My first full-time position in a library was as the commercial binding prep person. It was a time-limited, para-professional position, filling in for someone who was on maternity leave. I fell in love with the preservation department SO HARD, which is where commercial binding prep was housed, that my boss suggested I consider becoming a preservation librarian. I witnessed his struggles with library administration, the need to justify budget and people, and sometimes the right to simply have a preservation department at all, and it affected me negatively. I didn’t want a job in which I was going to need to have those conversations all the time.
While in library school I considered becoming an art librarian. It seemed a natural fit with my art background (MFA in photography), so when I was a whipper-snapper LIS student I put together a student panel and we all went to take the VRA conference by storm. To my surprise, I learned that many art librarians who were housed in art departments were getting laid off, jostled around, funding cut, pressed to digitize slides all day, etc. That conference was an eye opener for me, and I made the sad decision that I didn’t want my career shaped by the need to advocate for my existence on a continual basis.
I ended up pursuing electronic resource librarianship because it was such an obvious need and my skills were perfectly suited for that creative, problem-solving work. As I matured into my first position I got to know the industry that libraries work in, got to know the content providers (vendors), and realized the vendors had no mechanism in place to gather feedback from the people for whom they were building products. I realized that advocating on behalf of my patrons was up to me. Engaging with vendors over the last few years has been a rewarding give and take, and I’ve even been able to contribute to the design of a new electronic resource (SAGE Methods Research). Isn’t it funny how the thing I didn’t want my career to be shaped by – advocacy – has been the thing that I’ve ended up embracing as part of my professional responsibility? I didn’t realize as I was considering the field as my profession that advocacy is inherent in every library job, or you’re not doing it well. Ah, youth. Guess the joke’s on me!