Getting this out of the way first: I love being a librarian. A colleague once told me that librarianship is not a job or even a career; it's a calling. And that stuck with me, because it really is like that, not just for me but for most librarians I know. I cannot, at this point in my life, imagine wanting to do anything else with my life. So take that as a given.
Top three awesome things about being a librarian:
1. The power of knowledge
Contrary to popular opinion, librarians don't know everything. We know how to find everything. Which, in my opinion, is a far superior skill. There's too much knowledge in the world for anyone to know it all. But to be able to put my hands on a piece of data, or the perfect book at the perfect time? Yeah, that's pretty cool.
And not only can I find anything, I can find stuff that other people need. Working with people and helping them answer their questions, aiding someone in sifting through the sands of the Internet or our online resources, showing them the book or film that will answer their question, and so on is just plain fun. When I went to library school, I always knew that I wanted to focus on reference. Even though moving into management has given me less time to spend with patrons, I still sit at the desk and answer questions every chance I get.
2. Working in academia
Once, many years ago, I was chatting with a friend of a friend who was a preschool teacher, married to a second grade teacher, and she postulated that everyone who works in education has an age group: the students who they feel drawn towards, most comfortable working with. I think this is very true, and for me, that group is college students. I love the atmosphere of college for many reasons: the value placed on learning and knowledge; college students are there because they want to be, not because the state says they have to be; and most college students are adults, but in a place where they're still learning and growing. I also feel more in tune with my colleagues at an academic institution -- even this one, run as it is by a for-profit corporation -- because (at least at a local level) we have a mission that's about more than making money.
3. Making order out of chaos.
Anyone reading this who's seen any place I've ever lived (or my desk) is probably snickering right now. It's true that, in my own life, I tend to be lazy and disorganized. But when I'm in the library zone, that all changes. Much as I love reference, sometimes I think I missed my calling by not becoming a cataloger. Looking at an object and trying to decide how best to describe it within the limited vocabulary of a call number or classification system is fun. It's like doing puzzles, or searching for patterns.
I also find shelving immensely satisfying; one of my favorite things to do, still, if I'm stuck on something or between projects, just frustrated, is head out into the stacks and shelf-read for awhile (look over the bookcases and make sure the books are in order). I put on my iPod and get into the zone, just me and the alphabet, restoring order in the library. Soothing and useful; how do you beat that?
Top three non-awesome things about being a librarian:
1. Inflexible work schedule
Library work is, at heart, a customer service job. The library is open at specific times, and someone has to be there at those times. If I'm out too late, I can't sleep in and make up the hours later; if I want time off, I have to arrange it in advance. We can't just close the library at whim. Someone has to be there, and since I'm the boss, ultimately that responsibility falls on me. It's minor, as annoyances go, but after four years at a dotcom where I could come and go as I pleased as long as I got my work done, it took some getting used to. And it would be really nice to be able to call in sick whenever.
2. It's not as easy as it looks
A common refrain among the librarian profession: not feeling respected as a professional. "You just read all day, right?" "Why do we need librarians when we can find everything on the Internet?" "You have a master's degree?!" Yes, in fact, I do have a masters, and so does pretty much everyone with the word "Librarian" in their job title. But that doesn't stop people, especially students and sometimes even faculty, from thinking that they don't have anything to learn from me.
Partly because of the above lack of respect, the library is always a tempting target for budget cuts. It takes a lot of money to properly run a library, and everything costs more than it seems like it "ought" to: books, films, magazine subscriptions, online resources, specialized supplies, staff. From a accounting perspective, the library is a black hole; money goes in, and it never comes back out. Most libraries have to fight for every dollar they get. When times get hard, their funding is the first to go and among the last to recover. Not just in my for-profit education environment, but everywhere.
This question comes at a weird time for me, because that last point has recently manifested itself quite forcefully at my place of work: book budget cuts, centralization of some services, and just this week a reduction in staff. So right at this moment, I'm not feeling too positive about my job. But my confidence that I've found the right line of work (and there is a difference) is unshaken. I'm proud of what I am, and what I am is a librarian.
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