cpd23 Thing 10 – Library Roots/Routes

Why did I decide to become a librarian, and how did I get to where I am? This week’s cpd23 topic overlaps with the Library Routes Project, so I’ll add a link there one of these days!

Unlike many who want to become librarians, I didn’t do so because I love books. Don’t get me wrong, I love my books, but there are plenty that I don’t care for. So that’s not much motivation to push me to librarianship, where I’m ethically obligated to ensure that a wide variety of viewpoints are included.

I also can’t really point to any profound experience as a child at a public library. I was raised by a single father who worked physically demanding jobs, so weekends usually involved him lying on the couch in pain while my brother and I went out to play or ride bikes or whatever. He feels guilty now that he didn’t take us to the library more often, but he was doing the best he could to raise us with a fairly low income and very little outside support.

No, I decided to go into librarianship because I love academic research and teaching. I guess you could call me a failed academic. I have at times described myself as a refugee from a PhD program.

As an undergrad, I fell in love with anthropology. It’s this wonderful holistic field, where you don’t just talk about (for example) psychological factors and then test “subjects” in a controlled lab setting. Anthropologists talk about psychological factors in relation to cultural factors — religious background, gender identity, racial identity and related power relationships, socio-economic status, and on and on. As an undergrad, I did some pretty specific, in-depth research, but that was framed by classes in which I was still getting a well-rounded four-fields (cultural, linguistic, archaeological, and biological) education.

Me and another student threshing rice while on a field trip with our language training program in Indonesia
Plus, it’s exciting. I focused on cultural anthropology. That meant a year or two of fieldwork, living in some unfamiliar culture and learning a different way of life. By the time I graduated with my BA, I had decided that I would work toward doing my fieldwork in Borneo, living in the jungle with a bunch of egalitarian horticulturalist head-hunters.

On the other hand, once you embark upon a path to becoming a PhD, you are expected to develop tunnel-vision. No more being a generalist, you must become an expert in a tiny little piece of the field. The days of anthropologists making their careers by going in and describing some previously un-contacted culture are long gone. It wasn’t enough that I wanted to learn about the indigenous religious practices of the Iban — I needed to develop a far more specific question, pinpointing one small aspect of one piece of their religious practices. That tunnel vision is not nearly as exciting as the holistic overview! Oh, and somewhere along the way, I fell in love and built a long term relationship, which makes that trek to the other side of the world for a year or two a bit less appealing!

So, I got a Masters and started on a PhD in anthropology before deciding to go do something else. It was a long process — anthropology was a part of my identity, and I was afraid that dropping out would disappoint some people that mattered a great deal to me. Along the way, I had some pretty cool experiences — the best was going to Indonesia for an in-country language training program.

While trying to figure out what else I could do with my life, I decided to try out a couple of library science classes. They didn’t bring some earth-shattering epiphany, but they were interesting. It sounded like a good way to go — working in an academic library would keep me comfortably located in academia. And, for all that some people complain, the job market for librarians is phenomenal compared to the market for anthropology professors!

I hate to admit that for the first year and a half of my MA in library science program (and it is an MA, not a MLS, Mizzou likes to be different!), I saw it mostly as a fall-back position. I was pretty well burnt out on real grad school, but library school was like being back in undergrad! Where I was used to writing a 20-30 page research paper for my required courses, I was back to writing 5 page double-spaced papers! Where I was accustomed to slogging through two to five 30-ish page articles for each class period, I was back to reading just a couple of 2-5 page articles! A really long one might be 10 or 12 pages. So I slacked off. It was so easy. Without the rigor I was used to, it just didn’t feel as serious. I did have a couple of more rigorous classes last fall, but those were electives, not the required “core” courses.

Mizzou Columns & Jesse Hall, by DylanBConnell on flikr
If you’re interested in the program and how it compares to what you went through, we had to complete 42 credit hours, including 16 hours of required courses plus a 2-3 credit hour practicum aka unpaid internship. You can zip on over to my coursework completed page if you are interested in seeing the sorts of classes I took and the major assignments for those.

Of all the classes I took, the practicum was my favorite. If you’re still in school and have the option, even if it’s not required, I highly recommend doing a practicum/internship. That’s really where it went from being just more classes and more (shorter) papers to write to being something fun that I really am excited about! Maybe it wouldn’t make such a difference if you already have a library job, but even then, it’s a chance to try out some other aspect of librarianship.

Now, I look back and wish I had been more active in the library science student organization. I read blogs like Hack Lib School and realize how much more I should have been doing all along. Luckily, I discovered it this past spring, before I was completely out of school!

I officially graduated this summer on July 29, 2011. As for what’s next, well, I hope that it won’t be too much longer before I can tell you all that I’ve got a job! Until then, well, I’m keeping on keeping on. How about you?

2 thoughts on “cpd23 Thing 10 – Library Roots/Routes

  1. Really interesting post, Angela! And you’re now the third PhD dropout/quitter/abandoner/”whatever the best word is for this” librarian that I’ve met. (I did it too!)

    1. Thanks, Helen! It does seem like a logical place to go if getting a PhD doesn’t work out. The key is to find out whether it’s something you love or just a fall-back position. For me, I discovered that I really do love being a librarian!

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