I had only been a librarian for a few short years, but I felt this past March that I needed a change. I was working at the library in the town where I grew up, knew the staff for a very long time, felt comfortable in my position as Internet Trainer/ Reference Librarian, and was in the 6th month of my weblog, Library Stuff [http://www.librarystuff.net/]. I didn't expect to be changing jobs in the near future.
But when I was notified of a vacant position as an assistant librarian at a local law firm, on a whim, I sent in my "public librarian" resume. I had no law library experience at all, had never stepped foot in a law library, had never even cracked open a law book. After a month, with no phone call for an interview, I decided to forget about sending in my resume. Then, the call came. Like a bullpen reliever jumping at a chance to get into the game, I threw on my suit, and dashed to the interview, with nothing to lose.
After the initial interview, I was told that they were impressed, but I had no experience, and they were a bit worried about that. After a second interview with 2 attorneys, I was told again that I didn't have the experience.
So when I received the call offering me the position, I was taken completely off guard. Did I want to give up my comfortable position to embark on a career I knew nothing about? I decided I was young enough to challenge myself, try something out of the ordinary. If I didn't like it, I could always go back into public librarianship.
I have now been in the law librarianship field for 7 months. The many positive experiences that I have had outweigh the one or two negative. I have only been in the field for a short period of time, but enough to have noticed some major differences between my old career and the new.
First, the obvious. As a starting librarian, salaries will always be low. Since law firms are a for-profit institution, it would be apparent that first year librarians would make more in a law firm than in a public library. This is true. My salary did increase, and this was one of the benefits. A 401K plan is another.
One of the major differences, that wasn't apparent until really pondering the issue is that of status. Public librarians, other than the director (who usually is a librarian) are at the apex in the hierarchy. At a law firm, the library staff is usually at the middle-to-low end. This is not to say that law librarians are seen as para-professionals. I am treated with utmost respect around the office.
I am one of two research librarians in my library. We are usually deluged with reference questions all day, so I have to prioritize them according to "rush status". The only problem with this strategy is that everything turns out to be "ASAP". When I was in the public library sector, this tactic was much easier to accomplish, in that not everything was a rush. Most of the time, it was, "Steven, you can give it to me the next time I come in", or "Whenever you get a chance". At the firm, its, "can you get this to me by noon?" Not necessarily a bad scenario, just different.
Another difference between the law library and the public library is the clientele. There are no children asking about books on frogs, no adults asking me to reserve the latest bestseller by Stephen King. These are all lawyers, asking law or business reference questions, and I need to find the answer, and quick. Again, not a bad scenario, though just once I would like to hear something like this: "Steven, can you please tell me where I can find a book or website on entertainment law? And no rush!!"
In law, not only are we dealing with a narrower clientele, but the materials are narrower too -- no fiction, no biographies, no self-help books. Our reference books are the federal and state laws, case book after case book after case book, and various business-related materials. We do have the old standards, like dictionaries, thesauri, and maps, world almanacs, but the similarities end there.
Last, money usually is not an object, whether I am performing an interlibrary loan, retrieving documents from the courts, or having someone overnight materials that the attorney needs the next day. I will usually hear, "I don't care how you do it or how much it costs, I need that tomorrow". And, I get it. Tomorrow. Patrons in the public library sector, in my short experience, usually don't want to pay extra for materials. My current clients are driven by business needs, while most of the patrons that I had the pleasure of working for in the public library sector were driven by personal needs or curiosity.
I loved my work in the public library. I miss it. I miss my favorite patrons, my co-workers, and the overall feeling of democracy in action. I miss the children running around. I miss telling them to stop running. I miss recommending books to one mother who always asked my opinion. I miss teaching Internet classes.
But, I moved on. And if I move on from this job, I will miss it here too. I love the fast paced action. I love having my own office. I love working at a for-profit company. I don't miss working nights and weekends at all. I love my new job.
In essence, I love being a librarian. It doesn't matter where I will land in my final destination. Librarianship is librarianship, and that is what makes me glad I picked this profession.
* * * * *
Information professionals must learn to change and change now. And whatever changes you make, whatever new skills you acquire or old ones you adapt, the process of change will not end or even slow down in the foreseeable future. Whatever you learn today, you will have to re-learn tomorrow. Whatever skills you adapt today, you may have to discard tomorrow and acquire completely new ones. No rest for the wicked and no rest for the service-oriented in the New Information World Order.
Barbara Quint. The Quintessential Searcher: the Wit and Wisdom of Barbara Quint. Information Today, 2001
* * * * *
You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles for noncommercial purposes (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2001.
[Publishers may license the content for a reasonable fee.]