Why do we become librarians?

Okay, how about an audience participation post for the new year?

When I tell people about this blog, I generally start with some contextual information on my motives for blogging at SJL, such as:

I came to library school believing that information work was essential for a just society and that libraries were in a strong position to serve large portions of the community.

I have been fortunate to find what I refer to as my “librarian kindred” – those who approach the profession with similar ideals and live/work in a way that furthers these goals of human rights, true democracy and social justice.

However, I have also been disappointed – first to find so little discussion of or emphasis placed on such ideals in my MLIS program. And since grad school, I have frequently wished there were more discussion of rights & justice issues in the professional library world as I have experienced it.

There is so much “niceness” that I occasionally despair about our ability to effectively confront issues – particularly those in which we ourselves are perpetuating the problem. So I started this blog, in hopes of stirring up some more of this discussion I have been hungering for.

Already, I have received several responses along the lines of:

Oh, how great – that’s why I went into librarianship too!

This has been quite heartening. I am not foolish enough, however, to be deceived by my own self-selected social/professional circle. I know many librarians out there did not come to library school with such starry-eyed idealism, and further am aware that the goals one holds when entering a grad program do not always correlate with those of those of the same librarian a few (or many) years down the pike and on the job.

When I think back to my first weeks of library school (just a few years ago), I remember some people purporting to have idealistic and lofty goals, some people coming for a secure profession, some people needing the MLIS to keep their job or get promoted after decades of library work, and others who just really liked books – or computers.

Why did you go to library school (or why didn’t you, if you didn’t)? How does or doesn’t that reason connect with the motivation for your current work?

No, I really want to know! Leave a comment with your original LIS motivations…and how they match up with what you work for today.




Filed under LIS education, The Profession

9 responses to “Why do we become librarians?

  1. i was drawn to library school from working in feminist libraries and learning about feminist (and other) critiques of cataloging subject headings. Hope Olsen and Sanford Berman were my heros before library school.

    i found the LIS education demoralizing because of the attitudes of many classmates and educators. i don’t think that information and services are value neutral. i also think that one can use technology to work towards socially progressive ends.

    is this the perpetual conversation as we work in librarianship now? call me anytime you are feeling apathetic and abivalent, k?

  2. I was sent here by a friend of mine to log in my thoughts.


    I have to admit that I had no lofty goals or ideals when it came to my latest career choice. I was looking for a functional degree: in which I was interested in the subject matter, that could add new skill sets that would increase my value to my employer at the time (a non-profit research institute), that wouldn’t bore me to tears like other programs I had researched/started, and that could be applied in various venues and fields in the event the funding stream at the institute ever trickled off. It also seemed like a good fit for me personally, and lord knows that’s a rare find for me!

  3. larissa

    My hub says he went for his MLS because the library he already worked for would pay for him to go. Free masters degree! W00T!

    He still doesn’t technically use his MLS for his job (he is a special collections cataloguer, which is not technically a Librarian position) actually.

  4. Diana

    I am not a librarian, but I do have an MLS program application packet in my in-box right now.

    I love my idea of me as a librarian: finding resources for people–and thus learning something new myself; talking to people; listening to questions people are pondering; ordering and processing books; reading and researching; keeping things organized and logical . . .

    I haven’t filled out the application, though, because I have another career path calling to me. If I thought I could do both, I would be perfectly happy to try.

  5. Martha

    To be honest, I decided to become a librarian so that I could get a reasonably interesting job that paid enough so that I would have the time and energy to make art.

    I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I was much more interested in librarianship than I expected. Aside from my interest in learning and my obsesiveness about organizing stuff, as a librarian I would be able to be work on improving access to information as a way to work on social justice.

    Within the first week in library school I had also found amazing people willing to question and get involved (like Greyson) that more than compensated for all the cynism and conformism that I encountered.

  6. Catherine

    I became a librarian, because I have always wanted to be a librarian: I have always read voraciously, I have always found libraries the most comfortable space to be, I have often worked in libraries.
    Not being independently wealthy, I need something that both ftf and fts (feeds the family and soul).

    On reflection, I found that I am not really suited to be ‘a librarian’ in the common sense of the word, to work within an institutional space, or within a hierarchical organization. But I have no desire to tear down those institutions and organizations.
    Societies need libraries to exist – as repositories of common knowledge, as teaching and learning spaces, as firm ground on which to stand while shifting the universe.

    So I went to library school to attain a familiar title/designation/credential which would give me an entrance point to the people I wanted to talk to, and the institutions I wanted to deal with, and to find where I should be looking next.
    I went for welcome and for status – some of which I found. It was neither good nor bad, there were compatible people and incompatible people, the courses were and were not what I needed them to be. It was a good enough decision. And there were enough moments of grace and interesting people to make it worthwhile.

  7. Michelle

    I became a librarian because I wanted to be part of an industry/environment that helped people access information and knowledge. I wanted to do something I could be proud of, that did not have any dirty dealings involved.

  8. Mallory

    I want to become a librarian because of that same starry eyed idealism you speak of; to live in a society complete with every thing you would ever want to know being accessible, I am so sick of going to friends’ houses and ending up watching television. I am sick of people’s main goals of the day being to catch up on the lives of people whom they have never and will never meet. I want to find a niche in the world of librarianship where people understand what really is important and that making yourself a better person should really be your main goal of the day.
    I am about to start applying to schools for my master’s degree. If anyone has any advice for me during this time, please let me know.!

  9. greyson

    Hi Mallory – Thanks for your comment on an old post! I can tell you what my mentor told me when I was thinking of applying to library school. She said:
    1) Go somewhere ALA accredited (if you plan to work in the US/Canada)
    2) Go somewhere you wouldn’t mind living (for at least 2 yrs, maybe longer)
    3) Go somewhere that won’t break the bank, if possible (no one wants to be in huge debt for a 2-yr degree!)
    Good luck!

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