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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Day in the life, 2

Today I went to three meetings and did the following things:

8:15 AM

1) Trained a student to harmonize ILLiad records with Sierra, so eventually we can authenticate patron records. Our site is a shared server ILLiad site, hosted by OCLC which makes all of our issues easier to address and more complex at the same time. The task I gave my student involves data entry in 600 or so records. I am loathe to give my students this kind of work but it has to happen if my long-term plans for this operation are going to succeed.

2) Continued research on Arvid Lindau for a neurologist. She’s had a paper accepted with revisions and some questions. As I’m the person who found many of her original citations (because this would ultimately make borrowing them easier) I get these emails. I don’t mind this work. Very few people have time and it allows me to do something other than fight with ILLiad.

3) Tracked down a citation for a medical student who often asks me for difficult to find items. Today I lucked out because we had a copy in our rare books collection. I used our aging book scanner to digitize what he needed, but this reminded me that once again, I need to come up with a plan and solicit options to upgrade our equipment.

4) Figured out why a student workstation would not deliver items in ILLiad.

5) Taught a student how to locate unique identifiers to prepare borrowing requests. This is harder than it sounds because a) location and discovery are like Escher drawings without the whimsy b) it’s a new student c) I have to show them OCLC, PubMed, Locator Plus, and the ‘borrowing’ side of ILLiad and d) searching for and repairing citations can be difficult, frustrating work. It’s easy for people to feel discouraged and think they’re doing everything wrong. My students are smart and don’t want to disappointment me so I have to preface borrowing training with a disclaimer: it’s okay to fail.

6) Helped a coworker re-write directions for students.

7) Meeting 1: More discussion of how to align the health sciences library with digital initiatives on campus. Relieved to learn that I am not the only person who moved from the west coast and was surprised by fireflies.

8) Meeting 2: Departmental. Similar discussions, including ILL and licensing issues.

9) Meeting 3: Like the first meeting, except with more people and a number of questions, the answers of which will directly impact interlibrary services.

10) Finished up borrowing, checked in with my student, and left for home.

6:30 PM

Leaving Zombieland (or, How I Found Library School)

Hello Hack Library School types!

It occurs to me the About section is a bit sparse for this kind of blogging. I’m Angela Galvan, wearer of many hats and dreaded non-identities. I am a student with Kent State University’s School of Library and Information Science. In addition to offering in-person classes in Kent and an online option, there is a satellite program based out of the State Library of Ohio in Columbus. I am affiliated with the Columbus campus and after this semester is over I will only have my practicum/paper/whatever to complete for my MLIS. Right now I’m taking courses in Futures Research, Cultural Informatics, and Reference Sources for Social Sciences.

I’m head of interlibrary services for The Ohio State University Health Sciences Library, but my official title is Digital Reformatting Specialist. My days can be an odd mix of tasks: digitizing old yearbooks and ephemera for the College of Medicine, helping physicians, nurses, and researchers get resources, helping students navigate library websites, and working with other departments throughout the university to streamline service to patrons. I wrestle with ILLiad daily and help other universities troubleshoot their own systems. I manage a handful of bright and dedicated undergraduates.

Between what reads like All The Things and my own research interests (digital humanities, disease narratives, virtual estates, and the history of night and shiftworkers), I have many conversations with students, staff, and faculty who find themselves in my office wondering if I’m the right person to talk with.

My path to librarianship was accidental. In 2009 I was a post-baccalaureate student in Oregon where I studied history and political science. My campus library was looking for interns in Special Collections and University Archives to gather information on the history of the university and its presidents. Although I enjoyed this kind of research it never occurred to me to explore library school as an option. I was stuck in a dead-end night job as a hotel clerk. I was a zombie in class, albeit a productive one. Determined to overcome my days as a slacker, I worked nights full time, was in class until mid-afternoon, tutored a fellow student in antebellum history, and went to my internship.

For a variety of reasons, Columbus, Ohio crystallized as a destination. My friends threw me a nice going away party, happy I’d achieved escape velocity from small town Oregon but convinced I’d end up dismembered in Bucky the Snowshovel Murderer’s basement. I took only what I could carry: the clothes on my back, some personal items, and two books. I moved in with strangers I met over Craigslist in a city I had no other connections with and never visited.

“But they have a dog, see?” I insisted.

“So did the guy in Silence of the Lambs,” my friends countered. This was a reasonable point and I won’t claim I wasn’t scared, discouraged, or worried that moving was a terrible mistake. I was lucky. I landed in a beautiful neighborhood with a supportive network of new friends, many of whom were librarians.

I continued to work nights and took a second job with Columbus Metropolitan Library. The librarians encouraged me to apply to Kent State’s program and I enrolled in 2011. Again, zombieland. I did not sleep for 18 months.  I have no idea how I did this without ending up in a hospital and my one night off became devoted to library school.

Four years after leaving home, I consider myself an adopted Buckeye. Not only do I drink the Kool-Aid, I make it in fresh, scarlet batches every morning. No longer a service industry drone, I’m one of those dorks that walks to work happy and excited to see what I can do to fight world suck.

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