“Find something you are passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it” – Julia Child
- What is your current job title and how did you decide on this career choice?
My name is Emily Meehan and I am the Educational Services Librarian at Shasta Public Libraries. I’m stationed at the main Redding Branch, but my position has me all over the place! I’ve worked in libraries since I was in middle school, but I guess you could say I’ve been “in the field” for a little more than two years. However, I’ve only held my current position for three months.
I’ve always loved libraries and books, but I actually started my Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) thinking I would go into museum preservation or archives. When I was getting my BA in history, I discovered that historians get to do research with incredibly old and unique materials that I loved to geek out over (for instance, I had a job once where I worked in a library that had original manuscripts of Oscar Wilde’s works and then another library where I worked with music magazines from Soviet Russia). However, I quickly learned that I would rather not do the research myself, but facilitate others’ research by helping them access these old and awesome resources. So after I graduated from UC Berkeley with a history degree, I went straight to UCLA to do my MLIS and become an archivist.
After I started, I decided to take a class on contemporary children’s literature, because why not? And suddenly, I wanted to be a children’s librarian. Actually, it wasn’t that quick, but I had previously held a few positions in archives or rare books libraries and decided it was a little more isolated and antisocial than I wanted my job to be. I wanted to be out in the public, making a physical difference in lives by promoting reading. And who wouldn’t want a job where you get paid to read children’s books?
As for how I got to my current position at Shasta Public Libraries, I spent a lot of time at UCLA thinking about what public libraries can do to help the schools in their community and how the two could collaborate to improve K-12 education. When I saw the opportunity to have a direct impact on that as an educational services librarian in Redding, I jumped at it. I interviewed and they must have liked me, because here I am!
- What types of qualities are important for this career choice?
It sometimes varies among libraries or with the type of librarian you want to be, but for the most part, employers in the library world today want their employees to have a very creative and innovative mind. Library services are constantly expanding or changing to meet their community’s needs and it’s common now to think of your public library as a place that has so much more than books. Librarians need to be able to be in touch with their community and think outside the box in order to come up with ways to serve their patrons better.
3. What is a typical day or week in your position like? What exactly do you do?
The good thing about my job is that there is no “typical day.” Every day is different – I could be in my office most of the day contacting people about our library’s educational resources and establishing good connections between schools and the library, I could be assigned to work at the public reference desk for a few hours (my favorite is in the children’s department), or I could be out and about Shasta County going to different schools or outreach events to promote the library. I’m also developing presentations and trainings to take to schools to show exactly how to use all of our online resources – I’ve scheduled a few now that school is back in session. All of this keeps my job really interesting!
- What areas of study would you suggest for kids interested in your field? What path would you suggest?
I don’t think there is one particular topic you need to be interested in to be a librarian. When I was in grad school, I knew people with a variety of different bachelors degrees – English, history, economics, anthropology, theater, engineering. The amazing thing about librarians is that they are simply interested in information as a whole. They are interested in learning. Most importantly, they want to help others learn more.
- What is one piece of advice you would give to someone interested in your field?
As a public librarian, you need to be prepared to work with the public. Many people think of librarians as quiet, closed off, and working in solitude. There are certain libraries like that, but this is not so in the public library. You constantly interact with all forms of public citizenry, from the great to not-so-great. The public library does not discriminate and serves all. Having a job with a large customer service aspect is a great way to gain experience and prepare for this.
6.What is one myth buster you would like to share about your field?
I embody a few librarian stereotypes. I wear large chunky glasses and my hair in a bun, I don’t have a cat but am planning on getting one soon, and I read like there’s no tomorrow. However, one librarian stereotype that I don’t like is the cranky old woman that is constantly shushing people in the library. Librarians today are far from that. Yes, we do want you to be respectful of others in the library and we will monitor noise, but we like to think we do so politely.
- Did you take a linear path to get here? If not, what were some pivotal points that changed your direction?
I was fortunate in that my path to my career was fairly linear because I was able to figure out early on exactly what I wanted to do. I knew from my first year at college I wanted to be a history major, and I left knowing I was going to go to library school. Like I said earlier, I did change from wanting to work in museums to public libraries, but I could pursue both at the same school, so it wasn’t a huge change.
This has all happened really fast. I didn’t take any extended breaks in between school. But I knew plenty of people at UCLA that did. I was friends with people who were near or over 30, for many of which the MLIS was their second masters degree or were still struggling to figure out what they were going to do as a career. So my path was linear, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same for everybody. And who knows? I’m still very young and may go through some mid-life crisis way down the line and discover a completely new career I want to pursue!
One thing that could have made me sacrifice my current job was “life.” Life happens. Sometimes things or people will come into your life, for better or for worse, and make you rethink things. I had a few of these things happen when I was deciding whether to move so far away to take my current job. I’ve been focused on myself and my career for most of my life without anything in my way. When something comes along to alter that, it’s hard to let go of all your hard work. I think it’s important to keep “life” in mind; that may lead to making certain sacrifices, but at the same time, you have worked hard to get to a certain point. You’re allowed to think of what is best for you and continue your personal and professional journey.
- What personal qualities have helped you succeed in your career?
I have always been a very determined and focused person. I like to set a goal and attain it. If I fail, I reevaluate my approach or my goal and try again.
- What do you most enjoy about your career?
The kids! What else? It brings me such joy to see kids come into the library and be inspired. It is so fulfilling to know that you’ve made a positive difference in children’s lives by simply talking to them about books and encouraging a love for reading.
- What kind of work experience as a student would be the most beneficial for this career?
Any customer service experience is definitely helpful. You can also volunteer at your local library and know what goes on behind the scenes. At the Redding Library we have a strong Teen Advisory Board that plans teen programs and is able to express opinions on how they want to see their library serve them.
- What education or training is required, if any, to reach your position?
Typically, you need a Masters of Library and Information Science to become a librarian. Depending on the school, this can take from one to three years.
- If you weren’t in this career field, what other career would you be interested in? and why?
When I was in high school, I played clarinet and was pretty good. I really wanted to become a concert clarinetist, but I discovered by joining other larger groups that I wasn’t as good at others. I’m not a competitive person by nature, and didn’t want to make a career out of competing for rare positions in symphonies, especially when I had a lot of work to do to get to their level. It didn’t seem like a very stable career and to be honest, the money isn’t great as a musician. I still love music and play often without the pressure of career, but I do miss performing with a larger ensemble.