Sometimes a simple thing happens that makes you realize what you should have done. One day at the library, I was reshelving books that had been left out. There were a lot of them. Messy people, I thought, can’t even put back the books they take out to look at. Before too long fortunately, I noticed a sign: “Please do not reshelve books. Survey of book usage in progress.” Uh-oh. I quickly unshelved those I could remember reshelving.
That day I acknowledged my inner librarian. I have loved libraries, small and large, for almost as long as I can remember. I now wish I’d taken Library Science at university. I am not sorry I took Anthropology but had I combined that with Library Science I’d have had, for me I think, a perfect combination.
Anthropology provides wonderful tools for looking at the world, and it’s relatively marketable. I think any government or social services position would be improved by having someone with an anthropology degree in it. In real life, however, its direct connection to job requirements is usually as “a degree in social sciences.” But that’s enough, it gets you in the door. But it won’t get you a librarian job.
As an Anthropology student, I could have focused on archival research methods. That would have taught me, by experience, the nuts and bolts of libraries, archives and museums. Ironically, historical research has been the largest part of my work. But, in university, that did not seem as glamorous as ethnographic fieldwork. So, despite the appeal of libraries to me, I didn’t think to put the two interests together within Anthropology or in studying both.
I love anthropology and it’s stood me in good stead. But I love the smell and feel of libraries. I love looking through bookshelves and card catalogues, but I’m always curious about what goes on behind them. How do the books get processed and on the shelves? How are decisions made about what books and periodicals are bought? How does the Dewey Decimal System really work? How has library work changed in the digital era? People who have studied Library Science know all this.
Librarians are both the gatekeepers and the engineers of the worlds of knowledge. They let you in and they stream the supply to their shelves. They, with teachers, are children’s first encounter with literacy outside the home. And maybe I’ve been lucky but I’ve never met a librarian who made me think, “wow, you’d be happier in another line of work.” Maybe that’s due to being a daily part of so many wonderful worlds of art and fact.
So to those in or thinking about undergrad programmes or graduate school: don’t discount social science and liberal arts disciplines that appear to have no job market relevance. They all do, at least indirectly. And, most importantly, they teach you to think. Without that ability, any degree or qualification is of limited use. But don’t discount the practical career-directed degree either. If I had it to do all over again, I’d have both Library Science and Anthropology degrees.