Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 25: How I became a librarian

Lots of others in the challenged have blogged this story so here is mine.  Sit back and grab a cuppa.

I was one of those school kids who was always the school librarian at lunchtimes.  My family had a Friday ritual of going to the library on the late night and getting a swag load of books.  At first Mum used to restrict us to 6 so she could keep track of them, but once we were old enough we were allowed as many as the library permitted.  We were/are a reading family.

But I never considered librarianship as a career.  It was never presented as an option at school.  Without trying to sound like I'm boasting, I was in the upper quartile "stream" in high school.  People in my stream at high school were shunted in the direction of law, medicine and engineering.  So my initial career choice was medicine.  As my Dad was a physiologist at the Med School it seemed a logical choice.

I suffered crushing humiliation when my marks weren't high enough to get into med school.  I remember sobbing on my bed as I realised my high falutin' ideas just weren't going to happen.  I felt liked I'd failed everyone's (i.e. my teachers, other students, people I knew) expectations.  Of course with hindsight I know now it is better not to try and please everyone else but rather look for something you feel passionate about.

On the advice of my Dad, I went on to do a BSc with the idea I might pursue medicine again after my first year.  By the time I got to the end of that year I realised that a) I had lost interest in spending 7 years at university for a very stressful vocation and b) actually I was enjoying the zoology/botany/ecology papers mostly and c) I hated chemistry.  I thought I might become a marine biologist.

So I entered my 2nd year of my science degree.  No chemistry (hallelujah!) and all Biosciences - a mixture of botany, zoology, marine biology and biometry.  Half way through my second year I went on a major field trip with the marine biology paper I was taking.  The field trip was famous for two things.  First, the amount of work expected from it and second, the opportunity for students to get p*ssed on the final dinner night.  The first didn't phase me too much though I was knackered by the last day.  Having come from a fairly sheltered life the second however... it was a bit off putting.  I got the impression that anyone wanting to be a marine biologist needed to be some sort of drunkard.  It wasn't my scene. 

In addition to this, it was becoming apparent that the current hot research trend in the School of Biological Sciences was cellular and molecular biology.  That was the topic that got the most research funding and the head of school was it's king.  Any post grad work would be heavily weighted to favour topics in that area.  I had no idea of what I might want to do as a post grad but I knew for sure that I wasn't interested in molecular stuff.  Whole animal/plant and ecology were more my thing.

Again I suffered a crisis of identity and purpose.  It was a period where I doubted myself and spent a few angst filled months wondering what to do.  One day I dropped into the career centre on campus with the idea I would pick up some pamphlets for my sister who was in her last year of high school and wondering what to do also.  I came across the information for librarianship and looking at the job description and personality requirements I realised I was looking at a picture of myself!  

It was truly like an epiphany for me.  Someone asked on Friendfeed in the Library Society of the World (LSW) if people thought librarianship was a calling.  For me it really did feel like it.

I entered my third year with a light heart.  Those were the days you didn't have to major in anything, you just had to have a certain number of credits at a particular level in order to graduate.  So I took the stuff I was interested in!  Entymology, crop science, taxonomy papers were in there and a Philosophy of Science paper which my Dad recommended.  (Because it had the right amount of credits and the lecturer was one of his mates).  Actually, it was quite an interesting paper and I learned some useful stuff in relation to the creation of knowledge and thought.  My final year was a breeze.

I applied to a variety of schools for a place in a library course -  one in Adelaide, one in Melbourne and the New Zealand one.  I was less enthused with the NZ option because at the time it was only a post-grad diploma. I was offered a place on the New Zealand course first so I accepted it because I could get a student loan here easily.  The course co-ordinators mentioned there would be opportunity to upgrade the diploma to an MLIS.  (Some time later the Melbourne option also offered me a place but getting funding was just too hard).

So there we are.  If you've made it this far you deserve a medal.

My experience taught me a few things.
1. As much as is practicable, career choice should be about doing things that you love, not what other people expect of you.
2. Every profession needs intelligent people and traditional career choices for the top streamed students at high school should not be so rigid.  Some career choices aren't promoted well.
3. It's okay to change direction.


