Why I Became a Librarian (and a Project Manager)

As far back I can remember I wanted to be a lawyer. That was always my plan so I majored in political science at DePaul University with everyone else who wanted to be a lawyer. Somewhere along the line I decided I wanted to be a lawyer that worked in areas related to politics or perhaps become a politician myself (looking back at this now fills me with so much laughter it’s hard to contain). While finishing up my undergrad degree, I starting working for a campaign fundraising consulting firm. I was able to work on many campaigns and meet a wide variety of politicians,but the bulk of my day to day job was doing research on potential donors. It wasn’t glamorous research but it interested me and I thought I was ultimately doing good work.

As the campaign cycle wrapped up, I was left figuring out what to do next. Work for campaigns would be scarce and I needed something close to full time work. I ended up taking a paid internship at a public affairs firm. Again I worked on some interesting projects but the bulk of it ended up being research. I searched news databases for articles on clients, tracked legislation and events, and performed other miscellaneous research assignment. I found myself learning new things every day often about topics I wouldn’t normally encounter. However, while I thought I was doing good work in my previous position my conviction that my work mattered stated to slip. As I began to prepare for the LSAT and law school, I became scared that I might feel the same way about law. I decided to look for a job working as a paralegal to test myself in the field. I ended up working for a small family law firm. It might have been the area of law (it’s terribly depressing stuff) or the particle firm, but I realized quite quickly the law wasn’t for me. While this saved me the time and money of law school, it did lead to an existential crisis. What was I going to do with my life? Remembering what I’d enjoyed about my previous jobs I found the common thread that connected the meaningful work: research. The only part of legal work I enjoyed was researching case law. With that in mind, a bit of research turned up law librarianship as a career that seemed to have everything I was looking for.

So, instead of law school I attended library school. At the same time I took a job at large international law firm in their conflicts of interest department. This provided a great parallel to my education since I was still the kind of doing detailed research which I enjoyed. While I was finishing up my degree, the state of the job market finally became clear to me (school was still putting forward the “Don’t worry, everyone will be retiring soon, it’ll be fine” message). It seemed that law librarianship was hit even harder than most. I think it was the way the legal field was hit by the recession, but it was pretty clear if I didn’t already have or get a JD I probably wasn’t going to get a job. At this point I really didn’t know what I would do next.

There was a parallel track going through my various careers that I was not really fully aware of; while I was becoming a librarian I was also becoming a project manager. Campaigns are so close in nature, you can make a convincing argument that they are projects. And the work I was doing at the public affairs firm was also often project based. It was only when I became the supervisor of the conflicts of interest department that I started to more formally think about project management (though still not as an actual career). It wasn’t until my wife found the job opening for my current position that I thought about a connection between these two tracks.  Now I get to do incredibly interesting things but I do have my struggles. I wonder at times if I’m a “real” librarian or even a real project manager (having a career nestled into another career is never dull). I wonder where I fit into the larger profession and even which profession I should be fitting into. But ultimately these are interesting and frankly good problems to be having, so while my path to librarianship is full of twists and turns, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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