Q: I have a professional dilemma, and I would be so grateful for any insight or encouragement you might be able to offer me.
In June 2011, I completed library school thinking that I wanted to be a public librarian. Actually, I was pretty certain of this, even though I had minimal experience working in public libraries. My background is actually in special (government/law and art) libraries.
Shortly after earning my degree, I was offered a part-time librarian substitute position at a local large urban public library system. I have worked as a public reference librarian for one year now, and I have decided that it’s not for me. In addition to this, I have applied for countless internal job postings within the public library organization and I’ve had no luck. I think someone is trying to tell me something that I’ve ignored for a long time.
I feel like a fool, and like I have to start over. However, I am eager to get my career back on the right path and continue to pursue something more personally fulfilling. For the last four years, I have been employed part-time at a government law library and I absolutely love it. Even though there may not be a full-time or professional position for me there, I want to continue to pursue a career in government librarianship, perhaps in a science or engineering library. Do you have any thoughts on how I might get started?
TA: Dear “Professional Dilemma”:
Please know that you are not alone when it comes to reassessing a career path. Some enter library school on one path, and exit on another. Other times, it takes some experience in the profession to realize your true calling lies elsewhere. But don’t worry, or criticize yourself. Just prepare yourself and take the necessary steps to get where you want to go.
First, you’re not starting over. You might be taking a step back, but you’re not at the very beginning. Over the course of the last several years, you’ve gained professional experience that will translate from one library to another. You’ve also learned where your strengths and interests lie, so don’t take that for granted. Check out the other articles about transferable skills and how to market those on your application materials.
Second, we say all the time that librarianship is a very small profession. That truth is amplified for special librarianship. This is a tight group of professional colleagues who know, work with, and recommend others in their professional circles. Make this work for you in three ways: one, stay close to your colleagues in the government law library where you’ve been working (think: future references and recommendations); two, start creating and working a professional network of other special librarians doing what you want to do (see other articles on informational interviews); and three, find a mentor who can walk with you through all of this and introduce you to others in the profession.
Finally, sit down and do some written exercises to help you identify what you want in the future for your career. Assess what you have and what you need to achieve these goals, and create an action plan. Just as you would plan any other event, thoughtful consideration, measurable goals, and an action plan will help you get there.