update: I feel no ambition whatsoever at work

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who felt no ambition whatsoever at work? Here’s the update.

Your comment that I was probably not in the right field wasn’t news to me, but I wasn’t moving at the time because I felt stuck. It’s hard to explain, but it was almost like the follow up to being a first generation college student and having no idea what’s going on is just becoming a first generation professional and having no idea what’s going on. A lot of stories I saw online about people moving in and out of my field talked about using connections to make small lateral changes until they got into something they liked without ever having to make a BIG change all at once. I had no idea how to do that!

So I didn’t. About 9 months after this letter got published I walked into my boss’s office and handed in my two weeks, with no job lined up and no plan. I’m lucky to have been able to do that, and I will forever be grateful to my fiancé who bore the weight of our combined finances for half a year while I figured stuff out. After five years of college and then three years of working and hoping I’d figure it out as I went, I didn’t feel like I was getting any closer just trucking on. I stayed too tired and burnt out all of the time to tackle the problem while working. So I quit, and I picked up a part time job while I played around with different ideas, doing research and talking to friends and family, and ultimately I landed at a library.

You don’t know me, but when my mom told my old high school teachers I was a librarian now they said that was the most [me] thing they could imagine! It’s funny, I love books and information and organization but libraries had never occurred to me. I just kind of remember someone saying to me “loving books isn’t enough to be a librarian” when I was young and that kind of turned me off of it forever. And, well, loving books isn’t the only thing you need to be good at librarianship, but it sure does make it more fun. My job now is a lot more low impact, low stress, and I find myself in a helper and educator position all the time, interacting with people who really need me, and I love it. I still do struggle to put together five year career plans, and don’t feel much need to “advance”! I’m happy to just keep at it. But otherwise I’d say I’m at a complete one-eighty from two years ago. And for the readers who were very concerned about me pursuing grad school due to the cost: with help from my employers and a hefty scholarship from the university, I’m starting an MLIS program in the fall at no cost to me (in my state the degree is required for Professional Librarian certification).

Thanks so much again for answering. Even though I already knew some of what you had to say, your words were encouraging to me and you did tell me how to navigate the issue in the moment, which is advice thats continued to serve me in similar conversations.

{ 121 comments… read them below }

  1. Amalfi*

    I am fascinated by how you got into library work without an existing MLIS. If you feel comfortable sharing how you did that, I would love to know more.

    1. Silver Robin*

      +1 that was my immediate question because I have multiple friends who did the MLIS route and I hear all the time how difficult it is to break in without one. This is not to knock OP, so glad it worked out for them, especially to the extent that they are getting a free MLIS! Truly wonderful

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        It is actually better to get a library job before getting the MLIS! There are lots of library assistant or library technician jobs (different titles in different regions) that don’t require the MLIS. You will learn a LOT about how libraries really work so that 1. You know if they are a good fit for you and 2. You will be competitive for a librarian role.

        Full time librarian jobs are surprisingly competitive and while the MLIS degree is required for most of them, it is experience that will get you the job. I cannot tell you how many students in my MLIS program had the wrong idea about libraries! Also about how they would be waltzing into management roles with no experience just because they had the MLIS!

        Unless you are in a cataloging role, about 90% or more of a librarian role is customer service! You have to want to help people and deal with all the same problematic behaviors that retail and food service workers have to deal with. Just the subject matter changes; we help with books and computers and online materials. If anything new has seen the movie, The Public, it is not inaccurate (and very funny!).

        1. Greycat*

          As a librarian I agree with all this, especially the point about MLIS grads with no library experience not understanding what the job actually is!

          1. Mrs. Syd Barrett*

            I am a library technician. Once upon a time, I wanted to get my MLIS, but some librarians in an online group told me that the experience I was gaining in circulation was basically going to be useless as far as “professional experience” was concerned. Between that, and having a boss who literally makes sure we don’t have any valuable work to do (I’ve been stymied at every turn, believe me), it turned me off from getting the master’s degree. Now I’m 59 and wondering if I’ve made a mistake on all counts.

            1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

              Now that you’re 59, there will be a lot more scholarships available to you if you do want to get it!

              I’d love for you to be doing something you love. Even if it takes you 6 years to get it, so what? After all, you’re probably going to be doing SOMEthing at age 63, may as well be doing it while having your MLIS

    2. Myrin*

      I’ll take it one step further and say that I am always fascinated by how people “ultimately landed at” jobs in general because somehow, they never talk about what exactly that entails; it’s always talked about like magic that passively happened instead of different steps someone actively took, and a descriptor of certain possible specific steps was what I was desperately looking for for guidance before I found my current-and-as-close-to-a-dream-job-as-you-can-get job late last year.
      This is more of a meta comment than one on this particular update – OP probably didn’t want to bore us with details and in its function of an update, it’s much more relevant what the eventual outcome was – and now that I’m thinking about it, I reckon it would make a nice topic for tomorrow’s open thread!

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Partly because it is boring, but I think mostly people don’t get into it because it isn’t replicable. I work in an subsection of the law that is relatively difficult to break into and the path I pursued was unique. If someone asks me about it, I can give all the details, but it won’t help them figure out how to break in themselves. And given that step one was basically ‘be really good at X and take a non-legal job doing X at an entry level in the industry (where X is something that, if you are good at, you are likely not pursuing law, or even this industry)’, my answer is really just a version of luck and timing.

        1. Myrin*

          See, I don’t think it has to be replicable to be relevant! I like seeing the different paths that brought people to where they are now – yours sounds really intriguing! – and I honestly think “luck and timing” is a perfectly relevant answer; I feel like the “luck” part especially can get downplayed sometimes and it’s important to acknowledge it.
          But quite apart from that, I also simply find stories like that fascinating, in a “life is a rich tapestry” kind of way.

