A reflection on my becoming a librarian.
In order to reflect on my LIS Master’s program work at Dominican, I must go back to the reason that I applied for the degree three years ago. For the past sixteen years I have been working as a molecular biologist at a research university in Chicago. I had always felt driven to get an advanced degree from the time I finished my undergrad education. I hadn’t pursued it because I didn’t know which direction I would take. I had assumed that my path would be to the hard sciences. A PhD did not fit as I never was compelled to exhaustively dig into a subject, but I had done a lot of service work and that I did find satisfying. At the time the physician assistant profession was beginning to gain recognition and acceptance. I studied and researched the idea, compared it to my personality and strengths, and decided that this would be a good career for me to pursue.
I began to prepare myself for applying. I had started to retake my core classes to make me a better candidate. I studied for the GRE and researched the profession. I spent more than two years preparing for entrance when a graduate student in the laboratory in invited me to accompany her to a friend’s dissertation defense. I’m glad I did, because it changed how I see my career.
The woman defending was named Casey. She was diminutive in stature, only wearing a thin, shapeless cotton tank dress that emphasized her smallness. Her dissertation advisor gave her a glowing introduction emphasizing how she “made this project her own” and describing her as exceptional; and as she talked, I could see why. She was charismatic and enthusiastic about her subject. She was articulate and engaging about the subtlest of details. The topic was neuroscience, which I didn’t know much about, but I didn’t matter. To this day I do not remember anything about the subject itself; I ceased to pay attention and was instead mesmerized by the sheer force of passion as she talked. For the whole hour I was amazed at how comfortable she was in discussing her work, as if she had been doing it for the past twenty years, not defending it publicly for the first time. I knew without hesitation that I wanted to be that passionate about my career. I equally knew that I did not feel that about a career as a physician assistant. At the end of that hour I walked out with no plan for my future.
I spend the next couple of months deeply thinking about my skills and what might align with them. In that time, (and even before, if I’m honest) when I would think about a future career, I would always imagine having a little retirement job in a library or a bookstore. It finally occurred to me that perhaps I should be paying attention to that idea. When I started to investigate librarianship, I discovered that it aligned with many of my skills. I am talented at organization of all kinds. Many of my most satisfying jobs, both paid and unpaid, involved public service. I like talking to people. I connect with them well and easily. I have extensive experience teaching one on one and have been told that I teach well. Putting these things together, I became excited and convicted that librarianship was the path for me.
In my personal statement for admission, I expected this program to prepare me for a changing profession and a challenging environment. In most of my classes, there has been extensive discussion about the perception and roles of librarians in a digital environment. This is particularly important to me as academic/health science librarian. Most of science research literature is found and or created in digital form. In addition, the practice of science straddles equally the digital and print realm. There is interesting discussion in this area about the massive amounts of data being generated. Combined with technological computing advances, we now have the capability to make this data useful to those outside the working group. This is an important point as data is being generated at a rate that is difficult to handle without computer assistance and teams of people. There is also the ethical consideration of getting as much use out of the data as possible because, typically, public money is used. And this is where my education has helped me advance my thinking. Before this degree, I was aware of the complicated nature of data generation and maintaining records. What I did not know was the scope of it and how it potentially could affect higher education; that these data sets potentially influence the direction of science, doing so through the changes in scholarly communication.
Another point I made in my statement is learning to ask the right questions. This point has come together for me in this last year. I find that in my final class, academic libraries, as we discuss the difficulties in accountability in library functions and how to link that to performance, I look to related concepts in my user instruction and collection development classes. I recently completed as paper assignment that compared changes in instruction and attendance to staffing in libraries. While it seems straightforward, I wouldn’t have thought to ask that question or look at that data from the staffing angle without several topics coming together from different learning experiences.
My practicum work has been the unifying experience of my program so far. During my program I would get frustrated by people asking me what type of librarian I was going to be. I had always stated that I don’t care what type of librarian, I want challenging and worthwhile work. However, when I started discussing the opportunities at the practicum site, I had trouble articulating what that specifically meant. I had struggled writing my learning objectives and goals, and they ended up vaguer than I would have liked.
But the actual practice of librarianship has changed that. I am working in a health science library because that is my preferred post-Graduate job. My work there includes the reference desk, creating web pages, and data analysis of their survey instrument. The staff have been great and given me a clear overview of all areas of their work. I am enjoying the work and I find myself eager to get to a “real job” because I can see the work that needs to be done. I now know what I want.
I want to be a science liaison in an academic library. I see opportunity to connect more people to library service through an embedded/concierge model. I also see the blocks that occur because of the informal communication network among academics that the library may not be participating in (an insight from my crisis informatics class). In addition, I have discovered that there are many segments of the academic population that might be underserved, like non-academic staff and foreign students. Taking what I’m learning in my concurrent academic libraries class, I also understand that the technological and computational advances are creating a problem for data preservation for all universities. No one has developed a concrete solution for this and I want to be involved. There is a lot of work to be done in the near future in all of these topics.
At the end of my graduate experience I found that I have achieved my goal. I have a career that I am passionate about. I find that I have become a little like Casey: talking about my subject enthusiastically, articulate about the subtlest of details, comfortable like I had been studying this all of my life, not just the past three years. I’m ready to get started.
(Print ready copy here> GriffinTM Portfolio Essay)