by Aimee Graham, Head Editor, INALJ New York State
Why Co-op Libraries Are the Greatest Gift to Your Career
One of the most important questions I was asked during my time at the University at Albany in the MSIS program was “what type of library do you want to work for?” Not having much experience in the field to begin with, I was uncertain: I knew academic libraries generally paid better but there was an appeal to working with the public. From that point out I always answered that question with “I just hope to be employed”.
I was fortunate enough to secure a position with a small liberal arts Catholic institution four months after graduation; I know not everyone is as lucky to have this stroke of luck and I count my blessings, however the catch was that the position was only part time (and that does not pay the bills, especially the student loans).
Several months after gaining my bearings I found myself applying for other part time positions to supplement my income and heighten my experience/skills. A position for a part time reference librarian at a major state institution in my area opened up and I jumped on the opportunity. It was only temporary, an interim during while the permanent search was being conducted, but something was better than nothing. During the interview I learned that the library was a co-op, a combination of public and two academic libraries, in addition to having once been the law library of the county. Needless to say, I jumped on the offer when extended.
Having never worked in a public library before, I was a bit unfamiliar with the types of questions I received; although my title was as an academic reference librarian, most of my patrons were public. I learned the ins and outs of public and law policies, a feel for the different environment including working with children and teens, all while still conducting my academic duties as necessary (such as scheduled one on one research consultations). I was astonished the wealth of questions I received at the reference desk from the public, and in many ways I felt as though I was contributing greater to society by holding this position. The biggest lesson learned: librarians are not social workers/accountants/lawyers/any other public or services administration. Coming from an environment in which I helped or found students resource for assignments, I could only instruct public patrons on how to find the information they were looking for, many times for public services.
When the time came to leave that position I felt a sense of whimsy – I loved working with the public, feeling as though the skills I learned during my Masters genuinely helped the greater community. But it also gave me the overall experience to EXPAND my employment search; no longer is my experience limited to that of solely academic institutions. Although still on the hunt, I have had prospective employers in both public and academic (and one law) libraries.
So the point I’m trying to make: if a position at a co-op library (even volunteer or temporary opportunities) open up, jump on them, especially if you’ve been searching for a while or are about to finish grad school. The wealth of experienced gain is hitting “two birds with one stone” and your resume, wallet, and sense of worth will thank you.