          1. Audrey Parker's Muse*

            I agree that it’s actually useful to acknowledge the luck piece, partly because those of us who haven’t had much of it are often assumed to not be trying hard enough etc. and can take that on ourselves. While no one should *depend* on it, it’s good to remind ourselves (& others!) that we could be doing a lot of right things, there are just often both elements beyond our control and potential future serendipities of our own. (In addition to the stories being interesting of their own accord!)

            1. TrixM*

              Absolutely. I got into IT for my second career in 1998, with minimal experience working with computers and zero education in them (never saw them at school, even) or at tertiary level at all.
              So I am very happy to talk about the trajectory of “a chick picked me up at the bar where I was working” that ends with “within three years, I got a job on the opposite side of the world, in London, with an IT company that provided full training with industry qualifications, because they were desperate for bodies for Y2K.”
              With notes that the successful interview was over two pints in a bar on a boat on the River Thames (thought it might be a scam – I’m female – but I went), and it’s still just about possible to get into the trade if you don’t have a (entirely unnecessary) degree, but it’s very difficult, and you will need industry certs or parents who give you a job… and a lot more twists and turns in between.
              It boils down to being lucky, being at a time in my life where I was more willing to take risks (as well as desperate), coincidence, timing in the broader sense (impending Y2K), friends in one of the largest financial centres of the world (due to “the chick in the bar”), luck, luck and more luck. And I turned out to have a knack – luck.

              1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

                It’s actually still very possible without a relevant degree. I graduated just over a decade ago with a degree in humanities and math, with exactly 1 compsci class (and I deliberately decided against the follow-up because the first one wasn’t challenging enough and the proofs we were doing in my math classes were more interesting), but I did work in the computer labs in school. From there I did a service year with a religious organization that was supposed to be doing computer project work, but turned out to be minimal computer project work, a lot of digital literacy teaching, and a bunch of random stuff. (It was in a country that most people in the US know nothing about, and pretty wild in other ways, so it sounded impressive in interviews, which helped.) After that I did another year of digital literacy and professional skills training with an Americorps program, during which I decided that I liked teaching but absolutely did not want to be a full-time teacher.

                After that I got a helpdesk job at a regular sort of company, which was only noteworthy in that it had a fairly small IT team and the hierarchy between helpdesk and sysadmins was not firmly fixed. I still did a lot of IT training. Professional growth after the jump to sysadmin was lackluster, but by then I had my foot solidly in the door and could grow from there.

                There are certainly things that would be easier if I had a stronger technical background, but I have different strengths and have been lucky to find ways and places to use them. I’m in infrastructure as systems, which isn’t as highly-compensated as many developer roles, but it’s still a good job, money-wise, and I enjoy the work. It’s pretty common for people in my field and adjacent fields, who do not have a CS degree, to have started in helpdesk (and, TBH, I like the customer-service-orientation that frequently provides, even for roles that don’t necessarily have a customer-facing component). Though it’s also certainly possible to go into helpdesk and get stuck there, with no real career opportunities. I now work with developers and QA folks who fell into their roles in similar ways.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        Please ask in tomorrow’s open thread! I am also interested in reading other’s responses (and sharing my own).

      3. bamcheeks*

        there’s actually career development theory about this— it’s called planned happenstance and basically it’s the fact that a lot of people don’t have a “planned” career, where they identify a goal and then deliberately move towards it, but find jobs and careers that work for them through being open to opportunity, curious, willing to try different things, flexible etc. which sounds very much like LW! It can be quite hard to hear when people want a clear set of steps that lead from A to B to C etc, but that’s not how lots of career paths work.

        1. Nina*

          I’m really pleased to hear that that’s a thing. I’m able to work in either of two broad industry categories, but the one I strongly prefer is unfortunately really prone to sudden reshuffles, layoffs, bankruptcies, &c, so it’s the opposite of long-term stable. It’s not at all unusual to discover that your new teammate is someone you last worked with three companies ago. Where will I be in five years? Depends who’s hiring when and where (vast and frequent international moves are also an industry feature) and who’s doing projects in my area of specialty.

        2. Grith*

          This is 100% my approach, I find it very weird when people talk about having plans and structured career development! I think that’s probably a result of having worked at various small-ish (20-40 staff) companies where established development routes don’t really exist.

          Pretty much every career move I’ve made has been the result of me going “sure, I’ll give that a go” – and the one time I recall specifically trying to plan a change, it faltered because I didn’t get the support from above to prepare myself for the planned move. So I took a different opportunity instead when it came up. Lots of luck of course, but also definitely helped by a willingness to take diagonal steps up rather than a straight line.

      4. So many jobs*

        I landed in libraries because I was sitting in a library one day doing the remote job that was burning me out, observing the library assistants work, and thinking about how their job seemed a great match for my skillsets (I’d previously been a teacher, done charity work and was then working in educational publishing). I applied for a part time role to supplement my income, got it, and after a few months realised its finally found a job I truly enjoyed and quit the burnout job. I’ve now finally spent 5 years in one industry after jumping around throught my 20s and I don’t plan to leave!

      5. Laure001*

        You should ask Allison to make a post about it! How did you land your job? If there is an interesting story there, of course.

        “How I became a professional comic book writer,” my story, involves role playing games, quitting university on my first day (not in the US) and a strange prank from other people that actually turned into my favor..

    3. Having Fun with a Library Card*

      Well, honestly, there’s not much to tell. To respond to you and all the others with similar questions –

      A bit of backstory, first. My previous working field was STEM, but I had graduated with undergrad with two degrees, engineering and history. I did the engineering for a lot of varied reasons that mostly come down to other people thinking it was best, and I did the history cos I really loved it. When I decided that engineering wasn’t working for me as a field, I thought about going to grad school for history. I had worked as a tutor all through college and enjoyed being an educator but was more interested in teaching at the Uni level than in schools. I did make a go at it, and had a strong application by many accounts, but that was around when covid hit and many of the programs I applied to opted to cut their entering class or even take no one at all. So grad school didn’t happen.

