Recently the Student Services Office at my program shared an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article entitled “Turning ‘Plan B’ Into a ‘Plan A’ Life” made me reflect on my own journey to library school. Actually the writer, Susan Ferber, and I have shared part of the same path and I really hope my veering and changing of plans takes me to as good a place as she has found.
When I was 16 I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had taken an advanced placement class in European History and loved it. The three hour test at the end of the year which many dread and leave drained both mentally, physically, and emotionally, left me on an academic high for the rest of the evening. This was it I was going to study history for the rest of my life. High school could not end fast enough for me. However, during my senior year a surprising prediction came from my Calculus teacher. It was near the end of the year and she said with conviction that I was going to make a great librarian. I looked at her like she was crazy (which arguably she might have been to leave a very long successful career as one of the first female civil engineers to teach math to first middle school and then high school students). I was going to college for history and then grad school to get my Ph.D. and become a professor. I was going to write articles and books. I was going to spend hours researching my favorite historical subject for a JOB! (My dream come true!)
I forgot Mrs. Sternfeld’s prediction and went on to my succeed in my undergraduate education. I proudly told my adviser that I wanted to be a professor. I took all my classes very seriously and gave each class 100%. I looked out for mentors and a subject that I might want to concentrate on once I entered grad school. However, as I got closer to graduation my papers started to wear on me. I loved the research and note taking, but dreaded the papers even though I was a decent to good writer. How could I face years more of this and then a whole career centered on what I could get published? Then during one fateful car ride to a history student convention, one of my favorite professors explained the whole academic system to us (especially the tenure system and how campus politics works). There I was just two semesters from graduating and suddenly I knew one thing – I did not want to be a professor any more.
When reexamining my options, I realized I was very curious about archives and special collections. I very wisely tried out the profession with two internships that summer. I loved it especially the digital archive I worked with. So I took the plunge and applied to library school. A profession that hadn’t even been on my radar when I graduated from high school.
However, my story does not end there. After a year in library school, I am still interested in archives and special collections, but I’m more so interested in digital services. I’m finding myself drawn more to any internship or job that reaches out to patrons digitally whether that be in an archives, library (public, academic, or corporate), or an company that is only tangentially related to the library community (such as SerialsSolutions). Once again I’m finding my path change in front of me when I thought I had set it in stone.
I do though owe one person an apology. Mrs. Sternfeld, thank you for believing in my ability to be a great librarian even before I knew I wanted to be one myself. You were right my Plan B should have been my Plan A all along. (Even though one could say I’m on Plan C right now and will joyfully change to Plan D if it comes along.)
The one thing I have learned both from my own experience and the experience of others like Susan Ferber is that one’s career path is hardly ever a straight line from one’s first aspirations to the career one finally settles into.