by Kristen Jaques, Head Editor, INALJ Maine
What I Gained from Living and Working in a Small Town
From the moment I relocated to Simmons College in Boston for library school, I took right to city life and imagined that from then on, I would always work and live in the city. When I graduated from the program in my mid-twenties, I applied for any job opportunity in the metro-Boston area I could find, and when I became frustrated with the repeated experience of getting buried in a saturated market, I turned my attention to applying to other cities across the nation. I was determined to remain in Boston and work as a temp while conducting my job search, but when I found myself unable to support an urban living situation on a barely minimum wage salary, I decided to accept the offer to move back to Maine and live with my parents. From home, I continued applying for jobs in out-of-state cities, and suburbs of major cities. As time passed, my hunger for library work beat out my yearning for big city adventures, so I also started applying for postings in the small towns and small cities of Maine.
In 2011 I received my first job offer: to work as a librarian and assistant director for a small public library in a community of approximately 6,700. While I was elated by my big break and loved the vibe of the library and staff, I was reluctant to miss out on the social life and opportunities of a more urban area. Did I really want to take myself off the grid? I was twenty-eight years old, and worried that by moving to such a small, family- and elder-oriented community, I would be effectively throwing away the few remaining years of my young adulthood.
When I discussed these misgivings with friends, a few of them mentioned they’d relocated to the middle of nowhere to get their library jobs, and that it wasn’t so bad: they were making it work and making the most of it. One close librarian friend urged me to stop obsessively focusing on the location, and reminded me that it would be more beneficial to prioritize my career. I realized that any choice I could make would involve some kind of sacrifice. Between part-time library work and volunteer gigs, college and graduate school, student loans, and endless job applications, I’d already invested a decade’s worth of time and money into building my career. I decided it was time to take the next step by accepting the opportunity being offered.
Two years later, I have no regrets. In my current position I have been able to gain experiences and take over responsibilities that would have been dispersed among several people in a larger, busier library. With only three professional staff members and a small core staff of assistants, we all wear many hats. I have gained experience with every aspect of adult services, and the position is structured so that I am able to create policies and plan work projects with the director, while also getting to serve the patrons, and become familiar with their needs and interests.
There are many aspects of small town living I’ve found I enjoy. I love being able to read with my feet soaking in the river, and I love seeing the sun cast golden light on the trees and fields during my 20 minute commute between the small town where I work and the small town where I reside. I love being able to go for walks under the stars in my quiet neighborhood at night, even though some would argue that the safety and advisability of that hobby is still questionable. I love the fact that a friendly local business owner directed my roommate and me to a dairy farm out on a country road where I adopted the two beautiful kittens who have brought so much joy to my life over the past year and a half. I appreciate having access to beautiful, peaceful spaces that I wouldn’t find in the city.
My social life can be slow-paced at times, but it is in line with what I can manage between a full-time, six-day-a-week job and my weekday INALJ volunteer gig. In addition to having a few old friends who live throughout the state and in other parts of New England, I have also made a few new friends since relocating. I have availed myself of online dating websites, and there are Meetup groups that I am still looking forward to taking advantage of. There are cultural events and great businesses and natural places to visit, provided that I keep up with what’s going on and am willing to drive a little out of my way. While I can’t say that every rural area has the same resources, I think that many urban-minded job seekers would be pleasantly surprised by how much contentment they can find off the beaten path.
I would like to eventually live in a city again, but until I find the right job in the right city, I am making a difference and celebrating my life right where I am.