"As usual, when it was mentioned that 75% (or whatever) of those working in libraries were women, you could hear the crickets chirping." (or "The Story of How Jason Became A Librarian")

Steven Chabot, my colleague (and roomie) from the Canadian Library Human Resources Summit is looking into some of the reasons why men enter the profession

Anything related to gender and libraries is a personal interest of mine
so I'll take a shot at helping him out (and I'd encourage you to do so too – he's looking for stories from men and women.)

I think the Statement of Intent I wrote as part of my application to Western tells the (slightly overblown) story of how important libraries have been in my life.  But libraries are important in the lives of a lot of kids who never darken the doors of an MLIS program.

So why did I make the leap?  I guess it starts with my undergrad degree.  I started as a Business major figuring that was my best chance to get a good job when I convocated.  A realization that this wasn't the path for me (failing economics helped me realise it though it wasn't because I didn't get it or like the subject matter – it was because I signed up for an 8:30am class in my first semester and never ever attended the class) led me to go through a series of majors – both contemplated briefly and declared officially – film, psychology, philosophy, linguistics being a few I remember – before finally settling on English which did become the major I obtained a degree in.

Obtaining a degree which is perhaps one step above history and psychology in the pantheon of “useless arts degrees” meant that I spent a lot of time putting off relatives who asked “So you're going to be a teacher then?” all the while thinking “I'm probably going to end up being a teacher someday.” 

I'm not sure when library school came on my radar but it was somewhere around this time.  I wasn't ready to go back to school with a boatload of debt and having just finished four years of schooling (okay, five – economics wasn't the only class I didn't get credit for.

Luckily, I ended up having perfect timing to be chosen for a work placement program that the U of R happened to offer exactly once.  And the perfect personality to get chosen (the instructor later told me “You were out before you ever came in the room – last interview on the last day, there was no way I was picking you.  But you came in and were so enthusiastic and energetic, I couldn't not pick you.”  So there's probably a lesson in there about being positive.  Or something.)

After the training part of the program ran for a couple months, there was another three months or so for a paid job placement.  The program helped you find work in an area you were interested in and I ended up working as the web designer for the Saskatchewan Publishers Group.  After a couple contract extensions and brief gaps, that eventually led to a full-time position.  I stayed there for about four years then went to Calgary with my then-girlfriend, now wife, in 2001 and ended up doing a very similar job for the Writers Guild of Alberta. 

I had the opportunity to return to the Saskatchewan Publishers Group in 2005 but a series of events and conversations made me realise that if I was ever going to follow through on the long-percolating idea of going to library school for my Masters, I would have to do it soon.

I applied for library school in late 2005, nervous as all hell because I'd been out of school so long – wondering if I could do it, especially since I only had one card to play – the accelerated Masters program at Western – not wanting to be out of the workforce, without a pay cheque or away from the home we owned in Regina for any longer than I had to be.  

I got accepted, nearly had a breakdown trying to do the first “What is Information?” assignment but picked up steam and had a fairly successful year in a variety of ways – from winning a peer-award in my first semester to serving as Academic Rep in my third and final term. 

I've always felt lucky in how opportunities seem to happen for me at the exact right time – whether it was the job training program appearing just as that Education degree was looking more and more likely to a friend e-mailing me a “job in Edmonton that sounds like it would've be a good fit for you” that turned out to be based in Calgary with the Writers Guild of Alberta exactly when I needed a job. 

When I returned to Saskatchewan, a grouping of four jobs appeared in quick succession.  I applied for four, got interviewed for all of them, was offered two and took the one that turned out in retrospect to be the best fit in terms of gaining experience, knowledge and insight into the area of librarianship – public libraries – that I'm most interested in.

The one I turned down was a full-time permanent and this was a contract position but my luck continued as I managed to get offered a position at Regina Public Library just as my contract position was ending.  If you'd asked me in library school where I hoped to end up working, I would've said RPL.
  It wasn't a direct path to get there but I honestly believe that the slight detour to do a contract in rural Saskatchewan has made me twice the librarian I would've been had I gone straight to RPL.  (In fact, someone told me that they thought working in a rural library for a year was like working for two years in a city library since you get exposure to such a wide variety of skills and tasks compared to a better-staffed, better-resourced city system.)

