by Lauren Bourdages, Head Editor, INALJ Ontario
How I Jumped in with Both Feet
Every library and information professional has that moment in their life where, with 100% certainty, they realise that the LIS industry really is where they belong. That moment happened for me in the midst of what was the most intense year of my life: I was in the middle a grueling Bachelor of Education program, and between classes, field placements, and assignments I was putting in at least 80 hours a week, and paying for the privilege of doing so. At that point, I still had what I like to now call my “teacher blinders” on – I was utterly convinced that I wanted to be a teacher, specifically a high school English teacher. My disillusionment with the idea of being a Teacher began when I got rejected from or waitlisted to every B.Ed. program that I applied to. I started panicking because I did not have a backup plan. But then, after 21 days of struggling to come up with a backup plan – I applied for, and got accepted into, an Early Childhood Educator program – I got word that I had been accepted to my first choice B.Ed. program. I was going to be a member of the first Junior/Intermediate Grade level class at my alma mater’s 2 year old Faculty of Education. They warned us during the orientation week that the program was going to be hard, that we would have to be dedicated. I was prepared for what was coming, they made sure we were prepared, but when reality hit it hit hard and by Christmas I was starting to feel overwhelmed and I considered quitting. I hate to admit that; it’s really hard for me to admit that. But I didn’t quit, my best friend and my Mum both pointed out that I just had to stick through another 4 months, and that once I did I never had to teach again if I didn’t want to but I would have a B.Ed. and a skill set that no one could take away from me. So, I stuck it out.
Every day after that though I was trying to decide what I would do with my education and experience other than be a classroom teacher. And then, one day it hit me like a brick wall, and I wondered how I could have been so blind and stupid all these years. I was in the school’s library with my Grade 7 class, chatting with my Associate Teacher and the library clerk about the library and it just hit me how happy the library made me and I blurted out right then and there to both of them, “What will it take to get me into a school library!?”. I may not have been happy in the classroom, but being in the library, doing reader’s advisory and teaching kids how to do research using library resources, and setting up book sales, those things all made me euphoric and I realised that since September any time I had been especially stressed by my classrooms, I found myself in the school’s libraries asking how I could help. That was the day I made the decision to get into libraries and I haven’t looked back since.
I finished out my B.Ed. and that summer I weighed my options: I could either spend A LOT more money and two more years doing more theoretical and research based work to get my Master’s, or I could spend a little less money and go the practical, hands-on college route and get my Library and Information Technician diploma. I applied for and got in to the Master’s program at the University of Western Ontario, and then I tried the commute once and went, “Yeah I don’t think I can commute over two hours each way every day…especially not in the Winter having to skirt the snow belt.” I discovered that the Library Technician diploma could be done 100% online. (It was about a month AFTER I started the diploma that it hit me that there were probably online Master’s programs as well, c’est la vie! Part of the 10 year plan now!) So in September 2010, I started my diploma doing a full time course load while doing everything I could think of to break into a library job.
My first chance came with one phrase said to the Volunteer Coordinator at the local public library, “I just want someone to give me a chance to show them what I can do.” She gave me that chance when she brought me on as a Book Reserves Volunteer processing holds and searching the shelves for lost items, it took me almost a year just to get that chance. I credit that experience directly with what got me my job as a Library Page in the same library. In 2011 and 2012, I was desperate to apply to the Library Technician Supply List of the local Catholic school board because it would be my first step to getting my own school library, but because of the Union I couldn’t even apply because they could only hire those who already had their diplomas. With that firmly on my radar I kept trying to get more library experience, I did my first of two required field placements in a small special library at a local think tank and kept applying to as many library jobs as I felt I was qualified for but I wasn’t having much luck. So that was when I really started thinking about the information side of the industry, which is what lead me to my current position managing a donor information database and learning about Prospect Research.
Even though I love my job, and I really enjoy managing information and I am eager to learn more about Prospect Research, I was also still super curious about what had become my dream, having my own school library. So earlier this year, armed with my diploma (and since my job is only .5FTE), I applied for the Library Technician Supply List, and I got on. I was stoked (and I still am), and I jumped in with both feet. I eagerly went to the Library Staff Professional Development Day in August and when the call came out a few days after that asking for volunteers for the Board’s Library Advisory Committee I figured since the nature of Supply work means I won’t be in a school library all the time that the LAC would be my best way to keep my fingers on the pulse of what was going on in the libraries and allow me to help shape them. And I was right, at the first meeting we brainstormed the guidelines for this year’s library priorities and they liked both of the ideas I had enough that we made them priorities! And then I volunteered to present the priorities at the next Library Staff PD Day, to all of the board’s library staff!
As the day of my presentation grew closer I got nervous. I always feel antsy about presenting to my peers (a band of 30+ kids is not a problem), but when those peers are all more experienced than I am and I am absolutely the newbie on staff? My anxiety level increases exponentially. But I didn’t chicken out and I didn’t let my nerves get the better of me, and just like Sam in Too Shy for Show and Tell (which was presented right before my presentation as a book talk, talk about timely!) my presentation went off without a hitch, they only laughed when I wanted them to laugh and everyone clapped for me when I was finished.
I jumped in: jumped into the profession, jumped into my new job, and my head is still above water. I’ve even managed to log 8 actual days in a school library. So, it’s like they say: you just have to get your feet wet. I don’t know for certain where my career is going to go, I’m still on the hunt for that elusive first full-time job, but I know that when I get it, I won’t hesitate to throw myself into it completely.