03 March, 2007

a reader asks...

Hi John,

By fortunate coincedence I came across your blog and am writing to inquire if you would be willing to help me in my career planning research. I have ADD and work in a technical services division for my local government. I have been pondering the idea of pursuing a Library Science career change, beginning with an undergraduate degree in Information Sciences and English.

If you are willing to answer any, or all of my questions, I have included them below for your consideration.

Thanks for considering my request.

Best regards,

[Person whose name I edited out…]

So on with his questions.

  • Describe a typical day at work..

That’s a hard one, Librarians have a very varied life. For me (as a children’s librarian) I have two types of days.

Firstly, there are those times when I am setting things up for school holiday activities. So I am chasing up performers (clowns puppeteers etc) and looking for people to teach things like cartooning of some sort of craft activity. It’s kind of like being a booking agent only you know if you can’t get a clown then you’re going to have to paint yourself up. It wasn’t so bad in a major metro area, but now I’m remote it is damn hard.

Then there are those days when I am working on the collection, so I am looking at catalogues and working out where our strengths and weaknesses are in our collections. Then I buy the books and catalogue them into the collection. I have an assistant who does the end processing (stickers, stamps, covering). I also need to keep an eye on the books we have and remove the out of date and replace the damaged.

Add into both of these, shifts on the service desk (reference work and circulation work).

Then there are meetings, library senior team and whole of staff, plus I am on the Electronic Document Management team for the whole of Council and I am currently working on setting up business planning software (again a whole of council gig).

In the past though I’ve worked in jobs which were pure cataloguing, sitting at a desk all day with a pile of engineering texts which need to be added to the collection. Not ADHD friendly, unless you have a good dose of hyperfocus in there. I always managed to find ways to vary my duties though, but that is very dependant on the people around you.

  • How many hours do you normally work in a week?

I work a 38 hour week. But I do 8 hours a day, which gives me an extra day off a month. I also work occasional weekend shifts, which can increase my pay or give me extra days off. That though depends on the award you work under and the laws of your state/country.

  • What kind of qualities does a librarian need?

Traditionally, it has been attention to detail and a good memory. These days however, there is more computing ability needed and an increasing need for flexibility and the ability to switch tasks at a moments notice. There are a range of library jobs, and therefore a range of library skills. Some big libraries have their own IT department, some work with specific jobs for specific people, so cataloguers never see the light of day and circ staff never answer a complicated reference question. Others (and smaller libraries) vary things a lot, so that everyone deals with the public and everyone shelves the returned books. The theory there is that if you never see the users and never pick up the books, then you loose focus on what you’re there for.

  • What do you like best about your job? What do you like least?

Best, is the unexpected reference question. Some sort of research to really sink the teeth into. Plus Storytime for the preschoolers can be a hell of a lot of fun.

Least? The political bullshit that comes from having to work for local government. In particular the way that libraries are often overlooked come budget time.

  • How ADHD friendly do you consider your career? Do you have any special strategies for coping with your ADHD as a librarian?

It is as ADHD friendly as you make it. I have had a hard time with some supervisors who find my lack of concern concerning. But I have also had great bosses who understand that I leap from task to task.

It depends on the library, a big library can end up with you in a very narrowly defined role, while a small one will often give each staff member a wide variety of roles. In the second option I think ADHD can be a big advantage.

My special strategy for coping is to be so damn good at the things I enjoy, that people don’t notice the half arse job I so often do with things I don’t like.

  • What do you see as the potential for growth in this field?

There is so much debate as to the role of librarians in a world where everything is online. Some people think we’re dinosaurs and we’re going to die out. Others think that because we’re all about finding information that we’re on an upswing. The more information there is laying around, the harder it is for the untrained to find the right thing.

I go with the second view. Plus, although we’re not all about books, there is still a place for the physical book.

  • What can I do now to help me find employment in this field?

That depends on where you are. In Australia you can still do a library recognised qualification as an undergrad, so that might be worth looking at.

In the US you need a masters, which would mean you need to do your Information Sciences and English undergrad first.

I’d recommend the library post grad option even in Australia, I just feel it gives you more options down the track. Plus as an ADHD person, there is a lot more flexibility in the subjects you choose and enjoying the study is a big part of the battle to complete it. Although in Oz, you only need to go to Grad Dip rather than masters.

I think the UK also want a masters, but I can’t remember off the top of my head and couldn’t be bothered to look it up.

http://alia.org.au/education/ Australia
http://www.ala.org/ala/education/educationcareers.htm USA
http://www.cilip.org.uk/jobscareers/ UK

or try looking online for the professional body of your country,

I'd also recommend trying to get yourself some library work now, rather than waiting till you’re qualified. Library assistant positions can be valuable experience for when you become a librarian. In particular because the qualifications are all theoretical rather than practical. You’re already in local government so it might be as easy as asking for a transfer to the local public library. Otherwise, start looking for library work wherever you can find it. The tech services experience should stand you in good steed with potential employers.

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