My "Co-op" Is Over (and the 10 Best Things About My New Job)

I didn't participate in the co-op program at FIMS for a variety of reasons:

1) I only wanted to be out of the workforce for a year so going straight through doing the “Suicide Five” was pretty much my only option

2) being older and a bit more established, I was able to access a line of credit that could fully cover my expenses for the year and didn't need the cash infusion that is sometimes part of the reason some students do co-ops (although having student loans again after finally paying off my undergrad debts a year or two ago SUCKS!)

3) they had very few (only one when I was there) public library co-op jobs and although you would gain valuable skills from pretty much any co-op, I didn't think it was a worthwhile trade-off to do a co-op not related to my main area of interest, especially since…

4) you had to move yet again for the vast majority of the co-ops which, especially with having my spouse there and having already done a cross-Canada move, was an extra complication and expense we didn't need. 

So, anyhow, since today marks the four-month anniversary of my time in my first real librarian job, I thought I'd jot a few thoughts about my first four months (ie. the typical length of a co-op position) and a special list of the best things about the job (so far.)

My First Librarian Job vs. Co-op
– I probably talked (too much) about my previous work experience when I was at FIMS but I honestly think it did help me quite a bit in getting up to speed at this position, perhaps compared to say, a brand new MLIS grad who was 10 years younger than me and might not have any relevant experience doing things like working with boards, running programs or doing building inspections.

– at the same time, if I'm honest with myself, I probably overestimated how much help my previous work experience would give me as a librarian (or at least in this position.)  Some things are very similar to my old job – instead of working with ~50 publisher members, I'm working with ~50 branches.  I run programs.  I help develop policy.  I've been involved in some hiring decisions.  But some things are completely different – the level of responsibility I've been given, the size of the organization (10x the budget of the literary non-profits I worked for and 10x the number of employees.)  The structure and operation of an organization this size compared to how a much smaller organization operates. 

– although the skills gained on co-op definitely give you a leg-up when you're looking for work after convocating, I suspect a lot of positions end up (re)training you after you're hired so you learn your new organization's policies, procedures, culture, etc.  For instance, I was fortunate enough to get nearly a month of training with the employee I was replacing.  Regina Public Library gives a month of training as well I believe and as I said, I suspect most institutions will have a training/orientation program of some type.

Okay, that's a few thoughts trying to define my first four months on the job as a co-op term (whether that's a fair analogy or not.)  Now, here's a list of some of the best things about my job so far.  (The list of things I don't like will have to wait until my contract's over! )

These are in no particular order
(even though I have numbered them just because I love lists so damn
much!) and (if anybody from work is reading this) there are probably more than 10 – these are just the first ones that occurred to me. 

Also, I'm trying to only pick good things specifically about my
job, not the side benefits  like living in a smaller city (five minute drive to work, twenty-minute walk), being able to live with Shea's parents with our new baby (their first grand-baby) during the week being close enough to Regina that we're able to come back to our own house every weekend.  Being the same distance from my parents as we would've been if we stayed in Regina (just had a great visit to the family cottage at Katepwa Lake last night as a matter of fact.)  

1. Great co-workers
I've been getting to know the other people who staff Southeast Regional's headquarters
and they seem like a great group.  (My boss told me the other day that studies have shown that the number one reason people stay in a workplace is their co-workers – not money, not job satisfaction, not the challenges they're given.  I never knew that but now that he says it, it makes sense.)  Plus, counting me and a staff member who was coming in on a temp basis when I started, there are not one, not two, not three but four people out of a staff of around a dozen who have young children under five years old plus another who's expecting later this year – perhaps the first time in my life where so many co-workers
are at a similar place in their lives to me. 

2. Special Project

I'm not going to
talk too much about it here yet but I've been given a special project
to work on that is about as perfect of a fit for my interests and
aptitudes as I could ask for.  Seriously, I couldn't write a better fit myself. 

3. Range of Library Learning

Pick a library
skill and I'm going to get exposure to it – acquisitions and weeding,
management and HR issues, policy development, youth and other
programming, outreach, cataloguing questions.  Someone told me that working one year in a rural library system is the equivalent of working two years in a city system because you are exposed to so much more in terms of skills and experiences.  Not sure if that's true or not but I like to believe it! 

4. Range of Other Learning
Lots of things that you don't think of as direct library-related skills will also be a part of my experience.  Everything from working in an unionized environment to building codes and inspections to politics and advocacy.

