Librarianship was a second career for me. Changing paths was not easy at any step along the way. Now, I am watching my partner go through the same process. I am also seeing a world in which unemployment looms large and the concerns which plague both job seekers and career changers seem to be magnified. This situation has made me wonder, what, if anything, can the public library do to support this segment of our population? I do believe we can help.
When pondering my own career change, the first issue I faced was psychological. I had just completed schooling and initial employment in a field I no longer wanted to pursue. I felt foolish that I hadn’t realized this disillusionment sooner and believed that it was too late for change. I was lucky that right around this time of personal crisis, came the Po Bronson book, What Should I Do With My Life? The biggest thing it communicated to me was that I was not alone.
The next question I faced is perhaps the hardest: what am I going to change to? I’ve heard two theories about how to answer this question. The first is to do what you love. The second, do what will allow you to do what you love. But frankly, when one is in the middle of thinking they need a change, they often cannot tell what they love and don’t trust the ideas they have. I turned again to books and tried to analyze what color my parachute really was.
Last, there was a very practical concern. Given what I was interested in, how did I get from point A to point B? Did I need additional education and training? What kind of jobs could I anticipate and skills should I focus on? It was almost like being in high school again, but significantly older, with no handy career fairs and guidance counselor-arranged info sessions. I was lucky to have friends in the areas to which I was drawn and therefore I had opportunities to ask my questions.
But what I see in others today is that they do not have venues to learn they are not alone, do not know where to turn for direction, and that they have no place where they can find answers to their questions. This is where the library can help. We could offer space for support or discussion groups, create a display of self-help books, or connect patrons to local life coaches. Further, there is nothing to stop us from sponsoring our own adult career fairs or resource centers.
Now, as a public librarian, I am contemplating programming about people who have changed careers. I’m thinking of either a drop-in session or perhaps a panel where people can tell their stories or ask questions. How have they done it? What did they think about? I believe that one of the greatest powers of the public library is to communicate to others that you are not alone. I’ve started asking my patrons who I know have changed paths, what or who has helped them along the way. My networking database is growing. I’m working on my bibliography. I am not looking for the inspirational speakers, the ‘you can do anything!’ promoters. Instead, I am seeking those individuals that talk about how one makes substantial change.
I believe the elements to support this population can be as grand or as simple as the library can accommodate. I also believe that the rewards for supporting this issue will be immense. Not only is it a service to the community, but the patrons who are helped will be library supporters forever.