Academic Librarian -- specifically, I am a Research & Instruction Librarian at Bryant University
Providence, Rhode Island
Librarianship can be a lot of things! You may picture your local public library when you think "library," or the library media center from your school. Maybe you're visualizing an archive full of dusty old books, or even the castle library from Beauty and the Beast.
I'd always wanted to grow up to be a teacher. I started college at the University of Connecticut and enrolled in their education program, planning to be a high school English teacher. After taking some education courses and beginning my student-teaching, however, I realized that being a high school teacher just wasn't the career for me! I graduated college with a BA in English, but I knew that I'd still like to be in an academic field and work with students. I worked as a temp at a few office jobs before deciding to apply to "library school" at Simmons, otherwise known as the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Professional librarians earn the MLS degree, which is a Master's in Library Science. Some graduate programs have updated the name to MLIS, or Master's in Library & Information Science, to emphasize how the field of librarianship is focused on information. My program took two years to complete and included courses on information organization, cataloging, reference, and more. There are elective courses in everything from archives management to children's literature to intellectual freedom. I also volunteered at several local public libraries to gain experience while I was completing my degree. I wanted to be a Young Adult librarian and work with middle and high school students, but when I started working at an academic library I discovered that I also love working with college students.
A typical day at my library starts (as I'm sure many other jobs do!) with checking my email. I work closely with library staff, faculty members, and students, so it's important to maintain good communication with everyone. I will spend part of my work day at the Research & Instruction desk, where I field all sorts of questions. Students stop by the research desk for help on their assignments, or contact us remotely via text message, IM, or email. When I'm not at the research desk, I'm often visiting classrooms to conduct research workshops and information literacy instruction. ("Information literacy" is the set of skills needed to find, analyze, evaluate, and use information.) I collaborate with instructors to provide subject-specific instruction in their classes, in courses ranging from psychology to economics. My job also includes collection development (selecting and purchasing books and materials for the library), creating research guides and tutorials to help students learn about library resources, and promoting library services through our social media accounts. The library is open long hours to accommodate our students' study schedules, so the librarians work some evenings and weekends. In a typical week I will work Sunday through Thursday, including one evening shift on Wednesday.
I'm sure everyone can picture the "librarian" stereotype, but we're not always wearing cardigans, glasses, and our hair in buns! (Well, sometimes I am.) A common myth is that librarians get to sit around and read all day, which we don't! Reading is often part of the job, and we certainly know a lot about books, but we don't have time to read for fun during work. A more serious myth about libraries is that they are becoming obsolete or extinct. We often hear, "Why do we need libraries anymore if we have Google and Amazon?" There are a few answers to this. To start, not everyone has Google and Amazon! There are many people in the United States who do not have internet access or books at home, and public libraries can provide access to the information they need, both online and in print. Librarians also organize information, help people find and use this information, and provide a variety of resources, services, and programs for their communities.
My workplace is an academic library at a small university in Rhode Island. We currently have 16 staff members -- 8 professional librarians (with MLS degree) and 8 paraprofessional staff. We each have a cubicle in the staff office area where we work on individual projects, but we spend most of our time at the public service desks. The library structure includes a Director, Associate Director, and Department Heads for our three departments (Research & Instruction, Borrower Services, and Collection Management & Digital Services), as well as "higher ups" in the university hierarchy. But we have a collaborative and supportive work environment, regardless of management level. The university dress code is business-casual, although the library staff has been known to dress a bit more informally. But no jeans!
If you're interested in libraries, spend time in them! Investigate different types of libraries (such as corporate, law, academic, and public) and ask to shadow a librarian for a day. Read information about the field from the American Library Association, learn about graduate programs for the MLS degree, and look into volunteer opportunities at libraries. And librarians love blogging, so library blogs (and twitter!) can offer a great window into what real librarians are saying about the field. Think realistically about job prospects in the field (which are not excellent, and may leave you working several part-time jobs at first) and whether you really want to invest in the MLS degree. And talk to as many librarians as you can find about what they love (and don't love) about their jobs!
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