      Now, how and why libraries? The why is nebulous. I had friends that worked in libraries (out of state and not involved in my hiring whatsoever), and seeing it through them, it seemed like something I could enjoy and be good at. The programming and reference assistance bits felt like they would work with my experience as a tutor, and speak to a need to be more social than I was in STEM. It was a way to feel like I was helping and in an education role without being in education. So I added libraries to my tentative list of fields that I might like, which at that point included some sort of NPO role, education, and counseling (a weird set, maybe). And then I just started applying for things. The how was just luck. I didn’t know anyone in my local library circuit, and I knew library jobs usually need an in. I knew the field was oversaturated. I didn’t expect to get a call. But I put out dozens of applications with my large local library system, and some with smaller neighboring systems.

      The smaller neighboring system gave me a call back! They actually have a lot of staff that migrated from other fields and got their MLS later. They thought my background was interesting and diverse and they were willing to take a chance. I started as part time and got a full time position after a couple of older coworkers retired last year. I say I “landed” in libraries because I feel like it was just… sort of luck.

      1. Having Fun with a Library Card*

        Oh I also meant to say, other than seeing my friends in the role, one reason I went looking at libraries is because when you google things like “jobs for history bachelors” they suggest libraries! I knew I’d have a better shot with an MLS, but I also knew that the job market for an MLS was rough and its very specific. I wanted to try but wasn’t willing to spend the time or money without a job already in hand. And then, like I said – I just got lucky. Which I know isn’t very helpful advice for others. To everyone else around who’s struggled for years to get into libraries, I’m really sorry for your struggles, and I feel for you. It’s not fair that I got the chance, really, and I can’t explain it. All I can say is I hope all of you get lucky too one day, whether you’re still tryin for library work or have moved on.

        1. ShinyPenny (the other one)*

          Thank you for all these additional details! Really fascinating, generous of you to share, and much appreciated. I can totally see why the above commenter says they don’t bother with details because “it’s not replicatable,” (totally true!) but somehow it still feels helpful to hear one example of exactly how luck and chaos can combine for a nice result.
          So glad you landed in a great spot!

          1. Boof*

            Honestly the general summary of this “I heard the job market for the degree was tough and decided not to pursue it without a job in hand first, assuming it wouldn’t work out, applied broadly around my area, and lo, one of the places gave me a job and I ended up liking the job and thus will go ahead and pursue the degree” makes a whole lot of good sense / is replicatable

      2. Amalfi*

        It was luck that someone replied to your application, but:

        The programming and reference assistance bits felt like they would work with my experience as a tutor, and speak to a need to be more social than I was in STEM. It was a way to feel like I was helping and in an education role without being in education.

        That shows you had more strategy than you are giving yourself credit for. If you spoke about any of that during the interview or in your cover letter, then I am sure it was what resonated with the people who interviewed you.

      3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yeah, sometimes it’s because you took a roundabout route that you get hired, simply because you’ve picked up some other skills that might be useful in some settings (I’m imagining that someone with a STEM background could do more useful work in a STEM-heavy library at a university for example) and that the people going the classic route won’t have.
        It’s the same in translation. Most people have a love of foreign languages, but it’s the people who’ve burnt out of other professions (law finance medicine engineering…) who are bilingual, who will be able to specialise in those fields, which happen of course to be the most lucrative.
        I lucked into my first translating job simply because the agency was specialised in fashion and textiles, and I already knew the terminology, having learned dressmaking with my mother. I also had a knack for making my translations sound snappy and dynamic which is important in the fashion industry.

    4. DC booknerd*

      FWIW but I’m almost positive DC’s library system doesn’t require a graduate degree for most of its front-line staff. You’re not called a “librarian” and don’t get paid much, but the concept makes sense to me because patron services in a public system are mostly things like helping people reset their password on the public computers or making small talk with unhoused people or similar.

      1. Maryland Library Associate*

        Nor does the state of Maryland require an MLS/MLIS to be a librarian type paraprofessional (we call it a library associate and I’ve been one for almost a decade). It requires a training within your first two years, but it was an amazing experience. I’m not seen as a librarian but the job itself has a lot of similarities. My library system is currently hiring library associates (only part time).

    5. tamarack etc.*

      Dunno for the OP, but a whole range of people I know did this by getting a “Library Assistant” job first. If you’re lucky – or discerning – you may be working for a library that will support the MLIS degree program.

    6. Silverose*

      There’s a WHOLE LOT that library assistants without MLS degrees do in the field of public libraries – including reference, programming, computer help, etc. Been there, done that. But the pay is about half the wage that MLS-degreed librarians get. Which is why I went and got the degree…..which was easier for me than my BFA in creative writing had been. But when I got done, the job market in my state was glutted because state funding had been cut & many libraries were on hiring freezes.

      I ended up leaving the field because all I could find, even with my MLS, were paraprofessional positions at small town libraries that didn’t pay the bills. I was good at library work, but believe it or not, social services pays better. And now I have a useless graduate degree, a second Bachelors (to change career fields again), and I’m left wondering if I need to find funding for another grad degree to move up the chain in social services.

    7. SarahCWB*

      The trick is to be able to work part time and lower wage jobs until you get into the system, or to work substitute positions likewise. I started as a clerk/customer service specialist before I started my MLIS, and worked all through school. Then moved back to my home state to take a job in a smaller library system. From there I was able to move up and into a bigger system.

