Jul 01 2003

Pursuing A Lifelong Goal

Published by rachel at 1:26 pm under careers, prioritization

by Shelley Walchak

What is the inspiration behind the goals we set and achieve for ourselves? Some would say it is the influence of our parents. Others would argue it is our educational path. Or, perhaps our achievements are a result of an innate, inborn drive.

The answer to this question is most likely a combination of all of the above factors. Whatever the inspiration, though, there is a vast difference in the goals people set for themselves as well as the ability to actually pursue them.

Sometimes life just gets in the way of staying focused on our goals. For example, you have to move somewhere for a spouse’s job; you have a child who demands extra care; you arrive at a certain salary level and are loath your position; you age and become more complacent; or sometimes you end up doing a job for so long that you get pigeonholed or stereotyped, and new employers will just not consider you for a new position. For some people, though, all of these obstacles are surmountable. I am someone who has remained stubbornly committed to my goals, and this article aims to provide inspiration to those who need motivation to move forward and achieve their own goals.

Setting Early Goals

I knew I wanted to continue my education after college, but my undergraduate work in French and philosophy did not lead me down any obvious path. Spending time in libraries had always left me both inspired and at peace, so I applied and was accepted to library school at Wayne State University in Detroit. My coursework made me feel so empowered.

At a very early point in the program, I decided I wanted to work in all four kinds of libraries (school, academic, public and special) with the ultimate goal of finding myself in a position to influence the future of libraries, supported by my broad-based experience. This is a goal that has stayed with me for 25 years. I believe this early decision has been an underlying force behind many of the rest of the decisions in my life.

My first library job was at the former Burroughs Corporation as an Information Specialist. This was a well-paying job (close to what I’m making as an academic librarian 25 years later!) and a highly energized work environment. Executive office requests had to be answered within 20 minutes, and it was exciting using LexisNexis and Dialog for information retrieval back in those trend-setting days. Working in such a specialized library had its benefits, but there were also downfalls. The most obvious was that the research steps were often repetitive, making the job seem routine after a short period of time.

Knowing When to Move On

By this time I had two children who were starting school. I decided this was the perfect time for me to try working at a school library. My first obstacle was that I didn’t have the state credentials for a public school position. So, I found work at a private school - where state credentials were not required. I ended up working at this school for 14 years, knowing that I had made a difference in someone’s life every day. Talk about job satisfaction! In the meantime, I chipped away at my next degree, one course at a time, to fulfill the state requirements for a teaching certificate and a library/media specialist endorsement. I ended up with an additional 60 credit hours after my MSLS. I’ll never forget the semester I had to student teach, because I also kept the responsibilities of my regular job and was a single mom with two children.

At the same time, I took a part-time job as a substitute librarian at my public library. It was a great opportunity to work in a vital and state-of-the-art library that was well supported by the community. I worked at the reference desk in the children’s department, which helped to point out the differences between public and school librarianship. In school libraries, you are EVERYTHING: the reference librarian, the cataloger, the head of circulation, the director, the head of acquisitions, the outreach librarian, the instructional librarian, the storyteller, the clerk, the shelver, etc. The qualifications of a school library/media specialist (L/MS) are truly phenomenal. It is interesting, as I later found out, that others in the library profession do not always understand just how multi-dimensional and talented an L/MS must be!

Keeping Your Eye on Your Goals

As I tried to break into my last frontier of libraries, academic, I discovered that the prevailing philosophy was “once a school librarian, always a school librarian.” I started to wonder if I had stayed too long in my school library job. Fortunately, a small, public, four-year liberal arts college in southwest Colorado was willing to take a chance on me. Given the opportunity to pursue my goals and live in Colorado, I quit my job, packed up everything, and left within a seven-week period for half the pay! It’s been an exhilarating 18 months now, and I would never turn back. The job is challenging, and I’m learning every day, but I certainly feel qualified in every way.

Although I’m Head of Circulation and ILL lending, my job is not limited to one service point in the library. I’m also doing reference deskwork, facilitating collection development with an academic department and teaching courses in information literacy. Of course, there are some trade-offs. Academic library jobs are often twelve-month appointments, and, in general, they don’t pay as well as school library jobs. But, the teaching and reference work are very challenging, and managing people is very rewarding.

So, think about those early goals you set for yourself. Are they still within reach? Did they get sidetracked for some reason? Are you ready to refocus? Perhaps your goals are already being satisfied - bravo! However, if your inclination is to try other venues and seek other horizons, let it be known! It can be done, and it’s so satisfying.

Shelley was born and raised outside of New York City. She’s lived and worked in libraries in Utah, Michigan and Colorado. She’s happiest in the mountains camping with her husband, her high school sweetheart!

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