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) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of T160K.org, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its 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. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians 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 one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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