      A lot of the librarians and managers here start as shelvers or clerks, but I’ve hired a number of librarians right out of school who hadn’t had a library job before.

    8. HBJ*

      Not the OP but I know multiple people who work in libraries without a MLIS. One of them doesn’t have any degree at all beyond their high school diploma. Pretty sure the only person who had one at the library where I grew up was the library director. The job postings I’ve seen read mostly like a posting for any generic entry-level office work.

      The biggest key I think is where you’re willing to go. The friend with no degree lives in a small town in a fairly “undesirable” location.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        Oh, moving is key! There are librarian (requires MLIS) roles out there but you are probably going to have to move. Not necessarily to a podunk town, but you are probably going to have to move.

  2. Vice Principal Jessica Day*

    I am envious and curious of OP and how they found a librarian job in their market without an MLS. In my experience the field is very competitive (source: my brother-in-law who had a library science degree and years of experience part-time in libraries still could not get a full-time position after 7+ years because none were available in the entire metro area we lived in, a major city with a massive library system and connected suburban systems). I am thus surprised they found this role with no prior degree, but maybe their prior jobs had relevant experience? I worked in a library during school and still was unable to obtain a non-librarian role at a library in my new area. Maybe I just suck at the interview process but I had to give up on this goal, but I feel like this success is very uncommon and I am happy for OP!

    1. ArchivesPony*

      He’s not wrong. It is super competitive, especially in some markets. I have my MLIS and it took me three years to get a full time position (though part of that was my cover letter) and then another 4-5 before I got my current position. I’m Archives which is even more crowded and competitive than public librarianship. But there are some places in the field that aren’t as crowded.

      1. Drumstick*

        I’m in a totally unrelated field with no plans to change, but I’m curious about the cover letter, if you don’t mind sharing?

        Congrats on making it where you are now, regardless! Archives seems really neat.

        1. ArchivesPony*

          aww thank you! 99% I love my field

          I would love to but unfortunately it has a lot of identifying details and I took those out it wouldn’t make any sense.

      2. tamarack etc.*

        I do think that this is something that’s a lot easier in smaller towns and places that struggle with recruitment and retention. Per capita I’m sure a mega-city has fewer librarian jobs than a regional center.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          Maybe, but those places will also have much dodgier funding would be my guess. Depends on the state and the municipality I’m sure, but…

      3. kicking-k*

        Yeah, I’m an archivist too and have struggled somewhat with job availability – during and after the financial slowdown of 2006-7, when I was just looking for a first long-term job, all that was available in the UK was project work, usually on a six month to two year contract. I wasn’t really able to move around the country to pick these up. I did get a records management role which I didn’t like, but which lasted seven years as I waited for the market to pick up. Eventually I took a deep breath, took a career break to do some professional development (digital archiving had moved on a lot in the decade since I qualified) and managed to land a permanent archives job which eventually led to my current one which is archives and RM together, and has a very short commute. I’m happy where I am now but the path here has been winding.

    2. SchoolTeacher*

      I got a Librarian job at a University (part time), to supplement my teacher job, and I have my K-12 cert but no prior experience and it’s the same expectations as the full librarians that have the MLS, and I help grad students just the same. Then the county librarian system where I work pay below a living wage and have you do all the same stuff as a librarian without the MLS and only have 1-2 positions with a masters per department. So I think that there is a lot of murkiness in the library world, and a lot of librarian positions will allow you to get the position and then get the degree afterwards.

      1. ArchivesPony*

        Yep. Though in sometimes, like Washington, for a position to be titled Librarian or archivist, they have to have some who has an MLIS and is certified librarian certificate from the state. So a lot of small town libraries don’t call any of their people librarians because of that.

    3. LibraryAnon*

      This! Signed, someone with an MLIS and years of non-MLIS library experience who never managed to get a librarian job so gave up to work in an adjacent industry.
      I am also feeling stuck in my job and would desperately love to solve that by becoming a librarian but oops, I already tried that and it didn’t work.
      Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for OP but also super jealous.

      1. Feckless Rando*

        Yes, I know it’s sour grapes of me to say it but I’m so relieved to see this comment. I knew in my head this was a happy update but as I read it I couldn’t help but feel bitterly bitterly angry.

        I know it’s a me problem but it doesn’t make it hurt less.

        1. Bitterness and Gall*

          Well, that’s certainly a way to stop people wanting to write in with updates!

        2. Mrs. Syd Barrett*

          I just posted above about my experience in this field. It might have made a difference if someone was willing to pay for the MLS degree, but I couldn’t see spending $20K+ for something where I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to find a job in the depressed area where I live.
          It hurts me to think about my situation too. I try not to think about it b/c mulling it over (and not taking action) wasn’t getting me anywhere.

      2. kicking-k*

        I know that jealous feeling… during the years when there seemed to be no jobs to apply for, and I wondered if I’d ever be able to make a career of this, it really hurt.

        However the job I have now, I learned about through the random factor of an acquaintance in HR at the company. I am qualified but I’d never have thought I’d get a job that way. If I wasn’t me, I’d probably be quite jealous… but then I think, no, I paid my dues, I just have to make the most of my good fortune – and pay back in and help people new to the profession as the opportunity arises to do it.

    4. Lisa Story*

      It may be that they came in as tech support or a clerk or something like that. You can’t be a librarian without an MLS (or equivalent masters), but there are other jobs in the building.

      1. Having Fun with a Library Card*

        (I am OP) So this actually varies by state and even by district – in my state theres a growing push to remove MLS from the certification requirements altogether. In my post I said it was required cos it was the briefest way to say it, but in light of changing attitudes they’ve added several routes to certification that allow you to get equivalencies for work experience or other degrees. For *me* getting my masters is the fastest most straightforward way. But! Many “librarian” positions in the library systems around me do not require an MLS, and in fact our biggest local system is pushing their staff to consider more flexible degrees, like business, communication, or other social sciences. So depending on where you’re at you can be a “librarian” without the MLS. I actually have contingent state certification right now that allows me to perform my role as a “librarian” while pursuing my degree, on the condition I complete it within x number of years.

