Two librarians and an archivist have shared their stories with us. Read their accounts to learn more about these fields.
Steve Oserman—Reference Librarian
Steve Oserman generously shared his personal account for this book. Sadly, he has since passed away, but his contribution about the career that he loved is still a valuable addition to this chapter.
Steve worked as a reference librarian in the Adult Services Department with the Skokie Public Library in Illinois. He had
more than thirty years of combined teaching and library experience. He coauthored The Guide to Internet Job Searching with Margaret Riley and Frances Roehm, and he developed two books through the Job and Career Information Services Committee of the Public Library Association called The Basic Guide to Resume Writing and The Basic Guide to Cover Letter Writing.
The day was structured so that Steve worked on the reference desk for two hours, and then he was off for two hours.While at the desk, he helped people with general reference questions on a variety of topics and assisted patrons with the Internet and CDROMs. Off the desk, he ran the library’s employment resource center, helping patrons with resumes, job changes, and Internet job search strategies.
He also served as cochair of job and career information services for the Public Library Association, a position that allowed him to speak nationally and to train librarians to develop their expertise in helping people find jobs and start career centers.
Steve also led book discussions and presented many lectures and programs. Most involved Internet job searching, but he also gave presentations on such diverse topics as dreams, health, and healing for area hospitals.He also traded options and gave lectures on technical analysis of stock option trends. In addition, he did Chinese astrology and I Ching. “I always tell people to pursue at least seven careers simultaneously,” Steve said. “I’m trying to have at least fourteen.
“I like my work a lot,” he continued, “but I don’t like meetings and the bureaucratic paperwork. I like things that involve people. I’m very extroverted, and I like helping people find jobs or motivation. And I enjoy the seminars and public speaking I do.”
He officially worked thirty-seven and a half hours a week, but he spent a lot more time than that on the job. He generally came in early, and he also worked in the evenings, doing his committee work on his days off.
Getting Started. Steve earned a B.S. in mathematics and philosophy from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and completed substantial work toward a Ph.D. in philosophy at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where he also taught philosophy.
He explained that his situation was atypical because he never attended library school. He started his career at a time when there was a shortage of librarians and got his training on the job. And because he had more than two hundred credits of graduate work in other fields, his employers considered that comparable to at least one year of library school.
Steve explained that he initially started in library work as a way to help finance his college education, rather than actively pursuing it as a career. Although he was unhappy in the early years when he was doing more traditional librarian work, he found his niche when he became more involved with career information areas, which made the work much more interesting to him.
Advice from a Professional. “This career is not just being around books; it’s really being around people much more,” Steve explained. “A lot of people think they might be a good candidate for a library job just because they like to be around books, but, actually, that’s exactly what’s not needed. There is probably a too high percentage of introverted people who are already in the library profession, as compared to the general population. We need more extroverted people.”
He found that many of the people working in libraries love their work. Through his seminars, he met many librarians who
truly enjoy their jobs but who would like to have more career development possibilities. He said that a librarian may plateau when there is not enough room for advancement,which should be taken into consideration when choosing this career.
Carol Jones—Technical Services Librarian
Carol Jones works at the Kline Science Library, one of many libraries at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. She has been a librarian for more than twenty years.
Technical services is a broad term that includes acquisitions and the cataloging and binding of materials. Carol explains that her position is very similar to working in a business; in her case, acquisitions means buying materials—books and electronic resources. The latter includes the many journals that are available in electronic format over the Internet, as opposed to being printed in hard-copy format.
The library’s budget for acquisitions is over $1 million, making this big business. Once materials are ordered, the staff has to see that they’re received and made available on the shelves. Since Carol’s position is administrative, she supervises four people, monitors budgets, writes policies and procedures, and trains staff. She also meets with vendors, works on problems, and serves on committees in the university library that work with a wide range of issues.
She also spends a good deal of time working with computers. The library has a local area network,with work stations for all staff members and for patrons. In addition to her own work, Carol coordinates the computer work for the five other science libraries at Yale.
“I like the detail of it and the business orientation of it,” she says. “I never really wanted to go into the corporate world. Academe does have nice benefits in terms of vacation time and a certain flexibility I think would be missing in a corporate setting.
“From what I’ve heard from friends who work in public libraries, I think I’d much prefer the university setting I’m in. The patrons are very different. The public libraries deal with current readings; they have children and adults with a real wide range of interests.We have students and faculty who are fairly focused.”
The job does include a considerable amount of pressure and stress, however, most of which comes from an increasing emphasis on downsizing, resource reallocation, and greater productivity with fewer people. In addition, rapidly changing technology makes it difficult to keep up with current advances.
