(Okay, you can either read this whole post about how I chose to become a librarian OR you can just watch Party Girl with Parker Posey because it pretty much tells the same story.)
It’s not like all my life I wanted to be an archivist or librarian.
I am asked – very often: “How did you end up here?” “What made you want to be a librarian?” And of course, “You went to school for this?” In most cases, the questions are asked sort of aggressively, as if demanding I defend my peculiar career choice. I find this difficult to understand. People don’t ask these sorts of questions of teachers or bank tellers or salespeople or police officers – at least they don’t ask them with the same implications. (Now that I am thinking of it, though, people DO ask these sorts of questions, I am sure, of exterminators, coroners or… I don’t know… circus performers? Is being an archivist really THAT weird??) All sorts of people ask me these questions: family members, peers, patrons, my hair stylist… I never know quite how to respond because I don’t have any eccentric, mind-blowing passion for ARCHIVES or LIBRARIES (which is what I think people expect?). But I do like my job and I did choose it and I don’t think I or my reasons are cray cray.
All the things I wish I could say when people ask me why I am an archivist:
1. I was an English and Philosophy major. I wrote poems. I had very few skills when I graduated college (though I am a heck of a lot smarter and I will defend a liberal arts education until the end of days). I don’t regret my English major – but if I could do it again, I’d want to double major in English AND something more useful, career-wise. Probably a science.
2. I am not business-minded, am generally antagonistic toward anything to do with finance, selling, or markets. Frankly, I can’t get behind most products because I find a lot of our “stuff” wasteful and unnecessary. Even the recent “green” fad in consumerism – okay, maybe it’s better for the environment to buy expensive, organic THINGS, but I still feel it is better (environmentally and spiritually) not to buy THINGS at all, whenever possible. I guess this is sort of similar to the zero-waste idea – you know, that it is good to recycle, but it’s even better not to create that waste in the first place. I also feel when people make lots of money, they often step on other people, using them, swindling them, preying on their fears or manipulating their ignorances. (See this article, among many others) I can’t even fake being that kind of person. …And even if I could bend my morals a bit – or find a great, fair-trade ethically responsible company to work for – I still have absolutely no head for numbers or marketing schemes or work flow charts.
Also, I prefer librarian fashion to business casual ANY DAY.
3. I tried the social work thing. I tried the non-profit thing. And I am glad I have those experiences. But it all wore me out and paid so poorly, I couldn’t make it work for myself, not for the long term. And that really does suck, because I am probably more suited to working in social welfare, than in archives. Caring-type professions are undervalued in our society. I do think this is gender related and probably class related, historically. Women (the ones who had to work) were maids and cooks and housekeepers and tutors and nannies and personal assistants, employed by men and families who had money (gotten from swindling people and ravaging the Earth! Haha, kidding! Poking fun at myself). And I do believe, in general, women are better at doing these types of jobs. I don’t think I always believed this and maybe it isn’t even relevant – because caring for children, old people, sick people, even many people at once – nourishing them, teaching them about the world, soothing their souls – these are such important parts of human life, for everyone. However in many ways, the benefits are intangible and these jobs don’t create money or whatever. And if you do stick money into that equation, things get all sad and weird and uneven (see: US health care or for-profit schools). So anyway.I didn’t want to be poor and struggling and exhausted all my life – that is why I “quit” social work as a full time career. It was a selfish decision. But when I reached the age of about 25, I realized no one else was taking care of me except me and I had to solve this problem of being poor, struggling and exhausted all the time!
4. I chose to go to library school because I didn’t have the background to go into a graduate science-y program, because as a librarian I wouldn’t have to sell things or be much of a business woman, and because I couldn’t live off my non-profit public health job. It was practical. I knew working as a librarian earned a middle-income salary, even at entry level. It doesn’t grow much and there isn’t much of a ladder of librarian upward mobility; our salaries pretty much stick to the high 30s to high 50s area, depending. I also knew library school was only a two year commitment, at most, and that I could get most of it paid for by working as a graduate assistant.And I would gain real skills, professional skills, skilled skills that would train me for a distinct JOB. I had always found the process of looking for jobs, as an English major, like rummaging through a pile of ill-fitting clothing: I guess I could be an administrative assistant at a towing company? Maybe I could lead nature hikes? I could probably teach small children the alphabet? Work in a bookstore? It was all over the place and nothing quite matched my skills or desires.
I have other reasons, such as: I like books and low stress environments, and I like thinking and learning and working with students and writers. However, these are all sort of perks to the job, and not my main reasons for becoming a library and information science master. Incidentally, and probably the topic of another post altogether, I more or less fell /was forced into archives by (fortunate) circumstance; I didn’t choose it so much as I chose the broader library field.
Most of the time, when people ask me why I am an archivist, I tell them something more virtuous-sounding, such as: “Well Sir, I like investigating history. Gosh darnit.” And then I smile a big, irreproachable smile.
And in related news, next month I start a part-time job at a veterinary hospital! Mostly I will be the receptionist, but will also help with basic exam and animal care stuff as needed. I am hoping it will be fun and perhaps give me some of the science-y training I might need if I were ever to switch to a career working with animals…