5. Acquisitions

I mentioned this
above (and have written about it before on this blog) but want to focus on it a bit more as this is an area of
librarianship I am particularly interested in.  Before I went to FIMS,
I had a working librarian tell me that “you have to be working for 10
years before you'll get an acquisitions job” yet here I am, just four months in to my first job and already making decisions about which books to purchase for children, young adults, adult non-fiction, adult fiction and certain books that should be held by all 48 branches across our system.  Those choices are made via my responsibility for all the patron requests that come in but otherwise, the acquisitions role is split among the staff members.  I am responsible for ordering Adult and Juvenile non-fiction books for our system as well which is one of my main areas of interest – perfect!

6. No Weekends or Evenings

Not completely
true as I do have the occasional weekend or evening  work to complete. 
But for the most part, my job is Monday to Friday which I think is fairly rare, especially for an entry-level librarian position (although technically, I think my position is one step higher than entry-level due to the higher level of responsibilities in managing so many branches.  Imagine being a librarian in a city with 48 branches – except every branch has its own library board and its own local issues – oh, and every branch is anywhere from five minutes to two and half hours from where your office is – and you're getting an idea of what I've gotten myself into! )

7. Geography
Tied to the last point about distances, being part of a
regional library system means that I will be spending a lot of time on
the road visiting branches for various reasons.  This is good for a few reasons – it gives me personal contact with our branch librarians, gives
me a familiarity with towns in my home region that I may have only
passed through or briefly visited in the past as well as a chance to visit many towns that I have a longer history with – my hometown and those near it, Shea's hometown and those near it, other towns where either of us have or had relatives. 

8. Our Photocopier

This seems like
a silly one but apparently the region bought a new printer not long
before I started and it is one of the most kick-ass things I have ever seen. 
Full colour copies.  Automated booklets.  Ability to e-mail any documents
you photocopy/scan and most amazingly, it practically fixes itself if a
page jams! I haven't found the button yet for “shoot lasers” but I'm sure it's on there somewhere.

9.  It's A Public Library System
Another thing I said all through FIMS is that I wanted to work in a public library system and this is where I find myself in my first job.  I did loosen up a bit as the year went on and am more interested in trying other areas of librarianship than I used to be.  But for now, this is a perfect fit.  Another advantage although it doesn't seem like one is that I chose to take a position that's an 18-month contract rather than another offer that was a full-time permanent.  At least part of my decision here was that I'd seen or heard of too many people who get into a full-time permanent position and never leave as they gain security, pension benefits, seniority or whatever.  This position gives me a natural “out” after a year and a half and although I'm already a bit nervous about finding a job at that time, I'm also very excited that I have that opportunity.

10.  No overdue fines.

I am a complete
idiot for being there three weeks (let alone having grown up with this
library system) before I realised that Southeast Regional has had a
long-standing policy of not charging overdue fees at all.  (We still
charge for damaged and lost books of course.)  But still, yay, us!

Bonus: 11. My Boss
My boss is the second longest serving regional library director in the province and there's been a turnover of 5 directors in the last 5 years I think so that says something.  He's got 30 years of experience in libraries and 15+ in public libraries so he has a wealth of experience that he's more than willing to share.  (I made the mistake (?) of saying I wanted to be a director someday in our interview and he took that comment to heart – and has shared a massive amount of information with me about all aspects of running a library that he might not have otherwise hit a new hire with.)  I also have a suspicion that he is partly doing it to scare me off being a director but I haven't confirmed that!   I'm not sure if he reads this blog – he knows about it but told me he doesn't once when it came up.  But he also made a comment the other day about something I'm pretty sure I've never mentioned to him in our many conversations but which I have talked about a few times on this blog.  So who knows? 

Anyhow, those are just a few of the many great things about my job.  There are things I don't like of course (me being me, how could that not be the case?) but I think you find that in any workplace.  Overall, I'm pretty happy with where I am and once again, can't believe my fortune in how things seemed to have worked out for the best for me. 

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I am a new librarian and new manager who got no training, although my job involves managing a dept. in-house at a public library and also managing the same depts. across a broad geographical region. It would be interesting to know how often training is provided for new managers, and how extensive it is. The other approach (to the training you received) seems to be to throw the newbie in and see if he/she can tread water until actually learning to swim.

    Posted 10 Aug 2007 at 1:52 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Yeah, it would be interesting to see how different libraries train their new employees. I interviewed at Regina Public Library and they indicated that the four weeks they gave to their new hires was fairly unique for instance. I know there budgets and staff time are tight all over but the “sink or swim” method seems pretty risky to me.

    Posted 11 Aug 2007 at 11:17 pm
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