        But as others have pointed out, I did get originally hired on as paraprofessional staff, and only moved into a full time position when someone more experienced retired.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          You also have education and tech experience. It is things like that that made you highly desirable to a library!!

          For anyone wanting to replicate OP’s experience, getting a tech cert like comptia A+ (prep available from any library that has linkedinlearning) will help you stand out from the crowd. Or having experience in education in r customer service will help.

          For some people here struggling to find a librarian or even a paraprofessional role, part of it is luck and location but a big part is that the MLIS is that there are so many with the MLIS and it is not as relevant as you might think. It tends to function as a gate to limit the pool of applicants more than anything. As OP said, it is increasingly being dropped as required in favor of “equivalent” degrees or experience.

    5. Jessica*

      Libraries rely heavily on paraprofessional staff these days, so they likely landed in a non-“librarian” role in a library, which, as you’ve found out, probably took some luck on their part because even those roles are competitive and often draw applicants with MLIS degrees because of the dearth of professional (degree-holding) jobs. The path OP is taking into librarianship is the only one I’d ever advise- find, against all odds, a paraprofessional job in a library system or school that’s willing to fund your MLIS degree- no one should ever pay to go to grad school for a field where pay is so low and opportunities are so rare (source: over a decade as a degree-holding librarian working in both staff/para and professional roles).

      TL;DR: it’s not just you!! I’m also incredibly happy OP was able to make the shift into this field and in a way that works for her!

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        What Jessica said. That is really the best path into librarianship. You might have to move to find the elusive paraprofessional role in a system that will pay for your MLIS. But it is the best way.

        I got a part time paraprofessional role. When a full time paraprofessional role opened, I applied and got it. After a year I was eligible for tuition reimbursement, and I enrolled in my MLIS.

        BUT! My system did not automatically promote MLIS holders to librarian roles and pay (some do). Also they only hired librarians into management roles and 1. there were about 10 of those in a system of 80 positions and 2. I did not have management experience, they were not going to give me any and they were not gonna hire me without it.

        So I had to get a job a few towns over to shift to a librarian role.

    6. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

      Sometimes being in a metro area can mean being near multiple MLS programs and therefore many graduates. The city itself can be a draw. In less densely-populated areas that aren’t a draw in and of themselves, there is less competition. My friend is an archivist and when she finished her master’s program, she needed to stay in the NYC area so finding any job was intense. One of her classmates had more flexibility to move and basically got to create an archive from the ground up.

      Also, if the role doesn’t require an MLS it might not have been advertised in a way that came on the radar of MLSs looking.

    7. hypoglycemic rage (hopeful ex librarian)*

      i am in the chicago area, and this situation is one of the reasons i left the field – i have a lot of part-time library experience, but could not manage to find anything full-time, and i have my mlis. however, in chicago, there is a major library school, and that many mlis-holders can actually be a determent, because there are so many of us. smaller cities/areas might have better luck. it’s also possible that op has a non-librarian role, such as an associate/assistant/tech. most of the librarian roles = someone who has an mlis.

    8. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      I wonder if their former field was applicable. Like, if LW was a lawyer and they got some sort of job in a university law library? Actually, a firm I worked for also had an inhouse library with a librarian.

    9. BlueberryGirl*

      It’s super dependent on geography. I live in Alaska and the libraries here (including mine) struggle desperately to hire folks. However, when I lived in the Deep South, there were a million applicants for every job we have, because there were three library schools in driving distance. Same thing when I lived in Chicago-land. So, if you really want a full-time library job (with or without a degree), you either have to get lucky with geography or be willing to move.

    10. a librarian for way too long*

      I have found tons of library jobs that don’t require an MLS. It varies heavily depending on where the libraries are, and their size, and what the particular job is. Especially those small, rural, generally poorly paying libraries, tend not to require them. It can often still be very competitive, but those jobs are often also easier to get. In desirable geographic areas, or where the pay is greater, there tends to be a lot more competition and more MLS required jobs. My own large-ish library system it seems is increasingly getting rid of the MLS requirement for a whole lot of positions. I think mainly due to our previous director being enamored of the idea that we should operate like BUSINESSES and hire BUSINESS PEOPLE, who don’t tend to have an MLS. He was an idiot. But anyway, still, the decrease in jobs where they’re requiring it remains.

    11. roisin54*

      They might’ve started out in a paraprofessional role and their organization has a professional development program to help employees get degrees, or she could be at a library where they had so few qualified applicants for the role that they opened it up to people without a degree or people who promised to get one (or were in the process of getting one.) The latter has happened a lot recently at the library in the small town where I’m from, the director has had to hire people without the MLIS in order to get anyone even remotely qualified (and were willing to live in said small town.) That would never fly at the large urban library I work at, but at a small library in a small town with no library school nearby it’s a normal occurrence.

    12. uncivil servant*

      It sounds like the OP is in the UK (based on their use of “uni”) and I understand the library market is different over there. I don’t know what it’s like, but I do get the impression that career progression is not quite the same as in the US/Canada.

      (I’m in Canada and you can either get very entry-level, part-time jobs without an MLIS OR library tech diploma, or you can get hired as a library CEO with the right management background/political connections, lol.)

  3. ArchivesPony*

    Welcome to the craziness that being a Librarian! I will not sugarcoat it. It’s going to be a hard road. Because this field is crowded and competitive. BUT it is rewarded and at most times, a good field to be in with most of the times, amazing people.

