Essays and rants on libraries, technology, webdev, etc. by Ruth Collings

Why am I a librarian?

This is the kind of question I get asked a lot by various people, but that I don't have a really good (i.e. interview-ready) answer for.

I grew up in rural New Brunswick and our provincial library system does not have a branch in my town. The nearest one is a 20 minute drive away, so my parents did not like going there. We have a tiny local community library run by a loose collection of volunteers who donate their own time and money to keep it running. They also get a grant from the government for a full-time summer student which I did for three summers. That was my first taste of librarianship and it was EXTREMELY BORING. There was more than one day where we got zero patrons. As an aside, the library was occupying rent-free a historical property owned by the town, which was a jail built in 1871. The library is in the portion of the jail that was a normal family house where the jailkeeper lived, but it was still freakin' creepy some days.

I was at McMaster as an undergrad and I planned on going into a Ph.D. in psychology to become a psychiatrist. I was doing Honours psychology, it just seemed like the thing to do. I would like to be a family doctor like my father, but there was no way I was getting into med school with my grades. Unfortunately, psychology programs in Canada are also quite competitive so it looked like I wasn't going to get in there either. Besides, after the pressure and work of doing my Honours thesis, I wasn't really interested in signing up for more of the same. I remember it being sunny out and walking down the main part of campus towards the psych building when I had a revelation: why don't I become a librarian? I had some idea of what librarians did and it was kind of like stuff I was interested in. The more I researched about it the more I liked it. So I applied and got into Dal, which is where I always wanted to go.

For me, I saw getting more education as inevitable. My father has three degrees, my mother has two, and I was paying enough attention to the economy to know that the job situation was pretty crap. I saw my options as thus: I could graduate and fight for a secretarial position, drop my degree from my resume and try to get a retail job while I figured out what to do, go to community college to get a trade, or figure out something I liked enough that I would be willing to do a few more years of school in. And, believe me, I was burnt out on school. A big chunk of the reason why I got my MLIS was because it was only two years. I was in it from the beginning to get those letters on a piece of paper so I could go get a middle-class job and be independent.

All of this was made possible by the fact that my parents make enough money to pay for my education without loans. My drive to be independent was partially financially-based (I have two younger siblings), but mostly pride.

So the reason why I became a librarian is because I wanted to do the least amount of education for the greatest chance at getting a middle-class job. This is where somebody says "Didn't you know the job market is terrible for librarians???" and I say NOPE. It's not like they put that on university admissions homepages. But in all seriousness, the job market sucks for everybody in Canada unless you're willing to move out west and have a skill the petro industry wants. I knew my chances of getting a salaried job with health & dental out of a bachelor's degree were next to nothing. In retrospect, I could probably have also done nursing or radiology and had a better shot at jobs; old people are the way of the future. But I'm still happy with my decision.

I like being a librarian. I like getting to call myself a librarian. I still want the Dr. title pretty bad, but that can wait until I have the patience and interest to do a Ph.D. in something. Academic librarianship turns out to suit a lot of the things I'm interested in (and I'm going to shoehorn comics and video games in there somehow), so I'm more likely to be okay with the boring parts of the job. The unionized environment irritates me sometimes, but it means I get a seriously generous benefits package with lots of vacation and sick days. This is a seriously cushy job and I'm extremely lucky to have it.

A lot of that luck is being born white, able-bodied, cis female, and to wealthy, supportive parents. That means my hard work paid off. For a lot of people, they can work just as hard as I did and get nothing because they don't check all the boxes of "normal". There's definitely a lot of luck involved in getting a library job, but let's not pretend discrimination has nothing to do with success.

The tl;dr answer to this question is: Because I can. People will pay me to do stuff I already enjoy doing! Why wouldn't I want to be a librarian?

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