Getting Started. Carol earned her B.A. in history from Kentucky Wesleyan and her M.L.S. from the University of Kentucky in Lexington in the School of Library and Information Science. She worked for nine years at the library at Kentucky Wesleyan, then went to Yale as a government documents librarian.
Her interest in library work began when she was an undergraduate. Carol started college later than most undergraduates, when she was already married and had three children. Her interest stemmed mainly from her own use of the library, but she didn’t pursue it until her last year of college, when she began working part-time in the library.
Part of her desire to work in a library was a love of books combined with an interest in publishing, information, and research. She also took some undergraduate classes in library science and found cataloging and organizing materials very interesting.
Also, on a practical level, working in a library offered Carol the opportunity for a career with flexibility, which was important because she had young children. She decided to get a master’s degree because she knew that was the only way to earn an acceptable salary.
Advice from a Professional. Carol feels that the increased availability of electronic resources will make the field of librarianship even more interesting and important. As information expands at an ever faster rate, librarians will be integral in making that information understandable and accessible to the people who need it. “It’s one thing to say everyone will have a computer and they’ll be able to do it all themselves,” she says. “But in actuality, someone who is familiar with the way the information is organized and how you can get at it is going to be crucial. And that someone is going to be a librarian. Knowledge of computers and information resources is absolutely essential. Subject expertise
and language expertise has always been useful, too, and it will be even more so in the future.”
John Fleckner—Chief Archivist
John Fleckner came to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in 1982 with more than a decade’s experience working as an archivist for the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. He is a past president of the Society of American Archivists and has acted as a consultant on many important archives projects, including the United Negro College Fund, the Vietnam History and Archives Project, and the Native American Archives Project.
“Archivists provide a service to society by identifying and preserving materials with lasting value for the future,” he explains. “When archivists talk about their work, they discuss certain basic functions that are common to all archives.”
John oversees a professional staff of twelve archivists, three student interns, and close to twenty volunteers. About 50 percent of his time is spent in supervision, and the rest covers identifying and acquiring materials, providing reference services, and handling administrative duties, such as meetings, budget, and personnel. He is also involved in outreach and public affairs.
The archives he is responsible for acquires collections from the outside and does not handle the records generated by the
museum. The collections cover a wide range of subjects and are particularly strong in the areas of American music, advertising, and the history of technology.He explains that, while each item in a library is a distinct entity evaluated separately from the others, in an archives, a single letter would usually be part of a larger collection of letters. Archivists are interested in these as a group because one letter would only be a fragment. To really understand something about the past, the information needs to be synthesized and put together to form a collection.
Getting Started. John graduated from Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, earning a B.A. with honors in history. He earned his M.A. in American history at the University of Wisconsin and also has completed significant work toward his Ph.D.
He attended graduate school with the idea of teaching collegelevel history, but he realized that he really didn’t want to teach. “I was so naive,” he says, “it took a university career counselor to recognize that my history background might be anything other than an economic liability.”
The counselor suggested that John look into a recently established graduate program in archives administration at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The program instructor would make no promises about the prospects for a job but did offer that all his previous students were working.
Once he began doing archival work, beginning with the simplest class exercises and then a formal internship, John was
hooked. He loved the combination of handicraft and analytical work, as well as the intense, intimate contact with the stuff of history. Before he completed his internship, he knew that he wanted to be an archivist.
He had done some research in archives as a graduate student, but he felt that the materials were antiseptically stored, boxed, and listed. He says, “Wheeled out on carts, they were like cadavers to be dissected by first-year medical students. On occasion, I even donned white gloves. The documents always seemed lifeless.
“Later, as a would-be archivist, they thrilled me. I was in charge; I would evaluate the significance of the materials, determine their order, describe their contents, and physically prepare them for their permanent resting places. Still, it was not so much this heady feeling of control that awed me as it was the mystery, the possibilities of the records themselves.My judgments would be critical to building paths to the records for generations of researchers, across the entire spectrum of topics, and into unknown future time.”
Working as an archivist holds another attraction for John. In addition to the opportunity to reconstruct the past captured in the documents and to imagine the future research they might support, he has a well-defined task to accomplish. He enjoys having a product to produce, techniques and methods for proceeding, and standards against which his work is judged. The rigor and discipline of the work appeals to him, and he thoroughly enjoys his job.
Advice from a Professional. People get into the archives profession in a variety of traditional and unusual ways. Often in a
small town, an archive is a closet in the back room of a local historical society’s office. Someone volunteers to put it all together and thus becomes the town’s archivist. But if you want to work in a professional, paid position, John recommends that you pursue either a degree in history with specific archives courses or a master’s degree in library science with courses in archives administration.