Library Routes, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Become a Librarian

This is for the Library Routes project wiki over at

So there I was, a biology major at McGill, facing down graduation and with not one clue as to what to do next.  My dad’s a scientist and I was pretty sure by my last year of undergrad that I was not.  The prospect of spending decades studying one organism or process or ANYthing was not attractive at all.  I’ve always been a very curious and investigative person – about everything. Rocks, plants, bugs, my fellow hoomans… but I just don’t have the attention span to do research at the level of reductionism required by modern science. I was tossing around ideas like science teaching (except I don’t really love being around lots of kids), science writing (except I didn’t know anything about the field and assumed it was all cutthroat competition freelancing), stuff like that. The library never occurred to me.  My only previous interaction with the library during my undergrad had been across the reserves desk where the student workers really don’t seem like they love their jobs.  So it had never struck me as a good place to work.  But like most students, I never really THOUGHT about it.

In the fall of my senior year, I had two lab courses that featured literature search assignments. In one of them, the head of the biology library came in and taught us how to use Biological Abstracts.  Now, if you’ve ever used this in print you know what a beast it was, but I thought it was the coolest invention I had ever seen. You could look up ANYTHING.  Then I stumbled onto Current Contents – another big whoa moment.  I was hooked.  I could do this for a living.  I wanted the job of that librarian.

By the time I really decided to pursue it, it was too late to apply for the next year’s library school admissions.  Which was just as well since my grades weren’t great.  So I finished up the year, then went to work as a casual assistant at that same biology library for a year, shelving and working circulation, doing inventory, and generally watching the librarians.  Because they knew of my interest, they gave me a lot of attention and “interesting projects” and I ended up learning a ton.  I started library school the following year.  I’m currently working at an academic biomedical library and I think this year (2009) we’re sending away our print Biological Abstracts. Kinda sad to see it go.

The librarian that came to our lab wasn’t there trying to promote librarianship as a career.  At least not deliberately.  You never know when you’re being an inspiration to someone.


Posted on October 1, 2009, in Jobby Stuff. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. That’s interesting about the abstracts being on their way out, and the reason you joined. One of the reasons we started the Routes Project is because we couldn’t imagine anyone growing up wanting to be a librarian and then finding the job anything life they imagined when they got there – it would have changed so much. And you’ve experienced a kind of miniature version of that!

    A key thing that got you interested is already on the way out only a few years later, such is the fast-changing nature of Information Provision…

  2. I tried to leave this comment before, but it didn’t work – second time lucky…

    What I basically said was, it is ironic that the abstracts thing which got you interested in the first place, is now on its way out. Ironic but also representative of the fast-changing nature of modern libraries, which ties in with the whole business of: if you grow up wanting to be a librarian, what’ll it actually *be* like by the time you’re old enough to do it?

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