Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there. Here’s another in a series.
Like many people who’ve found their career in libraries, I didn’t start out thinking I was going to be a librarian. I was a typical Lawrentian in that I had many interests, but I wasn’t sure where they would take me after graduation. As my senior year loomed I was getting anxious about what to do next – I majored in philosophy and German, which while both fascinating, didn’t point me toward a definite career path. Then one day, I was working an afternoon shift at the circulation desk, and I distinctly remember looking around the first floor at all the books and the people studying and thinking, “Hmm, I really like it here.” I decided to follow up on that instinct and started researching librarianship. After reading about grad programs I was still intrigued, so I decided to talk to some real life librarians to find out more.
Hearing the stories of the librarians at the Mudd was what sealed the deal for me. As I listened, I noticed we had a lot in common. They were all multi-interested people with a love for learning and a passion for helping students. They sounded like my kind of people.
The next year, I submitted my application to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) and was ecstatic when I found out I’d been accepted. I graduated from Lawrence in 2013 and started at Madison in the fall. Madison’s program turned out to be a great fit for me, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I had there to get some hands on experience both in my student jobs, and the credit-bearing practicums I completed.
I had the good fortune to work at the Wisconsin Historical Society, as well as at the SLIS Library (that’s right, they have an entire library about libraries). These two jobs were very different, but they taught me just as much about working in libraries as I learned in my classes. At the Historical Society I worked in the periodicals department, checking in magazines and newspapers, and helping with a long-term storage project for their extensive newspaper collection. At the SLIS Library, I worked at the circulation desk, checking out materials, putting things on reserve, and teaching occasional technology workshops for my fellow students as well as those in the distance cohort.
Before grad school I didn’t realize that librarians could also be teachers, but now it’s one of the primary aspects of my job. I learned about teaching in libraries by taking classes on information literacy pedagogy and through an instruction practicum in which I co-taught an online course. I would strongly recommend to any student interested in libraries take advantage of whatever opportunities you can to get some hands on experience. The skills I learned in my practicums and in my student jobs gave me the edge that helped me land my first real library job after graduation.
I now work as the Humanities and Education Librarian at the University of Dubuque, a small private school, only slightly larger than Lawrence. My time is usually spent teaching information literacy in the core curriculum as well as other courses in my liaison areas, helping students one-on-one at the reference desk, and buying materials for the library. I’ve also had the chance at UD to nurture the curiosity I cultivated at Lawrence by doing my own research. Last year I worked on a paper for UD’s character education journal, Character And… about online privacy and character formation. This was especially exciting for me, because it gave me a chance to use the ethics background I gained as a philosophy major.
I’ve been at the University of Dubuque for two years now and I feel extremely lucky to be here. The small college atmosphere is where I feel most at home and I work on a library staff of ten wonderful people who all share the same enthusiasm for their work as I saw in the librarians at the Mudd. My job is different every day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I didn’t start out thinking I’d be a librarian, but now that I’m here I can’t believe the idea didn’t occur to me sooner. Librarians are curious about myriad subjects, adept at solving problems, and passionate about helping others. All of these characteristics can also describe Lawrence graduates. In conclusion, for any Lawrentians looking for an enriching career, give libraries a chance. I found my people here, and perhaps you will too.
By Sarah Slaughter, Class of 2013