18 Mar 2014

The Accidental Librarians

So, hoping to start a conversation...

Recently I was asked how did one of my colleagues end up working in the library. Even though we have worked in the same library for the past twelve years I didn't know the answer.  I then realised I don't know how most of my colleagues ended up in this profession. This got me curious. Since it was a Saturday and we mostly don't work Saturdays in UCC Library I put a call out on Twitter. Tweets and Direct Messages answering the question began to flow. I began to see similarities in a number of the replies. It being a slow day I then thought it might be useful and interesting to collate these into a blog post. Which is where I am now - writing a very short post about how a small group of people found themselves working as librarians.

This post is very much a snapshot of a particular group at a particular time - people who were on Twitter on the given Saturday around midday. I don't hold that this particular can be representative of a general. Such extrapolation would require a much larger group and deeper analysis and some actual research. This post is not that. It's just, in my very humble opinion, an interesting narrative from a small group of interested people.

What follows now is a very small representative, anonymised, sample of the replies:

Was doing an MA in UCC & my favourite part was embedded research/reference module. Librarians from the Boole inspired me. :-)

I was always jealous of the student employees, dream job!
... started as a lib assist after MA media - loved it, all pieces fit...

... moving from another info area=journalism. It feels like a natural move...

... became a librarian bcos it seemed like a job geared to helping people... providing a service, curating a space...
... after going back to college as a mature student at 28 I found I loved sociology & politics and I loved research...

I became a librarian because I enjoyed empowering people to make new discoveries...

Was working in electronic publishing then as info scientist. Moved here but no jobs; library work = nearest approximation

I'm good at finding / organising things and I like to read

Got student library assistant job as an undergraduate. Thought might be a good career. Went to library school & got my degree.

Worked as a student assistant while doing a MA. Liked the teaching and learning aspect that was in the profession.

Post college placement in archives didn't inspire hist graduate - archivist suggested library. 13 years and 1 #aberils MSc later still here

Was doing MA in Sociology. Favourite part was the research methodology. And then got job as library student help. Found my calling...

Did MA in Politics. Loved the time I spent in library and decided this is where I wanted to be...

Realised very soon the Hdip in Education I had started was a mistake. Got a LA job in college library in London. Loved it. Still working in libraries 20 years later.

Had enough of teaching. Saw ad for library assistant position covering maternity. Got it. loved it. Still here.

In summary then...
The first connector for many of the people that replied was teaching. There were a surprising number of people who had been, or had at least been training to be, teachers. As to why these librarians left the teaching profession to move into librarianship that is another question for another day for another person.

Another connector was people doing postgraduate studies in another field.  People who replied were doing Education, Media Studies, Journalism, English, Business, Law, Science. Through their use of the library and the realisation that they loved research they decided to move into librarianship.

This student help / assistance path whilst doing postgraduate studies was also mentioned by a number of people

As I see it, what seems to connect most of the people who replied is that they all ended up working in libraries or in a related information field almost by chance. Either they worked as a Student Help / Assistant whilst being a student. Or they came to it via their studies in another area. Or through work in a sometimes related area. For a small few it may have been the case that they made a conscious effort to get into this field - they liked the vocational aspect, the curatorial aspect, the research aspect, the creation of order where there was chaos aspect. But for the majority of us it was very much a happy accident that led us to be librarians. We, the group who replied to my question, are, in the main, as one respondent put it - the Accidental Librarians.

So are you an Accidental Librarian? What was your path to where you are now? Chance? Choice? Happy Accident?

Acknowledgements required - the Title of this post is courtesy of David Hughes. In one of his tweeted replies he used the phrase the Accidental Librarians. I love this idea. I thought what a great concept. Had never heard it before. (But, to be honest you know that way that once you notice something for the first time - you see it everywhere? I have since have seen it elsewhere but still feel I owe David an acknowledgment.) And of course, could go without saying but I won't, a big thanks to all those who tweeted and DMed me - too many to mention individual names, wordcount limits and all of that, but thank you all!


  1. Fell into it by accident. Found a job in which I was never bored, since I never knew what I was going to be asked next! Also an opportunity to learn about the sector I was in (which changed with the job). Several long-lasting friendships, & lively colleagues, in various interesting fields until recent retirement - what's not to like?

  2. Hi Princess. Thanks for the comment - you seem to have a similar experience as many of us - happy accidents do occur...

  3. I always wondered about this. It would make an interesting narrative. I was looking for a career change and did a few exercises from a book called "What colour is your parachute". Libraries kept on appearing so off I went.

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  5. Thanks Roy - Have never done the exercises from this book - maybe I should - need to check if librarianship is really the right career for me :-)

  6. Great Post, lovely to see everyone's tweets! Love the idea of being a accidental librarian if it wasn't for searching for a last minute elective I would have never found SILS!

  7. Thanks Siobhan. I thought showing the tweets was the best way to do it - I toyed with paraphrasing but it works better having the exact words. pure happy chance is how most of ended up here.