In the winter of 2010, I was working as the Librarian and Archivist at LCMSDS and completing a dissertation under Geoff Hayes at the University of Waterloo. As I entered into the final stages of the PhD process, the question of “what comes next” started to loom in my mind. I started to look for employment, with a degree of trepidation. The real world was here.
The job market during the winter months of 2010 did not give cause for optimism. The economic situation for universities was bleak. I had hoped to become a history librarian in an academic library, but universities across the country had slashed library budgets, which meant fewer positions. Mass applications ensued. It was frustrating to discover that even if a university advertised a position, many were subject to budgetary approval. Several positions were withdrawn after I invested the time and effort towards compiling the application. This was hardly an inspiring environment, but it was the reality.
In the middle of July, I heard from one of the universities I had applied to – the Memorial University of Newfoundland. I knew a bit about the university and the province, but I had never been there. I was interviewing for the history liaison librarian position. Maybe luck was on my side after all. From here, things moved quickly. Two weeks after the interview, I was offered the position. I was ecstatic. My start date was set; with ten years of graduate work and counting, I was off to the edge of the Atlantic. Within a few weeks, I transferred my responsibilities at LCMSDS to Caitlin McWilliams, spent a week enjoying the sights of Lake Superior, ate at what seemed like every Boston Pizza between Sault Ste Marie and St John’s, and started working at the largest library in Atlantic Canada. It was a busy few weeks, but the transition from the student life to a librarian in an academic library has been somewhat unexpected. There are more similarities than one might think.
Starting an academic career in September is very similar to starting a new degree. I had a nine week training period where I learned about information sources that I hadn’t used since my undergraduate days. Web of Science, Compendex, Scopus; things had changed over the years, and I needed a refresher. I even had homework – learning about StatsCAN and government information services. I also had to get a sense of my surroundings, learn about the process of a new library and a new university. I lined up to get my “student” card, worried about getting a parking pass, found the school gym, and filled out information at payroll and Human Resources. Even though I was approaching the new academic year with a different focus, all of this was familiar territory.
As November approached, my day to day routine started to feel more like that of a “Librarian” and less like a “student”. I started to meet with faculty, purchase books, work at the reference desk, and started committee work. The transition to this type of work has been gradual, but I feel like I was well-prepared. LCMSDS has always had a great deal going on – lectures, projects, publications, book orders, conferences – there was always a long list of activities. Librarians function in much the same way – projects in the library, professional associations and conferences, lectures, webinars and committees. In one of my first few weeks here, I discovered that the Atlantic Provinces Library Association 2011 conference was being held in St. John’s. The organizer, who sits across from me in the Information Services office, quickly informed me that I would make a great volunteer coordinator. Happy to be involved, I am already drawing on my organizational skills, honed over several years of assisting with the annual Military Colloquium and the speaker series.
Graduate students know that the real world consists of meetings, and committee work, and professional development activities, but it is within the framework of the idyllic concept we create during long hours of marking. The reality is that there are always projects, committees and meetings, which can easily consume your day. The hours devoted to marking become hours spent ensuring that projects are completed, documents are edited, books are purchased, and reading relevant literature. For me, this did not come as a significant surprise – I was never really convinced of the idea that once I graduated, I would find a career that ends at 5pm, when you walk out the door. Nor did I especially want one. I enjoy the fact that I can put my feet up in the evening now and then, but I enjoy challenges. And most good challenges can’t keep time.
It was also reassuring that upon starting this position, I did not have to abandon my own research interests. With my background on public records and research experience at the Centre, my mentor encouraged me to present to the librarians on Archival research. So at this year’s library research fair, I highlighted the wonders of the Borden and King diaries, maps of Vimy Ridge and the file structure of RG 24 to the librarians and archivists at the University. In the history environment, we learn how to navigate the primary resources to serve our ends. Sharing this information with the librarians at the university will benefit undergraduate and graduate students diving into primary document research for the first time.
The transition to the real world usually refers specifically to the professional arena. However, starting my career involved moving to the East Coast, and this geographic location has a profound influence on my role in the library. Newfoundland has a very distinct culture and history. As the province’s largest library, the Queen Elizabeth II Library and Archives, including the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, tends to be the first stop for Newfoundland research. As someone who “comes from away”, I found myself with little knowledge of this provinces rich heritage.
I needed to learn more about my new community, so I started to seek out the St. John’s equivalent of the LCMSDS speaker series. The Newfoundland Historical Society, the Wessex Society, and lectures at the library itself have presented valuable opportunities to learn about the history of the province. I had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by renowned Canadian artist Christopher Pratt, on his experience designing the Newfoundland flag. It was enlightening and refreshing to hear such a heated debate on a provincial flag, and I didn’t have to set up books!
While I do have a great deal to learn about my new community, I was not starting from scratch. In 2006, with the generosity of John Cleghorn, I had the opportunity to participate in one of the Centre’s Battlefield tours, where we visited Beaumont-Hamel. This place has profound meaning to Newfoundland and Labrador. The memory is visible in the provincial galleries, archives and museum, in the street names in St. John’s, and even the ferries to Bell Island – Beaumont-Hamel and Flanders. With the experience of the battlefield tour, I had an appreciation of the community’s sense of loss and how this permeated into the cultural landscape of the province.
The transition from a graduate student to a librarian in an academic environment has been almost subtle. Instead of having to mark mid-terms, I deal with the influx of students in the library two days before the assignment is due. Building a history collection requires research, reading and writing. How I manage my time is just a bit different and has taken some adjustment. The pattern of mid-day napping definitely came to an abrupt stop. Collaborative projects required staff members to be present, so to some degree, my schedule is subject to the work schedules of those around me. This is a change that some graduate students might have a challenge accommodating.
During my first year at Memorial, it has been very apparent to me how my time at the Centre prepared me for the real world. Not only have I benefited from the Centre’s focus on public discussions, teaching, and collaborative research relating to Canadian military history, but I have also recognized the importance of these three facets in a wider academic environment. The extensive program of conferences, workshops, speakers and seminars covering the military history of Canada as well as national and international issues has provided me with an understanding of the issues relevant to Canadian and international history. These types of learning opportunities have influenced how I approach collection development at the QE2 library. My appreciation for teaching, instruction and inquiry, fostered and enhanced under the guidance of Terry Copp and in collaboration with the Centre associates and staff, undoubtedly influences how I approach graduate and undergraduate instruction, a key focus at Memorial.
So what would I offer in ways of advice or tips for graduate students looking to move forward? Be flexible, be adventurous, and be aware of your options. Do not feel confined to any one particular field, and accept that nothing is certain. In most cases, it is hard work finding a career that you love. And for those who are not quite ready to take that plunge, think ahead. I would strongly urge those that have not already done so to find ways to engage with a community or project that helps you develop a unique skill set. Do something outside your regular area of research. Be multi-faceted. The job market you will face might be different than the one I did; the only thing you can do is prepare yourself as best you can for any given scenario. And finally, enjoy the journey – it might involve some hard work and long hours, but hey, we are used to that.
Katie Rose is a full time academic Librarian at Memorial University and a research associate of the LCMSDS