  1. Interesting to read your story, Penny! A lot of yours is similar to mine, in that I originally wanted to go to Med School, but my A Bursary wasn't "enough" of an A Bursary to get me in (I was a mere 10 marks away from the "cut off"). Like you, I started a BSc with the thought of picking up Med after my first year. Like you, I decided I didn't want to stay for another 7 years and I also hated some of the sciences (Physiology, in my case - no offence to your Dad, LOL). Which led me along my career path (still medical-related, but NOT a doctor).
    It's interesting how school marks play SUCH a big role in the med school application process. One of the guys I was in 7th form with actually did get into Med School, although he really had no passion for being a doctor. He didn't have the people skills, either. He's a doctor now, but not one I'd really want to go to! I think there's much more to it than raw brains. But they weed people out based solely on their marks, and then require everybody to take papers like Linguistics (which I actually rather enjoyed) because a lot of them can't even speak English fluently. I'm not being racist; that's just a fact. Being a doctor is much more than "head" knowledge.
    I totally agree that many career choices were not mentioned at high school. I didn't even know my job existed until my 3rd year of University, and yet it's a perfect fit for me (combining Science and English/writing).

    It's great that you gave yourself permission to change direction. Sometimes it's hard to know what you want at age 17/18, and you need to "experiment" to see what's going to fit. I think, from reading your blog, that the role of librarian is just perfect for you! And you followed your heart, which is the most important thing!

  2. I agree that they mainly go for marks to get into Med but the universities have now established panel interviews for med students to evaluate for more than just intelligence ... They test them for empathy etc... It's good to know the process has been refined to get better doctors.

  3. Interesting reading your story Penny. I knew I wanted to be a teacher from when I was about 5 yo but my parents weren't terribly keen. I'm glad now that I chose what I wanted to be

  4. I fell into librarianship... First job out of university, not sure what I wanted to do, liked books.. lol

    I am passionate about libraries, and as a profession I found it to be something I really enjoy...

    However when I grow up I want to be a full time writer :-)

  5. Very cool story! Funny, I always thought that I wanted to me a librarian (anything to spend more time in a library). Never really happened though. Who knows what the future will bring :)

  6. thanks for that...I am always interested in the stories about the journey...Kate

  7. I enjoyed reading your story Penny. Inetersting our you became a librarian. I loved reading how it felt so right and like it was a calling. I do think the right career should be like that.

    Funnily enough I wanted to be a librarian when I was younger. I then got to High school and it was a chef and teacher. Now don't even get me started on School Guidance Counsellors.

    I love your advice at the end so true, points one and three stick out for me. I think careers counselling at school needs a new perspective or maybe things have changed for the better since I was last there.

  8. That was a good read - and having spent a decade at uni working out what I wanted to do, I'm impressed that you managed it much faster :-)

    Out of interest, what was the philosophy of science paper if you recall? One of the things I really enjoyed doing at uni and ended up majoring in was the History and Philosophy of Science. I loved the way it situated philosophy within a larger context ie it wasn't just about ideas, it was about the politics and the adventure too.

  9. Nice story and inspiring for others.
    I decided to go to the library and information school in my country. I believe that this profession will be high demanded in the years to come.
    But what happened next? When I passed from my school, I didn't get any job opportunity. So I try another profession. First, I was a purchasing staff in NIKE manufacture, then I became a marketing. It didn't give me any satisfaction, because I want to be a librarian, but the opportunity hasn't come to me yet.
    So I try to find what kind of profession is near with my background. I became an English Teacher, then. At least this profession has the same value as being librarian. But, still, in my heart I want to be a librarian.
    Then, after seven year I left my school, the time is come. There were a librarian vacancy in my town. I applied it and accepted!
    I am so happy with that. Now, I work for hospital library in eye care services.
    Unfortunately, I haven't got any change to continue my master study in librarianship due to financial issue. I won't stop learning event I will not get any master degree or higher in librarianship.

    Welcome a board!

  10. I do a lot of one-on-one leadership coaching and my experience is that most people 'fall' into their jobs. You are one of the lucky ones who found their vocation. Good for you.