    1. Having Fun with a Library Card*

      Thank you! I’ve loved the work and all my coworkers so far. I know I’ll want to move one day, but for now I’m grateful not to have to brave the job market!

  4. Alisonius*

    Reading the original post I thought this person should look at public library work!!!

  5. garblesnark*

    The “first gen college student who has no idea what’s happening” to “professional who has no idea what’s happening” pipeline is REAL. I even have one parent with a white collar career and I still had no idea what to do or what jobs there were or how to get them or… just anything about the work world.

      1. Usually Lurking*

        So much this. And it carries further down generations. It’s the sort of privilege (or lack thereof) that is really hard to define. My parents both carried the blue-collar teachings of their parents into white collar professional careers in the public sector with very strict rules and prescriptive career progressions. I was nearly 40 before I realized how their teachings had shaped my career in a way that didn’t work for me and started learning new approaches and ways of thinking. And things have been much better for me since.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          Same! Generational experience can color our perceptions and ideas so much more than we think!

    1. ASGirl*

      This is so true. I came from a multi-generational blue collar family and they thought I would just graduate and find a good paying job at an automobile factory, no guidance on college, I didn’t get my degree until 37, although I started working white collar jobs in my 20s with no idea about professional norms. Ask a manager has helped me so much, helped me with networking, learning about the recruiting process, and get into a great career path that I’m excelling in now with 8 years experience.

    2. J*

      I would have loved a first gen college student mentorship in my career (or frankly in college). My mom had a GED only and a mix of SAHM and service jobs, my dad was blue collar, both dabbled in entrepreneurship, but I was lost trying to make it. Eventually my mom desperately wanted a new path and I had to be her mentor and helped her find a job. Such a turnaround from the days where she and my dad insulted me for not landing a job immediately in the Great Recession. My husband had a similar experience. This site has been more of a mentor to me than any adult in my life but it just would have been so nice at the bigger workplaces I’ve been at if they’d offered this.

    3. TrixM*

      Yep! And I didn’t even finish university, in part because ADHD, but not having a clue about “how this thing works” at uni was very much an additional hurdle.

      I backed into an IT career by accident, although I didn’t physically touch a computer till my early 20s – we had one of those weird-brand cartridge game consoles when I was a teen – my tech experience! And I ended up working for an IT outsourcing company, which was basically “go to that company and do these specific tasks”. So that definitely helped.

    4. Wildbow*

      I relate heavily to this one. Partially owing to my disability (profound hearing loss), partially to a disengaged & problematic primary parent, and partially to my own airheaded personality, I was chronically oblivious and lost. I got ‘stuck’ in post-secondary, not in a job, but I definitely know how it’s ~so~ easy to fall into a rut and get stuck there when you have no idea what’s going on or what you’re supposed to do. Hell, I didn’t even know what a Bachelor’s degree was when I was a year and a half into studying at University.

      Like the letter writer, I had a career that my instincts and abilities pointed to (creative writing), but because of the way everyone talked about writing as a career, I sort of wrote it off. In my late twenties, I was having a hard conversation with someone about my future that they asked me ‘what would you do if you could get paid to do anything’, and I said ‘writing… but writing is a million to one shot’. Ultimately, leading from that conversation, I decided to take the shot. Now I make a living writing.

      I was reading the Elan School comic earlier today- a webcomic by someone who was stolen out of his bed and ferried off to a heavily abusive & culty youth correctional facility, who eventually got involved in the shutting down of the school. He spends some time talking about his life after leaving the school, and so much of it is a pell-mell trajectory of putting himself out there and taking risks, going places, meeting people (all the while dealing with PTSD and other mental health issues from his time in the school). Someone with his own struggles, who put himself out there, and got some fantastic opportunities in the process.

      There may be something to be said for taking the million-to-one shots.

    5. librarianish*

      It’s so hard to navigate – I’m not technically first gen but my parents were public school teachers, and all of my relatives were either teachers or steelworkers, and the whole ‘get a job then work with your union’ thing is so different from the white collar world.

      I was going to be a teacher as well but realized early on it wasn’t for me. Anyway, I am a librarian now (my husband is a teacher).

  6. Not Australian*

    Oddly enough I landed a job in a library once by saying “I just love books” in the interview. The person I would be working with loved them too, and that was enough for her!

    1. Former public librarian*

      I think the issue is sometimes people say, “I just love books,” and then they have no people skills or customer service skills and want to work alone in a room with books. Like others have said here, many library jobs are 90% customer service. Loving books is great! Loving to work with people is often also necessary.

    2. Always a book lover*

      I met someone once who had a job at a library and was getting a degree in library sciences. I was immediately excited to ask her about it, but her response was basically, “Whatever, it’s a job and it’s easy.” So I tried another tactic and asked her what books she liked. No enthusiasm from her there, either. I think about that occasionally and can only shake my head.

  7. Jezebella*

    I’ve worked in several libraries without an MLIS. They were low-paid circulation clerk jobs, though. There are still plenty of libraries that will hire without an MLIS for the clerk jobs.

    1. ConstantlyComic*

      Yeah, my library system has plenty of full-time and part time “library assistant” jobs that basically entail doing all of the patron-facing work so the actual librarians don’t have to. The pay isn’t great, but at least my county has pretty good benefits.

  8. Coffee and Plants*

    Oof, I’m feeling the same way as the original letter, but with no degree. I feel *stuck*. It’s nice to read some success with moving into something different!

  9. ConstantlyComic*

    As a fellow library employee just about to start working towards their MLIS, welcome to the club!

  10. Juicebox Hero*

    Congratulations from a fellow adult who doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. I’m in the beginning stages of thingking about switching careers, and stories like yours give me a boost.

