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Do you like the work?

August 18, 2011

Recently, I was catching up with a friend. We chatted about our respective summer internships and the projects we were working on. He asked me, “Do you like the work?” At the time, the question startled me. “Do I like the work?” I repeated to myself, and half a second later I replied without hesitation, “Yes, I like the work.” “So do I,” he said.

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What has struck me about this conversation is that simple question. Do you like the work? It is so easy to get caught up in the schooling: the circular discussion on topics that aren’t relevant to the day to day workings of a library or archive, the professors who haven’t worked in the field in years, the seemingly pointless assignments with ridiculous hoops to jump through all in the name of a degree that doesn’t guarantee that you can actually perform the job you are striving to win.

In the last year, it has becoming obvious to me how far the schooling is from the actual work of a librarian. Without an internship or part-time job in a library, it is very easy to lose yourself in the forest of minutiae and and wonder how these things apply to real life. After my internship, I am not only certain that I like the work, but I can see how many of the endless debates that have annoyed me about school have given me a valuable frame of reference with which to approach my work as a growing information professional. Here are some tips that I’ll be using in the next year to keep myself focused and remembering that I am headed in the right direction:

1. Work in a relevant environment. This might be through an internship or a part-time job or both. Get exposure to the actual work that you think you want to do. You might change your mind, and it’s much easier to switch up part-time jobs and coursework before you’re searching for a full-time job.

2. Talk to the people who do the job you want to do. Or even just people who work in similar environments. I have found that every time I talk with an actual librarian, I feel centered, capable, and focused – a complete contrast to the way my school work makes me feel. Find out what they are looking for in a new librarian, the kinds of skills that are crucial to the job and ways to go about gaining them. Ask them for tips to get ahead, about trends they see in the field, and about crucial resources for the profession. Don’t forget to stay in touch! This might mean the occasional email or a few minutes of chatting at a meeting.

3. Go to conferences. Yes, they are expensive, but they’re not getting any cheaper and student discounts can help out with the cost. Conferences will show you the real state of the field, plus there are lots of real librarians to talk to about their work. Check out the poster sessions, the vendor booths, and the meetings. Find out where your interests align with the field and then pursue them.

4. Frequently search job postings. Many schools and listservs will send out job postings daily. Scan the ones that look like the kind of work you want to do and then turn yourself into the person with those skills. You will probably also find, as I have, that your coursework applies to resumes in unexpected ways. It is never too soon to start doing this, so if you’re new to library school, don’t be afraid to flood your inbox with this kind of thing. You’ll have days when you just mark all as read, but you won’t be able to avoid them, and that’s important.

5. Find ways to turn your coursework into professional work. Can you turn the paper you wrote that your professor liked so well into something publishable? How about that project? Could it be a poster session? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel for these things. Use the coursework you’ve done in new ways that will help you to get excited about actual work you hope to be doing.

It’s no surprise that these tips will probably also help in a job search – keep your eye on the prize. To survive the second year, I’m doing all these things, but I’m also making an effort to keep my mind open to the assignments and debates that seem off-topic or irrelevant. Who knows where they might lead?

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