So that's a long story of how I became a librarian.  In short, it was something that I always thought of as a possible “next step” after getting a “useless” English degree and only after falling backwards into work in the literary non-profit sector for nearly a decade did I finally make the leap the next stage in my life and career.

Now the real question is: how many librarians, male or female, had a similar experience of having half a dozen or more majors in undergrad?  Because I think one thing that many librarians have in common is a very broad interest in many subjects and librarianship gives us a field that allows us to explore any and all topics – literally from 000-999.  (Or as another colleague once told me, “When you're a librarian, it's all on topic!”)

Comments 8

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I bounced around in undergrad a bit too. The one thing I never had to worry about was having enough elective credits to graduate. πŸ™‚

    Posted 16 Jan 2009 at 4:53 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Only changed my major once (though I also transferred schools too). From Translation to a double major in Classics and French. I took 5 years too to finish my BA but it wasn't because I didn't get any credits, just different requirements.

    Posted 16 Jan 2009 at 6:47 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    I may be a-typical in that I went in to undergrad knowing what my majors would be (and the only deviation was that instead of a double major, I did a major/minor when I discovered that while I was good at English, I didn't particularly enjoy it). I knew what I wanted to teach and what I needed as teachables. I figured my road was straight and narrow. Go to teachers' college. Teach. Retire. End of story.
    Obviously, my road has had a lot more turns in it than I expected. And the teacher-turned-librarian is probably as much a stereotype as the not-sure-what-to-major-in, or what-do-you-do-with-a-BA-in-English stereotypes.
    As for how I became a librarian, I'd have to say that there was a touch of desperation in the decision. I was unemployed, and not getting anywhere with applying to Communications jobs. Through career counselling they matched up my skills and interests and determined that I should either be a librarian, a psychologist, or … a photographer, I think. Something kind of weird.
    The deciding factor? Psychology would have taken many more years of school and a background in sciences. Library school was one year.

    Posted 16 Jan 2009 at 9:59 pm
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    I was mostly set on taking Philosophy. But I do agree about the generalism bit. Now I am interested in so many topics that I can't seem to stay focused.
    At the time though I was in love with Philosophy. But your story confirms what I have been reading a lot, that not to many people start out wanting to be librarians but just come here in a round about way.

    Posted 21 Jan 2009 at 12:59 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    They should have a designation for people who get a degree by taking such a wide range of classes that they can't define a specialization. It could be like the Jeopardy category – BA – Potpourri.

    Posted 15 Feb 2009 at 7:39 am
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    I took five years too – but I did lose some credits. I think I failed one class (never take an 8:30am class in your first semester of University if you're living in dorms and not a morning person to begin with). I also dropped a couple classes after the deadline for them not to count against me – stuff like that. Costly errors at the time but no long term damage as far as I can tell (except for a lingering resentment of economics after it was one of my favourite classes in high school.)

    Posted 15 Feb 2009 at 7:42 am
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    There was some desperation in my decision when I finally applied as well. I was fortunate to fall into work in the literary non-profit sector after finishing my BA and do it for nearly a decade – in both Saskatchewan and Alberta. But when I returned to Saskatchewan to my old workplace, the saying about “not going home again” was painfully true and I decided that I had to do something. In some ways, I was so frustrated that I didn't want to just move to another non-profit culture job and this was one of many factors that helped give me the push to finally apply to library school after having it in the back of my head as a possibility since, probably soon after I convocated with my BA. (I should do a post on all of the different people and factors converged to finally make me take the giant step of applying – there were probably a dozen!)

    Posted 15 Feb 2009 at 7:51 am
  8. Anonymous wrote:

    I don't think my answer touched on the gender factor aspect of your question. But honestly, that's because it never really was a conscious factor in my thoughts – I knew librarianship was a female dominated profession but until my first library job, I'd never had a male boss (including my first job in a gas station which you think would be all about maleness.) I worked in the non-profit arts & cultural sector which is probably one of the few sectors that trumps librarianship in terms of how many females work in it. And I'm from a family full of nurses (including my mother and my wife) so I'm fairly attuned to female-dominated professions in that way too. (Oh, and I once did an online quiz to determine my gender bias and it found I was 60% female – 40% male. πŸ˜‰ So perhaps that's another reason why gender wasn't a consideration or an issue for me.)

    Posted 15 Feb 2009 at 7:56 am
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