Low-down science library paraprofessional blues
January 15, 2012 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Does my experience as a non-librarian employee in a medical library qualify me for any other type of work beyond librarianship?

I work as a paraprofessional in a medical library. I am deeply ambivalent about becoming a librarian--I think it would be a suitable career for me, but I'm not sure the return on the MLIS investment plus whatever hoops I'd have to jump through to find a job (e.g. moving/years as a degreed paraprofessional) would be worth it.

That said, this is the first time in my adult life that I've ever had full benefits, and the first time I've ever reliably made $25,000/year (my nominal wages have been higher than this in the past but always as a temp, 1099 or seasonal employee). I also love my day-to-day duties, and feel deep satisfaction being able to help our patrons navigate the library's resources, many of which are online and opaque even to their intended audience.

But, but. I moved to a large, fairly expensive city to take this job, and financially I'm not really doing more than treading water. Only ~3% of my gross income is going to my 403(b) and I'm only making nominal (income-based) payments on my substantial student loans. I live frugally but I'm aware that sooner or later this job probably won't be enough--I don't think there's any possibility that I will be promoted or even given a raise beyond 20ยข/year cost-of-living adjustments. I don't have an emergency fund, my student loans aren't getting smaller, and I'm barely saving for retirement, two roommate living situations are harder to find as I get older, I need some expensive dental work, etc.

My immediate concern is that this job is essentially going to be another dead spot on my resume if I don't become a librarian, and, worse, I'm not learning any skills or accruing any experience that could help me into a career.

A couple of other points:

1. I have a bachelors degree in a science, but not one that qualifies me for anything in particular.
2. I'm in my mid-thirties.
3. I don't have any idea what I would like to do/what my ideal job would be, and this is not likely to change.
4. I've been in my current job for about two years.
5. Unfortunately, there isn't an IT component to my position and there is no real opportunity for me to take on that type of responsibility. There's someone else in that role, and that kind of thing is both Above My Paygrade and Outside of My Bailiwick.

So, what could my exit strategy be? Ideally, there is a logical move I could make based on my (generally good) current situation. I understand that reasonable people disagree about whether librarianship is a reasonable career choice, so feel free to make your case.

Should I give up the stability of this job for more temp work, with a broader range of duties and a chance at a toehold in a(n unknown) career? Do I need to overcome my fear of the enormous cost and stress of an advanced degree, MLIS or otherwise? Do I need to reconsider my move to the expensive city and pull up stakes for somewhere more affordable?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you talked with your immediate supervisor(s)? Not about leaving for a different job, but on taking more or newer responsibilities or picking up additional work-related skills. They may have ideas on things you could do that will broaden your skillset.

You can also teach yourself IT knowledge on your own.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:23 PM on January 15, 2012

Have you considred a career in records management? There is a lot of agony and optimism that comes with the library world. I am a library technician and can't make a dent in the library world. It's tough when you are not quite qualified for a job or payscale.

I would check out a local chapter of ARMA International - http://www.arma.org. ARMA folks love to share and help other professionals regardless of education or work experience. They are a very fun group of people and helped me decide to take the plunge into the world of records management. It's not just about filing! In fact, it covers a spectrum that ranges from privacy to more technical aspects such as content management. Information governance is pretty essential these days. There are a lot of RM programs offered as a 2 year diploma program depending where you live.

I have found a lot of success in records management. Before I went back to school, I was making $55k Cdn as a picture cataloguer. Managerial jobs in the records field can go over $100K Cdn. There are a lot more RM jobs than library ones out there as well. I always seem to pop into these threads doing my "Rah rah records management!" but it is often an invisible industry. Good luck!!
posted by Calzephyr at 9:00 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Former academic librarian here. A nice thing about libraries is that just about all kinds of work takes place in them -- customer relations, IT, accounting, marketing, marketing research, training, purchasing, technical writing, research, grant writing and more. So, I don't think you're entirely correct when you say that the only career trajectory this job offers you is librarianship. I think you should talk to your supervisor, but don't go there asking for "more responsibility." Instead, come up with an interesting project and a plan for accomplishing it along with your current responsibilities. Here are some project ideas: user surveys, orientations for underserved patrons (are the nurses getting enough attention?), research guides, anything that helps those resources be less opaque. Read the medical library literature for more ideas. This would be much better, in my opinion, than taking pot luck with temp jobs.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:07 PM on January 15, 2012

I came here to write what Calzephyr already wrote, so +1 on RM. Pays better, better work, and so on...
posted by Blake at 4:57 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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