by Nena Schvaneveldt, former Head Editor, INALJ Utah
previously published 5/16/13
On Being a Secret Librarian
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.