Coffee and DayQuil

I’m taking a break to answer a question I field often from other LIS students: how did you get your job(s)? I know because I asked each of my supervisors why they hired me. I think that’s important information to have because it helps me understand how I present myself to others from their perspective, and how I can be successful in the future.

My first job with a library was an unpaid internship for Special Collections and University Archives at a small regional school in Oregon. This department received a considerable donation while I was there and I had the opportunity to work with the public, members of the media, and people on campus. My internship meant the archives could be open much longer than usual. It’s a small university, so all I had to do was ask.

The second came at a friend’s suggestion. She was helping me revise my resume so I could leave my decade of hotel night auditing behind. By then I lived in Columbus, Ohio and she was at University of British Columbia working on her MLIS. My friend thought I’d make a good librarian and that I should apply for jobs with the local system. Unknown to me when I moved, Columbus had one of the best public library systems in the nation. I applied to three or four positions before getting a call back. I dug out a power suit and went into the interview as a customer oriented person. I was able to trade on my hospitality experience, translating it into a circulation desk position. After working overnight for all the drinking holidays in a 400 room hotel, the public library was a walk in the park. My supervisors later explained the customer-oriented service was the quality they wanted. “The library part you could learn on the job,” they explained. I was happy to work somewhere that would respond if I were threatened on the job (hotels ignore this behavior in their clientele) and was not hazardous.

I continued to work nights while holding a part-time circulation desk position. This began to impact my health and relationships; my partner rarely saw me and I was never awake or asleep, but started to exist in a space where neither was possible.  I did get this picture out of the experience, the most flattering photograph of me ever taken. I am not being facetious.

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With abundant free time, I enrolled in Kent State’s MLIS program. The director of a local medical library spoke to my foundations class and his enthusiasm was amazing. Like me, the director had a hospitality background before working in libraries. I decided before the end of the lecture that I would work for him and when a job opened it was mine. Again, this was due to my service orientation, but this director uses cover letters to weed out applicants. “If you can’t sell yourself on the page, how can you sell the library’s services?” I was exhausted when I wrote mine and it felt like the most self-aggrandizing thing I’d ever committed to paper. Turns out I’d been selling myself short and all those things I thought painted me as arrogant were what you were supposed to put in cover letters.

I had a longer learning curve than I would have liked adjusting to more professional environments. Until this job, my entire professional identity was handed to me through uniforms and scripted behaviors. At the public library, jeans and t-shirts were fine, as well as the casual attitudes which accompanied them.  I also had trouble at both libraries learning to report to people before solving problems or managing security issues. As a night auditor, I had to make all decisions without backup or assistance so this was a difficult habit to unlearn. For those of you experiencing the same culture shock this book was a great help to me. Every LIS student should have a copy. I am grateful to that library director for his patience and mentorship, but I grew out of the job and wanted to do more.

I stumbled on a new listing at The Ohio State University. Although the title was different the same essential functions were required, with significant room for stretch. I wanted to work for OSU ever since I moved in 2009. I figured because of Kent State saturating the library job market, I’d be up against hundreds of applications, but in went the resume. The medical center’s application interface didn’t allow for cover letters. I attached one to the resume anyway. I didn’t meet everything in the ‘desired’ qualifications list, so I researched those things to be able to speak intelligently about them.

I apply for jobs with a particular process—whatever I’m moving to needs to either pay more or give me greater return on investment in terms of professional development. I never wait to hear back before applying to other positions, even if those aren’t ideal. Always move forward.  Always think a few steps ahead. If I didn’t get the job with OSU, how could I develop myself to get one in the future?

During the interview I was sick, wired from coffee and DayQuil. Someone close to me died the previous month. I arranged their memorial in Oregon from Ohio, pacing in the hospital parking lot. I sat there fielding questions from my first search committee interview, high on cold medicine and fighting grief that lurched in my brain at unexpected turns. Toward the end I assumed I blew it completely and began to ask more philosophical questions. It’s not the worst interview I’ve had, but to say I was under duress at the time is probably true. It’s not like I started crying or something but I assume I slipped into that thousand yard stare that accompanies grief and illness. I do remember saying that I didn’t care for innovation by committee, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” would never be a good enough answer and this was distinct from a supervisor saying they needed something done a particular way.

During the tour I saw my office. Every flat surface was stacked with paper at least two feet high. The workspace was cold and fortress-like. I was horrified. Forgetting I was still in the interview, I said “Everything needs to change,” within earshot of my tour guide. I went home and assumed I’d never hear from OSU again.

I asked my boss today why I was hired. “We felt you were the most qualified to modernize the interlibrary loan operation quickly. We felt you were comfortable with ambiguity. You could work independently. And that’s all been true.”

Or, coffee and DayQuil are magic. However they happened, those are my library jobs and how I got them.

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One thought on “Coffee and DayQuil

  1. I think you were probably the “right person on the bus” (Collins, Good to Great) and they felt you could learn whatever you needed for the job. Your comment on “always moving forward” is great advice, and helps to keep one from getting discouraged, as there is always something else to plan.

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