From lab bench to reference desk

So how did I get here? Well it wasn’t a road to nowhere, that’s for sure (apologies to Talking Heads). I never planned to become a librarian, which I think is a common experience for many librarians. In high school my main interest was in science, so I ended up studying chemistry as my undergraduate degree. This led to me working in an environmental laboratory as my first job, where I spent most of my time working in client services rather than in the lab itself. The skills I picked up in this role stood me in good stead later – dealing with stressed clients, entering samples into the laboratory management system (a bit like cataloguing, I guess), and managing competing tasks and deadlines.

After four years of working in the lab, I started thinking about whether it was time to move on to something different. There were some ownership and management changes within the company, and the lab would be relocating from Sydney to Newcastle. I would have been happy to make the move north, but I wasn’t sure if the job was still right for me. I’d been the Chairperson of Safety Committee, so I started thinking about a career shift towards OH&S. I also had librarianship in mind as another potential new career; I’d enjoyed using the library when I was studying and thought I wouldn’t mind working in one. In the end the deciding factor was the length of each of the courses – if I remember correctly it was three years for a Masters in OH&S, or two years for a Graduate Diploma in librarianship. I took the shorter option, which I think was definitely the right one.

I started the Grad Dip through Charles Sturt University in the middle of the year, and quit my job in the lab at the end of the year. I didn’t have a job to go, but hoped for the best. Early in the year I applied for a job as a Shelver at Macquarie University Library (MUL). It was only part-time (20 hours a week), so I figured I’d have time to study as well. I was offered the job, and my career in libraries had begun.

I spent the next 12 years at MUL, and I feel very fortunate to have worked there. Most of that time was spent working as a Liaison Librarian for the Faculty of Science, although I had the opportunity to work in a range of different roles. I got to the point in my career that I did by saying “Yes, I think I can do that” if an opportunity presented itself. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, but I had to make the decision to try something new.

That’s what led me to the next phase of my career. I felt that I needed a change of scene, and when a job came up at a nearby hospital library, I applied for it and got it. I’ve been able to use some of the skills I developed from working in an academic library, such as supporting EndNote and database searching, as well as learning new ones, such as e-resource management.

One thing that has allowed me to get to where I am now is a supportive leadership team. I have been lucky to work in two libraries where my team leaders and managers have always encouraged me to apply for secondments or new positions, or to present at conferences. They have also been open to suggestions for new services that the library could offer, and for trying new things. Unfortunately this isn’t the case in all libraries, so I do count myself as fortunate to have been in this position.

So that’s my story of how I got here. It’s not the most dramatic or exciting path, but it has worked for me. I’m glad I made the choice to become a librarian, and I think I’ll be working in libraries for a while yet.