    1. ArchivesPony*

      As Baz Luhrmann (paraphrasing Mary Schmich) said, “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t”

  11. Tech Researcher*

    As someone who stumbled into an MSLS program, congrats that you found this path!! I’m at a corporate position now, and I keep dreaming about going back to work at a university library. Wishing you all the best.

    1. Tech Researcher*

      I miss my days in grad school. My MSLS classmates are so wonderful, and that time was really special.

  12. Holly*

    OP I’m glad for you! For others reading about being a librarian, I also want to point out that you don’t have to love books to be a librarian, either, despite that that may seem counter-intuitive. I am a librarian and I value books in a valuing information and record-keeping way, and I’m glad many people enjoy them, and I used to as a youth, but I barely read these days. My focus is much more on digital librarianship, providing access to info for those that want it especially in the name of accessibility and social justice. I have sometimes felt like a bit of an outsider because many or most librarians are book nerds but if you are ever considering this field know that it’s not 100% necessary. I think it can help to think of librarianship as being a steward of information and education.

    1. ArchivesPony*

      Very very true! And that’s why a lot of schools, it’s now a Masters in Library and Information Science! The MLIS program at the University of Washington is actually in the same college that my brother’s degree in Infomatics is in because it’s focused much more on that Information science part of it.

    2. Having Fun with a Library Card*

      This is true! One of my friends who inspired me to look into library work actually doesn’t read much, or consider himself a particularly organized person, which he always imagined would be a requirement. But he’s great at working with customers, excellent at conflict resolution, flexible, and passionate about information preservation and availability. There’s lots of different ways to be “good” at being a librarian or serving in other library positions!

    3. chriseay*

      Yes! I’ve been working in libraries since 2005 and graduated with my MLS in 2009. I don’t read very many books, but I’m really good at teaching people how to do academic research. There are lots of types of librarians and many of us aren’t big readers/bibliophiles.

      My role (as an academic librarian) is mostly a teaching role. I teach students how to think about information, how to find information, how to assess the usefulness/validity of that information, how to construct research questions, and how to reference and write about the information they’ve found, to name a few. I really quite like the sentiment above: librarianship as the steward of information and education.

  13. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

    When i was a kid i told my parents i wanted to be an architect and they told me i wouldnt like it because i didnt like math. fast forward 25+ years, four bachelor’s degrees, and a lot of floundering, and I am an interior architect who deals with math JUST FINE every day and thriving. follow your passions kids.

    1. Purple Cat*

      Chuckling because I read this too fast as “inferior” architect and was thinking “way to own it” :).

      1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

        haha! my degree is technically interior architecture but I am an interior designer by trade. As a general rule I would say “real” architects do look at interior designers as inferior architects – but we have a LOT more fun :)

    2. Feral Humanist*

      I posted about this further down! Adults are so ready to crush kids’ dreams. WHY?

      1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

        WHY indeed! OP and others, glad you found your happy path!

  14. Jen M.*

    I was in seminary when I realized I no longer believed in my religion. So as an atheist with a seminary degree, I knew I needed a year off to figure out what I was going to do. I worked in a low-stress job while I explored different careers, and also found librarianship. I had the same reaction from everyone — of course you’re a librarian! (Could you have told me earlier?) I’ve been in librarianship for 13 years now, and love my job.

  15. Jojo*

    “but it was almost like the follow up to being a first generation college student and having no idea what’s going on is just becoming a first generation professional and having no idea what’s going on” LW, thank you for sharing this. It would never have occurred to me, but as soon as I read it a lightbulb went off in my head. It’s definately something to think about when working with interns and new coworkers who are just out of college.

    I do want to say I’m very happy you seem to have found your path and I wish you success in getting your degree and an much happier job future.

  16. Libraries Rock*

    OP, I am so happy for you! As a college student about to go into senior year with a very vague idea what I want to do after (and a lot of anxiety about getting locked into the wrong career), this has really helped me realize it’s okay to not get it right at first. Congratulations on the new job! As someone who was worked in a library, I know there tends to be a lot of craziness, but there is also a LOT of joy :)

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Take comfort in the fact that people your age will have several careers, not jobs, careers!

      And ask people you respect if they see you in certain roles. And do informational interviews.

      Good luck!

    2. Cheshire Cat*

      You have plenty of time to decide what you want to do, and part of that is working in different fields. I had a definite idea of what I wanted to do after graduation, and it turned out that I hated it. I spent my 20s working in 3 different fields before realizing that I was drawn to librarianship, and went back to school for that. And I’ve never looked back. But my point is, I was 30 before I figured it out.

  17. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    pretty interesting! I’m trying to pull everything together as my brain doesn’t work anymore which is very bad for my job

  18. AnotherLibrarian*

    I am always so happy to welcome someone new to the wonderful world of libraries. I think I work in the best field! I’ll offer you the same advice I offer every new person in librarianship- You can be picky about what you do OR you can be picky about where you work, but you will unlikely get the choice to be picky about both and if you can’t find a professional job post-MLIS in your local area, I encourage you to look nationwide. A lot of rural places (like where I live) are desperate to hire professionals and struggle to do so.

    1. Having Fun with a Library Card*

      Thank you! I think thats great advice. I am actually at a rural-ish library. A small county outside of a much larger one, but we’re lucky to be fairly well funded all the same. A lot of the big city money comes out here to own quiet “country” homes lol. I grew up in the country and this isn’t it! But yeah. I Definitely hear you. Luckily my partner works remotely, so if I need to follow the jobs we can do that.

  19. Lady_Lessa*

    I just want to express my appreciation to all the librarians, past, present and future, who comment here. I am a regular at my local ones and see some of the you all do.

    May you all enjoy your favorite foods, beverages and activities this weekend.

