five question Friday #3: Caro the Academic Librarian

Did a web interview.

1. Can you tell us about your current position?

Currently, I am the librarian for social science and emerging technologies at Hampshire College. I oversee collection development, instruction, and outreach for the School of Critical Social Inquiry. I am also involved in a variety of Five College Consortium working groups and committees including the Government Information Working Group and the Digital Environment Development and Coordinating Committee. I am also involved in the growing digital humanities community at Hampshire and in the Five Colleges. The job is challenging and rewarding; I work with dedicated faculty and passionate students. Every day is an adventure.

2. How did you get into librarianship?

Like most folks who become librarians, I did not grow up wanting to be one. When I was a history graduate student, I worked in special collections at my university and my supervisors encouraged me to go to library school. I didn’t love my potential dissertation topic enough to pursue a doctorate, but I loved library work, the mix of teaching, research, and information organization. Graduate school in the humanities and social sciences is isolating and I love the community of people I worked with in the library and wanted to become a full fledged member.

3. What work training and education did you have to prepare for your career?

After I completed my M.A. in history, I immediately began my library degree at the Graduate School of Library and Information at Simmons College in Boston. Concurrently, I worked on various grant projects processing collections at Northeastern University and Amherst College. It is essential to work in practical settings during graduate school. I did an internship, I volunteered. I also did a number of informational interviews with professionals I admired or whose work or career trajectory I wanted to emulate. Those conversations were incredibly valuable for me. It taught me to sell myself in interviews, and challenged me to think critically about what I wanted to accomplished professionally.

It also helped me understand what the field looked like in the trenches, outside of the theoretical confines of the classroom. I’ve also come to realize that the first two years of professional work have their own learning curve in terms of sorting out one’s professional identity, what skills you want to learn, how you want to grow. Mentorship is essential and often that relationship shouldn’t be with one’s immediate supervisor, but a cadre of people whose voices you value. Nurture and sustain those relationships; they are essential.

4. What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the field?

I love being a librarian, I love my job, I love my colleagues. In particular, I love working in higher education. I think librarians have an important role in shaping what a 21st century education looks like. We practice at the intersection of technology and scholarship. I love negotiating that space and reimaging services and collections to meet those demands. The paradigm is shifting and librarians need to be in the driver’s seat and shape what our profession will look like. We can’t react or be passive.

That said, I am often dismayed at how pessimistic some librarians can be about the state of the profession. Our jobs are not what they were like 30 years ago or even 10 years ago. Our jobs won’t look the same in even 5 years’ time. We have to embrace change, not shun it. A colleague remarked to me recently that our profession is in a constant state of crisis. I wish we could harness our professional energies and move towards the horizon, rather than mourn the shifts in our roles and responsibilities.

5. What is your advice for readers interested in librarianship?

I would advise readers who are interested in librarianship to talk to practitioners before applying to library school. Don’t become a librarian because you like to read. Don’t become a librarian if you don’t like people. Don’t become a librarian because you like books or hate computers. Become a librarian if you want to protect free speech. Become a librarian if you want to create and sustain learning communities. Become a librarian if you want to find ways to sustainably preserve born digital materials. Become a librarian if you want to break down information silos. Become a librarian if you are consumed to serve others.