On Being a Secret Librarian

by Nena Schvaneveldt, former Head Editor, INALJ Utah
previously published 5/16/13

On Being a Secret Librarian

NenaSFor the last year or so, I’ve been a secret librarian. Let me explain.

A few months after I got a paraprofessional job in a library after grad school, I made a decision to not advertise that I had a master’s degree. Really, I wondered, who needs to know? My supervisor and coworkers knew, but did all the people using the library really need that information? The students seemed fine just knowing that I, too, have taken really high-stakes tests and that I lived. I would tell people that I had an English degree and a library science degree. A few asked if it was a bachelor’s in library science, and I answered honestly. What I tried to avoid was offering up information about my level of education to students. It was hard to keep it from sounding like people should feel bad for me.

I told myself it was to keep from depressing the students, but the biggest effect it had was on me. It was kind of sad for me to be reminded that I have a master’s, and not yet a librarian by job title. Keeping it a little secret helped this at bay. I also didn’t want the reputation for being the one that said, “I guess I’ll unjam the printer – but I have a MASTER’S.” No one likes that person. Everyone likes the person who can unjam the printer without pretense.

Eventually, I got a promotion, and this new role will involve higher-level work, so I’m going to have my diplomas hanging in my office. I figured that if I have an office, I don’t need to keep my degree secret anymore. But the change in attitude I’ve had over the last year of being a secret librarian has been profound. It challenged a little entitlement I’d built up from earning a degree, and kept me humble.

The more fun way I’ve used my secret librarian powers is answering reference questions on Facebook or other times I hear them. I have a lot of friends who like to ask what they should read, so I’ve done impromptu readers’ advisory, as well as answering a ton of reference questions. I’ve answered questions on community pages quickly and accurately. I live out my librarian traits in ways that maybe don’t use all the coursework I did, but allow me to feel like I’m using my interests and knowledge to my benefit.

Part of what helps me stay positive is knowing that it’s not up to my job to provide me fulfillment – it’s up to me.


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ.com. INALJ has had over 19.5 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 & 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro. She presents whenever she can, most recently thrice at the American Library Association's Annual Conference as well as breakout talk presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa and as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting, at the National Press Club, McGill University, the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has relocated to being nomadic. She runs her husband’s moving labor website, KhanMoving.com, fixes and sells old houses and assists her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food as well. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


  6 comments for “On Being a Secret Librarian

  1. Debi
    May 23, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    I have a Masters level job and unjam the printer all the time.

  2. May 22, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Nena, I live in Utah as well. My library path has taken a different path as well. I don’t regret it, but I totally understand.

  3. keelieawn
    May 22, 2014 at 10:43 am

    I really appreciate this article. My library experience is limited and I hope that I am able to obtain enough of it to be accepted into a librarian job when I receive my MLIS next spring. However, I have also been slowly preparing myself to the possibility of working my way from the bottom-up, so to speak. While the prospect of having my MLIS and working in a paraprofessional position is not the outcome I would like to have upon graduating, I think that it is better to get my foot in the door and work my way up if need be. I keep telling myself that as long as I can get a job in a library, I can make my degree work. It’s truly comforting to know that there are other people out there in my exact position. :)

  4. August 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    “Everyone likes the person who can unjam the printer without pretense.” Bravo! :)

  5. Jen F
    August 7, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for this article! I’m in the same boat – I recently took a paraprofessional job after finishing grad school and I’ve been struggling with a lot of the same things. It helps to know that I’m not the only recent graduate in this position! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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