The job I wish I hadn’t left

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the phrase, “the worst they can do is say no,” with a side-dose of “you won’t know if you don’t ask.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting morosely at my desk at home, looking out the window at the library across the street. Our faculty housing is conveniently located right on campus. I think I may have mentioned here that, if I really wanted to, I could peer out my window at night to see how many students are studying at the brightly-lit windows of the library. At this particular moment, I wanted nothing more than to be gainfully employed right there, across the street, at the library. Yes, it would be the easiest commute ever, but possibly more importantly, I’d be working somewhere as interesting as an academic library!

My reflections, of course, might have been tainted by rose-colored glasses. Once, years ago before I started my PhD, I worked for a year in acquisitions at a large university library. Ostensibly, I was killing time there until I got into the PhD program of my dreams. It was a 30-hour per week position, which worked out well because it gave me time to write applications, take a class, and do work which, while sometimes kind of dry, was at times challenging and interesting and certainly had the benefit of being in a great environment.  I had fascinating colleagues from all over the world, hired for their positions due to their language skills. I learned about MARC records, copy cataloging, book vendors, and that switching a library’s ILS software can cause a) a lot of meetings and b) a lot of meetings to address staff anxiety about switching systems. Being young and effectively raised on computers, I couldn’t quite grasp what the big deal was: we would all learn a different way of doing something, and that was that, but the number of meetings devoted to dealing with change demonstrated to me that people of other generations weren’t so sure change was such a simple thing.

Regardless, I didn’t know then what a good thing I had going. I had a job, with benefits, at a great university, a job that could have been a springboard into a different type of career.  The setting was vibrant and the campus beautiful. There were ample coffeeshops and little eateries scattered about. I was working in one of my favorite types of settings ever, a library, an academic library, surrounded by that lovely musty smell of books.  I’d come to this job, mind you, after the job from hell (the one that involved the corporate office building, sea of concrete, and denying kids health care), so the comparison was night and day.

Now that I’m looking for a different type of job, sometimes all I want to do is get back into an academic library. That day a couple of weeks ago, as I sat there looking out my home office window at the library across the street, I found myself just wanting to go back. If not to that specific library, to another one at one of the many schools in this area.  To have the books and the bustle and the tired students and the smell of coffee. I still am not sure if I just miss the library environment, or if I’m trying to reset the clock to a time before the PhD, but every time I look out my window, I’ve found myself thinking about how I wish I hadn’t left that other position quite so quickly, and about the other paths my life could have taken in the intervening nine years since then.

So what did I do? I decided to get off my sorry rear end, stop staring at the glowing windows, and do something about it! I’d done an informational interview with the library’s director a couple of months ago, so I sent him a brief email explaining my interest in getting back into working in academic libraries, and were there any volunteer projects they needed extra hands with?

A couple days went by, during which I also prepped for the job interview. I felt more nervous about the unanswered email. And then, out of the blue, the director told me that they did, indeed, have a project for me. You see, the worst they could do was say no, but they said yes – and nothing would have happened if I hadn’t asked. We met a week later and I learned that they wanted me to help with collection development of the Library of Congress “B” section – religion and philosophy. My task would be to weed books the library no longer needed, as well as make suggestions for what a liberal arts college could add to its religion collection. They would train me in the computer side of things, too, get me up to speed with the Voyager library software system, for both withdrawing and ordering materials.

I’ve been doing this volunteer work several mornings for the past week, and it’s great! I didn’t think they’d quite have me shelving books (especially not as I’m into my 3rd trimester), but what they came up with is much more interesting than I’d have expected. I find myself having tons of fun with the backend of library work, which I know that my more geeky side enjoyed while at that former library job as well. (MARC standards are really rather interesting, as are three-digit library codes, OCLC numbers, bar codes, and just how many books haven’t been checked out since the 1970s, if the flaps at the back of the books are to be believed).

It’s not quite the same as if I hadn’t ever left that other library job, but it’s a step in a good direction. I’m going in this morning, to do something that builds new skills and resurrects old ones, and will, I hope, be a productive way to get myself out of the house in this time before the new baby comes, one that may well pay off after my time of “maternity leave” is over.

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