  20. Feral Humanist*

    I think sometimes about the things that were said to me about the professions I was interested in as a child and how discouraging they were. No one told me “loving books isn’t enough to be librarian,” but I got all kinds of similar messaging about writing professionally. Writing professionally is, of course, extremely difficult, but I ended up in another field that is almost as competitive and has many of the same downsides! And the irony is that my father, who once responded to me saying that I wanted to be a writer by reminding me that his cousin who is a writer also drove a school bus, now asks me why I don’t publish fiction (unbeknownst to him, I do, but not the sort I want my father to read and give me detailed feedback about lol).

    All of which is to say… maybe we should all just chill out when kids tell us they want to be XYZ when they grow up and just, I don’t know, ask them questions about why that’s interesting instead of telling them it’s impossible or not what they think it is? They have plenty of time to find that out.

    1. Feral Humanist*

      Sorry, that last bit should be “They have plenty of time to find that out *and maybe it’s not even true!*”

    2. ArtsNerd*

      Yup, I ruled out my current career and my current avocation because of thoughtless comments from adults being “realistic.” Thank goodness I eventually realized that these things are, in fact, just as much for me as any hypothetical “other person”

    3. Rainbow Brite*

      Yes! I came here to say the exact same thing. As a kid I looooooved writing but really internalised the whole “making it as a full-time writer is basically impossible, don’t even try” message we tell kids, so I did what I was told was the sensible option: Pursue a degree with a clear professional path, get a steady job that pays well, etc. And I didn’t hate that, but I also didn’t love it. Now, in my late 30s, I’ve landed on something I do love: Writing! And while I’m thankful that I got there after all, I also might have done it a lot earlier if we didn’t encourage kids to give up on their difficult-but-not-impossible dreams before they’ve even had a chance to try.

    4. 2 Cents*

      Yep to all you said. I don’t think the adults in my life where trying to be discouraging — and now as a parent myself, I can see they just wanted to protect me from struggles and not making any money (valid) — but when my 5 YO says he wants to be X or Y, I try to find out why instead of scoffing. We discuss positively what that looks like: “Ooo, to be an architect, you’ll be doing math and taking lots of measurements!”

  21. LaFramboise, academic librarian*

    from one Librarian to another, I’m so glad you’re here! there are many opportunities to do what interests you, and many organizations at the state and national level to help you to where you want to go and what you want to do. best wishes on everything!

  22. Breaking Dishes*

    It’s heartening to hear how you’ve landed in something that you like and uses your skills. Congratulations.

  23. Sindy*

    Considering the Visigoths are coming to sack Rome, we need all the librarians we can get. Lots of people are dropping out or retiring and we need bodies.

  24. Librarian*

    So glad you got a job before pursuing an MLIS. Ours is a profession that people romanticize without knowing what the day to day really looks like. Sounds like it’s a good fit for you!

  25. So many jobs*

    I relate so hard to this. Graduated with no idea what to do with myself, stumbled through a bunch of different industries not feeling happy in any of them, until I accidentally found libraries. I also was put off from library work when I was younger because “you don’t get to sit arrive all day reading” (which I knew – it’s a job – but I took to imply that everyone knew something about library work I didn’t and it was a particularly unpleasant or boring job, which it’s not). It sucks it took so long, but then again, my circuitous route to get here have me a bunch of in depth skills that make a big difference to how well I do the job.

  26. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    It’s funny how a casual remark can put people off. Yes it’s not enough to like books to be a librarian, just like it’s not enough to be bilingual and like languages to be a translator, it’s not enough to like singing to make it as a musician. But that doesn’t mean it’s not for you. It’s one positive point, and if you study and work hard and put in those 10,000 hours maybe you’ll get to tick most of the boxes.

    My father told me not to work in an office because offices were awful. So I was casting round, got into teaching for a bit, was thinking of going into social work. Ended up as a translator and duly started working in an office. There were many problems in that job, the fact that it was in an office was absolutely not one. My father was a terrible introvert and so he’d have been delighted to WFH, it was the other office workers he couldn’t stand being around all day. If he’d worked in any other setting with lots of people round him, he’d probably have said the same thing about that setting too.

  27. Baron*

    For the many people wondering how the LW got a library job without an MLIS: in Canada, at least, ~80-90% of library jobs don’t require an MLIS. The number in the States probably isn’t that much lower. I think where we’re seeing some confusion is that LW refers to herself as a “librarian”, and for a job as a librarian, you generally need an MLIS – but there are tons of entry-level library jobs from which an MLIS would actually be turned away for being “overqualified”. (Ask me how I know!)

    LW, good job on finding a field that suits you, and best of luck. There are tons of librarians in the AAM comment section, so if you ever need anything, you’ve got a community here.

  28. Beth*

    “the follow up to being a first generation college student and having no idea what’s going on is just becoming a first generation professional and having no idea what’s going on”

    This really, really resonates with me. I’m not exactly either of these — my father, both grandfathers, etc., were professionals — but I’m the first generation of *daughters* who, after going to college, then started a life of working instead of getting married and having families. I’ve never before had such a clear view of why I’ve felt vaguely unsettled for my ENTIRE damned working life!

  29. 2 Cents*

    So glad you found something you’re enjoying! My sibling made a career change into librarianship. Loving books isn’t the only requirement, but yeah, it helps. Sibling also decided that librarians never look particularly stressed — whereas everyone else in life did. Hope you continue finding joy!

  30. Former public librarian*

    As a former public librarian, I always cringe a little bit when people describe a library job as “low stress.” I’m sure it’s lower stress than some fields, and it definitely depends on your specific library job, but I do think there’s a stereotype of a librarian working peacefully in a quiet library that is not accurate, at least in public libraries. It’s working with the public in a similar way to retail or the service industry. I think of my many summers working in the youth department during Summer Reading, the heatstroke, stress dreams, crying in my office…yeah.

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