In this interview, a library director shares how she found her calling while participating in a required work study as a non-traditional student returning to college. She explains that being a library worker does not mean she gets to sit around and read all day, and shares that she finds satisfaction knowing she is able to help researchers find the information they need in order to help the environment.
Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
A: My job title is Library Director for a research library at a US Environmental Protection Agency office. I have 30 years of experience in various types of libraries. I began as a paraprofessional, and then went to college and earned a masters degree. I am driven, proactive, and dedicated.
Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?
A: I am a white female. I feel this has definitely not helped me. The field of Library Science is filled with white females. They tend to be thought of as not serious career oriented people because of family issues and involvement. Male applicants are fewer and further between and they tend to be hired for administrative positions before female candidates are regardless of whether they are more qualified. People see strength and leadership in men. Ironically, even the women librarians do when they are on a selection committee, so they prove to be their own worst enemy. I was on a selection committee once when a male candidate was chosen over a female candidate that I thought had stronger qualifications. The reasoning that was voiced was that she was married and would probably leave soon to have children. I voiced my displeasure at that logic and voted against hiring the male candidate but was overruled by the majority.
Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
A: I manage the day to day operations of the library. I prepare usage reports, train employees, direct work to be accomplished, plan and deliver training sessions for users on accessing databases, catalog materials and plan the budget. Basically, I try to stay ahead of the users’ needs and make sure there is timely delivery of information. A common misconception of librarians is that they spend all their time reading. In reality, there is no time to read at work.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
A: I have some 10 days and some 1 days, but overall, I would say my satisfaction is at the 8 level. My biggest frustrations come from dealing with administrators that make budget decisions when they do not use the library or know how it operates. Those decisions affect the people who need to use it in their everyday work. In recent years it has always been cut, cut, cut.
Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
A: It is very rewarding to work with a scientist to find research that helps them get a patent or make a discovery that truly makes a difference and has an effect on life.
Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
A: I work at a government agency, but I am not employed by the government. I work for a company that has a contract with the government. That means that I cannot take direct orders from the government, and a middleman is added to the communications. It can be very confusing to get used to.
Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
A: It was pure happenstance. I was a non-traditional college student and I needed a work study job as part of my financial aid package. I was assigned the position of being the evening librarian for a small city public library. I fell in love with the work immediately. Even though my job description said evening librarian, I was not a professional librarian and more of library assistant. I wouldn’t do it any differently because it provided experience from the bottom up, and that is very valuable.
Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
A: Just go to work and do the best possible job you can do and if you don’t like it, move on. Don’t expect work to be your place to socialize.
Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
A: I was working at a military base library and one of the customers “got in the mood” listening to bagpipe music and was “relieving” himself in a public area and I had to talk to him about it.
Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
A: I look forward to learning something everyday when I help people find research material. I get excited about being able to find the elusive answer to a problem and knowing it is going to ultimately help the environment.
Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?
A: It is a daily challenge to have to answer to people who do not know the purpose of a library, and what is needed to make it operate smoothly. On particularly bad days I want to quit.
Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
A: If I get an impossible deadline it can be very stressful but I do not take it home with me. I’ve learned to leave it at the door. When I walk out the door family time and fun time starts. I also do not let family time interfere with work time unless it is an emergency.
Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
A: The position I currently hold has a salary range of $45K to $85K. Overall, that is high for the library field in general. As a whole, librarian salaries are not on par with other positions that require a graduate degree. I am at the upper level of the pay range and am pleased with my income. It didn’t come overnight, though.
Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
A: There is never enough vacation! After 16 years I finally get 3 weeks per year. Academic and public librarians accrue much more than that.
Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
A: You must have a master’s degree to be a full librarian and it helps to have a second master’s degree in a subject area specialty to really succeed.
Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
A: I would be honest and tell them that the work is rewarding but not to expect a decent wage for many years. I would also discuss the economic crisis and what is has meant to libraries. Many have had to close or shorten their hours and drastically cut budgets because of funding issues. Everyone loves the library, but no one wants to pay for it.
Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
A: I am nearing the end of my work career and expect to be retired in 5 years. If I were younger I would want to be planning my own information retrieval service.