Jul 01 2003
by Dave Hook
With an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and a graduate degree in library and information science, I often get asked why I made the switch from engineering to librarianship.
Well, it all began at the start of my fourth year of engineering school. I had just finished my sixth and final co-operative work term and was starting to wonder if mechanical engineering was really what I wanted to do. I had enjoyed my work terms, but was starting to wonder if there was something else out there that would appeal to me more. I had a housemate that was going through the same thing who had gone to see a guidance counselor and come back with the results of his interest test. I figured that was something that I should try, so I made an appointment to take the tests myself.
Putting Myself to the Test
The first one I took was the “Strong Interest” test that compares your interests with those in a wide range of professions who enjoy their jobs and are successful at what they do. I was put in a room with about thirty others all taking the same test. The first thing we did was to go around the room and introduce ourselves, and explain why we were there. Well, I was the first to go, and I was a little embarrassed to say that I was in the fourth year of a professional degree program and just starting to figure out what I really wanted to do. To my surprise, however, most people in the room were also in the fourth year of their programs, and going through the same questioning experience as I was.
So, a week later, I got my results back. The test showed that I had a below-average interest in mechanical engineering. There were several careers that I had an above-average interest in, but the highest one was “librarian.”
The next test was the Myers-Briggs test, which re-confirmed that my interests also match those that are popular among successful professional librarians.
At the time, I had very little knowledge of what a librarian actually did. To my knowledge, all they did was sign out books and check people’s knapsacks to make sure they weren’t stealing anything. Fortunately, I had another housemate who actually knew what a librarian did and corrected my image of librarianship. I could start to see how the career would interest me and how I might be somewhat good at it.
I made an appointment for a one-on-one session with a guidance counselor. She had a look at my test results, and, after discussing various career options she commented that I was interested in a lot of different things, and that it would be a waste for me to end up in a career that I didn’t like.
I decided to first finish my engineering degree - I had come this far, I figured I’d at least finish before trying something new. I also decided that I’d give working in the field a try before moving on to something else.
Making the Switch
After working a few years as en engineer, however, I started finding that I wasn’t enjoying my job and that it was time to make a change. Interestingly enough, the part of my job that interested me the most was when I was working with information - gathering it and organizing it. That got me thinking about library & information science, and I started looking into various graduate programs. At the time I was renting an apartment and wasn’t married, so I didn’t have any connections to hold me back. The time was right, so I went back to school to get my master’s degree.
Once I graduated from library school, I managed to land a job working as an engineering librarian for MD Robotics Ltd. in Brampton, Ontario, manufacturers of the space shuttle’s Canadarm and the international space station’s Canadarm2. I am very fortunate to have a job that makes use of both my undergraduate and graduate degrees.
The Right Choice
As an engineering librarian, I find having an engineering degree very helpful - for several reasons. It is much easier to communicate with your library users, as you can both speak the same “language.” Library users also give you more respect, and are not afraid of asking more detailed reference questions. Finally, with an engineering background, you can do more in-depth research and better filter and tailor your search results.
So, how do I know that I made the right career choice by switching to librarianship? Well, for one, I enjoy what I’m doing much more than I did before. I’ve always considered it to be a measure of success if you’ve managed to find a job that you truly love to do. I find that my work brings out my best energies as opposed to being just something to fill the time.
I also find that I’m a lot more connected with the profession of librarianship than I was with engineering. I put more energy toward professional development and the library community. I don’t mind putting the extra hour or two at work and I’m much more likely to pick up a book on librarianship than one on engineering. I feel that I have more to offer as an engineering librarian. Instead of being one of many mechanical engineers, I can be an engineering librarian, with a combination of degrees that is not all that common.
So what have I learned from my career choice experiences? For one thing, I learned that it is important to know yourself, what you enjoy doing, and what you are good at. If I had never taken those interest surveys, I would never have discovered this profession. The most important thing that I learned, however, is that as long as you are doing what you love, you will be successful.
Dave Hook has a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Waterloo and a Master’s of Information Studies from the University of Toronto. He is currently the Business Research Supervisor at MD Robotics Ltd. in Brampton, Ontario, where he is responsible for the company’s library and intranet and supports research in the organization.
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