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Some Thoughts on Career Day, and Why I Became a Librarian

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Many people who’ve known me for years don’t realize that I had several big turning points and life-changing moments when I was young that started me on the path to becoming a librarian. If you’ve ever seen one of my Career Day presentations, you know all about those turning points, because I always start by sharing those stories.

 young people's librarians and students, 1938.
NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 434280

I’ve had my job history on the brain recently because I just spoke at another Career Day last week.  I’ve also been thinking about it because last month we had some NYPD recruits speak to our Teen Advisory Group, and they talked to our teens about their own backgrounds and career options.  While some of the choices they made were similar to mine, they also diverged in a couple of important ways. I definitely know that a question like “How many of you enjoy going to gym class and playing sports?” has NEVER come up during one of my presentations!

Every year I’m invited to one or more schools to speak at a Career Day to talk to the students about my job as a librarian. When I was first invited to speak, I wondered what I should talk about. Should I try to be funny? Depressing? Honest? Uplifting? Realistic? Should I highlight the rewarding aspects of the job and downplay the parts that were…less rewarding? My presentation has definitely evolved over the years, in part because I’ve learned to stretch or streamline my talk depending on how many other speakers are sharing the time with me. But my presentation also evolved because a lot of stuff I do now is different from what I was doing twenty years ago.

Careers for Bookworms

My presentations always start the same way. I tell the students that when I was twelve years old, I decided that I wanted to help people. The problem was that I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it.  My life at that point could have gone in a dozen different directions.  Doctor?  Firefighter? Teacher? Psychiatrist? One of the things I always tell the students is that if they have to earn service credit or do volunteer work that they should think of it as trying out a career. Maybe it will help them rule out some choices, or maybe it will help them find the perfect job. In my case, volunteer work always led to the “ruling out” category for one specific reason: each of the jobs I tried made me cry…a LOT. It turns out that many jobs that involve helping others can get emotionally overwhelming.

It feels weird telling a bunch of teenagers that when I was their age I discovered that I wasn’t emotionally strong enough to work in a nursing home, for example. It feels especially weird when I’m standing there next to a bunch of people who became police officers and Marines, and they’re looking over at me and probably thinking that I’m a total wuss. But I’m trying for honesty, and I’m trying to show the students that even if they’re not 100% sure what they want to be when they grow up, they can start carving out a path for themselves.

Depending on how much time I have to talk to each class, my presentation might be longer or shorter, but there are a few key points I always cover:  

  • That fateful decision I made when I was twelve
  • The careers I crossed off my list
  • My love of reading and books
  • The book my college boyfriend gave me called Careers For Bookworms and Other Literary Types
  • NYPL’s librarian trainee program, and how it helped pay for my MLS degree
  • The highs and lows of working in a public library

That last point is sometimes the hardest, and that’s where I do a lot of balancing of how honest /serious / funny I should be. We’re supposed to talk about the advantages and challenges of the job, and sometimes the ones I choose might vary based on the mood of the room or the age of the students. I had to tweak my presentation when I was expected to speak to a group of eighth graders but was brought to a third-grade classroom instead. However, I must say that out of every class I’ve ever visited, those little kids were the most impressed by the fact that I can wear jeans to work!

Basically, I try to provide a mix of the highlights and lowlights, and share them with humor whenever I can. I tell the students that every day at the library is different. I might help a senior citizen log on to her email…or a teenager find a new book in one of his favorite genres…or a man wearing a tin foil hat research a conspiracy theory…or a child find her first Judy Blume book. I talk about how I run programs for teens, visit schools, and write blog posts and Tumblr posts.  I tell them that “other duties as needed” includes lots of tasks we never discussed in library school, including gross and dusty jobs that make me realize it’s a good thing I wear jeans to work.

I also talk about how you don’t become a librarian because you want to boast about your salary. You go into it because you love books, or you love computers, or because 12-year-old you is still deep inside grownup you.  I tell the students that being a librarian helps me fulfill my dream of helping others, and I always get a kick out of watching the teachers in the room smile when I say that.

I enjoy speaking at Career Days not just for the goodie bags (although, yes, those are a lovely perk)...

Career Day Goodie Bags
Pictured: lovely goodie bags!

But speaking at a Career Day also helps me connect with the students in my neighborhood in a different way than usual. Sometimes I might see that in a very literal way, like the boys who came to my library wearing tin foil hats the same day I visited them. (and yes, that totally happened last week!)  But other times it’s simply that the students are more likely to talk to me about what librarians do and about what they might want to be when they grow up.

If you’re ever invited to speak at a Career Day, I recommend you take the plunge and try it. You might have some embarassing job comparisons, like how the only way I could follow the Disney executive’s stories of super-platinum membership perks was by saying that sometimes we got free bookmarks at the library. You might experience some unexpected hilarity, like when the the financial advisor on my left said, “Every job has challenges.  No job is a walk in the park!” and the urban park ranger on my right said, “Well, MINE is!”  But no matter what happens, you’ll have a chance to share valuable insights about your career and help the next generation of workers start finding their way to their own careers.

If you’re a kid or a teenager trying to figure out what career you should choose, here’s my advice:

  • Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook for all kinds of updated information about different careers, including salary and job requirements.
  • If you have to do volunteer work or an internship, turn that into an advantage and choose something in a field that interests you.
  • Visit the Library to check out some career books for kids and teens, and definitely ask a librarian for some advice.  Don’t forget—we’re here to help!

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Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for sharing!

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