How Our Past Impacts Our Present: Where do Info Pros Come From?

I’m working on finalizing a super awesome project (TBA soon), and it has gotten me to thinking about the different ways my haphazard professional past has actually worked to my benefit as an academic. I’ve also been wondering how other information professionals’ pasts have impacted either the decision to enter the field or have proved beneficial once a library (or academic, or whatever) job has been landed. How have your experiences shaped who you are as a LIS professional? What experience do you think everyone should have?

A bit about my background
I won’t go too in depth here, but this is a (very) brief overview: I grew up in Boulder, CO, and moved to Iowa for school. I originally went to college for art, changing my mind after a year to Psychology  so I could do victim’s advocacy at a rape crisis team. While getting my BA, I went to one private college, one community college, and one state university. I applied to school for PhDs in Psychology after I got my BA, but didn’t get in to any of them. During my undergrad years, I worked in a cafeteria, a call center, managed a convenience store, and got a job driving buses, and took a couple breaks/part-time semesters (meaning that the degree took 2x longer to get than people say it’s “supposed” to). I took a break after school and flip-flopped between working as an assistant manager at a yummy coffeehouse/eatery/bakery, and driving buses. When I went back to school, it was to get my Master’s in Library & Information Science and my Center for the Book certificate, although I still worked driving buses (except for a 6 month medical leave that was filled with unpleasantness) and in the state historical society. Before I moved here to start my PhD, I spent my last summer (sniffle) driving buses. Now I work as a teaching assistant in my department!

Crossover skills
Putting up with stressful situations/unpleasant people: I firmly believe that everyone should spend at least a year working in the service industry. Not only does it help you appreciate the complexity and sometimes stressful environments that go with service industry jobs, but it makes you more likely to be pleasant to the people you encounter in restaurants/on buses/whatever, and to be calm under stress (being slammed during lunch rush, driving a bus in a blizzard, etc.). After spending some more time in the academy, I’ve recognized the value in staying calm and focused in that environment too. The people I encounter in school are all awesome (and most of the customers I had in my old life were awesome, or at least just fine, too), but I still feel the stress of having an article rejected or somehow being told my work isn’t what it should be. I doubt I would explode on anyone or crumple into a heap without my service industry background, but it definitely makes it easier to recognize that work-related unpleasantness is temporary and to take it in stride.

Remaining interdisciplinary: One of the biggest bonuses of having a patchwork background is that it keeps my mindset broad. Focusing to an extent is good, but if I can’t see the forest beyond the one tree I’m studying, my work isn’t going to be nearly as interesting (for myself or for my poor committee who will be subjected to reading it). It also allows me to draw connections I would not have thought of otherwise–almost every article I read on information seeking reminds me of my customers.

Trying new things: This was something the fine folks at Cambus helped me get better at. I’ve always loved to try new things, but after working there, I found it even easier to say “I want to try doing that thing” and then actually go do it. I applied for the job on a whim: I was broke and needed money, but I wasn’t expecting that they would actually hire me (especially when I almost fell backwards out of my chair during my interview). But they did, and I found out I really loved it. That mindset is how I decided to try my hand at grad school, how I decided to take a class in “Circus Activities” this fall, and how I decided I want to spend much more time traveling (a goal I’m still working on).

Keeping up with hobbies and enjoying down time: Sometimes, I really miss my service industry jobs. I miss making coffee and food for people, I miss spontaneous conversations with whoever walks in, and I miss driving buses. I don’t doubt that I made the right career choice, but my yearning for an environment where I’m being creative with food makes it easy for me to find the time to actually engage in those activities (i.e. having a hobby, something that can easily get lost as a PhD student). That’s not to say I don’t get my work done–I work more hours as a PhD student than I ever did in the industry, but I’m getting a little better at maintaining a work-life balance. I also love keeping in touch with my friends outside of libraryland and academia not only because I have *incredible* friends, but because it gives me the chance to talk with people about something besides school/work. Not becoming too insular (and losing touch with people outside of our discipline, which would be most of the people in my life) is always a good thing.

This is probably an incomplete list, but I want to get feedback from my friends in libraryland/service industry/the academy/etc. What unexpected skills did I miss? What experiences have you had?


6 Replies to “How Our Past Impacts Our Present: Where do Info Pros Come From?”

  1. I think the skillset that is really starting to stand out as I get closer to graduation from the MLIS program at FSU and start working in the field is my project management experience. Like you I have a ton of other work skills that are useful, from my time in tech help desk to retail work to journalism — each has given me something I carry to this day — but project management seems to be one area where I have something to offer that the field doesn’t have in abundance. Working as a project manager in the private sector is a hard lesson in learning to assess resources (both material and staff), develop projections, and deal with unpredictable variables while having to answer for every penny, minute, and paperclip. I hope to bring that to my new career in a way that will benefit me and those I work for or who are my clients. …we’ll see!

    1. I think the fact that you’re thinking about how your experience can work in to your new job will be a huge benefit! I haven’t done project management, but it sounds like there’s a lot of overlap. It’s nice to have some skills to offer that other people might not have!

    1. Hooray!! I feel like if you’re going to be new in a field, LIS is the best one because what we do relates to everything!

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