jobs in the private sector. I ended up in a public library mostly by dumb luck.

LOL - Whatever you do, don't click over to see my full library over at LibraryThing. You might get lost for days. Last count, I had over 1100 books cataloged over there.

Tracy: I do have a great job. I love it!

Barbs: I know! April will mark my 5th year living in CA. I remember when we moved into our old apartment. It was Good Friday. LOL

Barbara: Ahhh, you say this and you haven't even met me in person yet LOL. Just wait chica.

Jennifer B. said...

Total, total aside here...but Governor Granholm here in the state of MI just announced a proposal to cut our state library...which would ultimately eliminate MelCat--a statewide, inter-library book loan system. I live and die by that system. Sigh. Like I said--total aside, but I figured the MI-ander in you would at least gasp a little.

Oh, and you ROCK as a blogging, culture-spreading librarian.

Meghan said...

Thanks Wendy! It's great to hear that I don't have to learn a super-secret librarian handshake.

Alie said...

I WISH I had your job, Wendy. *sigh* I'm happy where I am, but I work in an academic library system where librarians are given faculty status and even though I'm a librarian by profession, I'm working as an LA. LAs are not faculty of course so this creates a lot of discord between the two. At least I'm in a smaller branch and don't have to deal with a lot of politics!

I'd like to get librarian status eventually, but the hiring process is awful with the faculty designation. Presentations and a whole day of interviewing. For a girl with an anxiety disorder, not great.

Lori said...

It's so awesome that you have a job that you love. So freaking awesome.

And hey... go check out LITHOT. You've on yet another award!

Wendy said...

JenniferB: OMG - and the databases! All of the databases! That's what I love about the Library of Michigan. They supply databases that every resident in the state can use. And in some cases? Those are the only databases that libraries have access to - cuz damn, they be expensive.

Meghan: Nope, no hand shake involved. Lots of persistence helps though.

Alie: Ultimately I shelved (Ha!) my ambition for academic libraries mostly because I was burnt out. I got through school in 5.5 years, earning two degrees. I was slightly nuts by that point. Also, the idea of being "faculty" just didn't appeal. The research, the writing, all the crap that goes along with that. Thanks, but no thanks.

Lori: I saw your post! Thanks!