Starting To See the Light

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Chloe Horning, Assistant Research Commons Librarian at the University of Washington.

It’s a bright cold day in November and the clocks are striking…9 A.M. As I hurry across campus towards my office, my boot heels crunching in the newly fallen leaves, I can’t help but break out into a ridiculous grin. It’s 9 A.M. and I’m heading to work.

In order to make you understand why I’m so excited, I have to back up a little bit. In the spring of 2011, I received my Master’s diploma in Library and Information Science. My husband proudly had it matted in purple and framed with a delicate pattern of gold laurel leaves. But I didn’t have an office wall to hang it on…not yet. While many of my MLIS cohort were engaged in a national job search, being snapped up by farflung institutions, I was tied for personal reasons to the Seattle area. In other words, the kiss of death in a flooded job market, according to many of my Information School peers and advisors. Nevertheless, I flung myself wholeheartedly into a job search, vowing to take any job that provided practical experience.

Before too long, I had a job offer, and it was much better than I could have hoped for–the job had the enviable advantage of being at the University of Washington, where I had been a MLIS student, and where many a librarian wished to remain. It was a full-time, library staff position, a few ranks above the entry level, with great benefits. It offered the opportunity to lead and manage staff and facilities and to take a leadership role in the provision of public services. Sure, I wasn’t a REAL librarian yet, but it was a start.

Of course there was a catch. There’s always a catch. My new job was in UW’s 24 hour Undergraduate Library. My workday started at 10 P.M. and ended sometime around 6:30 in the morning.

Over the last two years, I’ve received so many incredulous responses from other library folk about my improbable schedule that I’ve learned to just shrug and say brightly, “It’s not as bad as you think!” And it really isn’t. I mean, sure, working overnight had its low points and its challenges; getting cornered by a pack of overfed raccoons while walking between campus buildings at 2 A.M., or forking over a sizable chunk of one’s paycheck to buy blackout curtains spring to mind. On a more serious note, I often found it frustrating that my schedule made it nearly impossible for me to attend departmental meetings, even when the policy decisions made at those meetings directly impacted my work.

But I learned a lot from those two years too. I learned how to be self-sufficient in all sorts of minor crises and to manage my time effectively in the absence of direct leadership. I learned to seek out asynchronous opportunities for professional development and to make them work for me. I loved my job, my library, and the people I worked with.

So, when the opportunity arose for me to temporarily shift gears at my library to fill in the vacant role of Administrative Program Assistant (a daytime position) during the summer months, I was wary. Taking the assignment meant coming out of the shadows, both literally and figuratively, stepping out of my comfort zone in terms of my job responsibilities and giving up the routine I had established. However, it also meant adding new skills to my resume, allowing myself to be seen by the administration, and to put the word out that I was an MLIS looking for a professional position.

Taking the risk turned out to be worth it. By the end of the summer, I was asked to interview for, and was offered, a newly created Librarian position at my University. Ultimately, my success at finding a shiny new librarian job was attributable to two, sometimes contradictory forces, that I would not been able to reconcile if I had not been flexible about the type of work that I was willing to do. I proved that I was willing to work in the shadows, as it were, paying my dues, and doing what was necessary to keep library operations going. I also showed that I could represent my library publicly and support the administration and librarians. Both of these skillsets proved to be important for my new librarian job. Flexibility and an adaptable nature are necessary qualities for any library professional these days, and for my job in particular (more about that soon!)

Fast forward to this morning, at 9 A.M., when I practically skipped into work. Okay, I might be exaggerating a little…I’m still a night owl at heart who needs gallons of coffee before skipping can occur. But I do love my new job. I love being on campus during regular work hours. I have seen the light.

About Maura Smale

Coordinator of Information Literacy and Library Instruction, New York City College of Technology, City University of New York

3 thoughts on “Starting To See the Light

  1. Hi Chloe! In an interesting twist, I’m 5.5 years into my professional life working as an academic librarian, but I have yet to experience a 9 am walk to my office at the start of my work day: I was hired as the evening/weekend librarian (3:30-11:30 Sun-Thurs) in my library then moved one rung up the ladder into a Mon-Fri shift that starts mid afternoon and ends just a bit earlier than my old shift. I’m ever so grateful for my work, especially in this job market–but I’m also very much looking forward to someday moving into a day shift as well. Your brisk morning walk to work sounds lovely. Congrats on the new job and schedule!

  2. Congratulations, Chloe!

    I started in the basement of our library as an archivist’s assistant and, after several years and job changes, I’m now on the second floor with people. It’s kinda nice up here. :-)

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