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 LIS jobs resource 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 20 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 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 now lives part time in Western NY and Budapest, Hungary. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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