Friday, January 23, 2009

Of libraries and career paths

Yesterday I took the first baby step back towards a library career. I graduated in 2003 with a diploma in information management and library technology. I didn't want to work in a school or public library; my intent was to work for a special library (ie. law, government, corporate). I had two jobs in special libraries. One was a few months working for the city Waste Management Department library and the other was a few months working for a law firm. Turns out I hated pretty much everything about working in a special library. I enjoyed shopping for new clothes to wear to work, but the dress code was unfortunately contrary to the nature of the work. Once that contract ended I spent some time unemployed during the summer of 2003, surfing job ads and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. In August I went on a road trip to Vernon with Steph and that's when I went down a different career path.

Stephanie was having a lot of problems with the board of directors and executive director at her artsy non-profit and spent a good chunk of time on the way back to Edmonton complaining about her job. We were on the Yellowhead approaching the city when I commented that even with the complaints the job itself sounded fun. She replied that the job itself was indeed good, and that I should apply because she was moving to Europe and just gave her notice. I did, I got the job, and it worked out well enough for me there for a little over two years. I left, took some time off, and became a paid part-time contracted employee of the website I'd volunteered for.

In the summer of 2007, I started working for another artsy non-profit, this time a Theatre for Young Audiences organization. I'm still there and it's still mostly good, but I'm noticing the signs that I'm getting antsy. I've also noticed the economic downturn's effect on performing arts companies which have been leading to some major players laying off staff and filing for bankruptcy. My company's economic health appears to be stable (grants and school budgets seem to be in a holding pattern if not increasing), my position is essential to our operations, and I'm relatively uniquely qualified and experienced. I'm not overly worried, but I have been wisely warned by David to not get complacent. Just in case.

I started thinking that maybe I might want to go back to libraries. The problem, of course, is that it's been more than five years since I've had any library experience and the experience from back then was very short term. While my education proved to be extremely transferable to other industries, I don't think my experience is necessarily all that transferable to libraries. More accurately, I've started thinking that it might be a good idea to take steps towards getting some current library experience should I find myself in need of a new job. While hard on many industries, recessions actually have a positive effect on library. When money is tight, libraries get more popular. People who want to or are forced to tighten their belts increasingly turn to the library for books, magazines, newspapers, movies, internet, and (now) video games. Many people go to libraries to research new job opportunities, print resumes, apply for jobs online, and engage in self-study to increase their employability.

When the older boy came home from school with a note asking for volunteers for the school library I heard opportunity knocking. Resource-wise, it's a very good library. Manpower-wise, there's one part-time library technician who needs to maintain library service for nearly 500 students and a couple dozen teachers. She has parent volunteers and a student library club who come to scan returned books and shelve items, but she needs help with things like organizing teacher resources and cataloguing. I thought she was going to hug me on the spot when I introduced myself and told her that I'm a trained library tech who is willing to work for free.

I had to get stuff sorted out at work first, but I'm now going to take a Thursday every two or three weeks to volunteer for the morning to do whatever is needed. Yesterday was my first day. I shelved books, crossed-checked some new acquisitions for accuracy in the catalogue, and made signs and labels for the reference section. Next time I will be cataloguing. I really enjoyed it and I think down the road I could handle working in a school library (though perhaps not running one). I think I'd still prefer to be a room somewhere cataloguing all day for a public library, never seeing the light of day.

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