Over lunch with a Columbia colleague, Karen Green, we discussed how our previous, non-library work prepared us for librarianship. For her it was bartending, for me mostly theater electrics and production management.
While I think there are some really great young librarians who went straight from college to library school, I think having post-college real life and even those random jobs you have in your twenties is extremely valuable for our work.
I've also been known to tell friends in their twenties not to worry so much about their careers and to spend time writing poems, hopping trains, doing jobs that have greater social than career benefits, and just generally trying things on. Of course this only works for those not dependent on health insurance. I also acknowledge that this theory probably comes from a position of privilege. While I didn't get any help from my parents (other than $300 I borrowed and quickly repaid for my first apartment's security deposit), I knew I would never be truly poor or homeless.
Anyway, following is a rundown of some jobs I've had and what benefit, if any, they had on my library work. They are chronological to the best of my memory.
I only worked at the Mt. Kisco public library for a few months because the work bored me to death.
ice cream scooper (high school and then one summer in college)
In high school I mostly learned how to push the clock hands forward so I could close up earlier, and all manners of customer disservice. Somehow I also dug up the labor laws pertaining to lunches and breaks and posted them on the bulletin board. I have no idea how I found them in my pre-Internet days!
I had my first experience of the consequences of excessively generous customer service (i.e. getting fired after trying to sell beer to my underage friends), but I didn't entirely learn this lesson, as I still tend to want to do as much as I can for the patron, sometimes perhaps more than is appropriate (e.g. letting them photocopy rare or fragile zines)
campus copy shop
I wish I'd learned more at this job, as it would have helped me with both librarianship and zine making. I touched my first computers here, both Macs and PCs and got a small taste of desk top publishing. This was the late 1980s.
mall food court
I learned good techniques for chopping tomatoes and onions. I think this was the first time I worked closely with a black person (The manager was Jamaican.), which was important for me as a person, as well as a future librarian. I also think that everyone should have to do food service at some point in their life, just to see what it's like on the other side of the counter.
NYPIRG canvas office manager
I was pretty sucky at canvassing (going door to door in the Albany suburbs asking for money for NYPIRG's environmental and other programs), but I learned a little about making persuasive arguments and organizing my thoughts. It was also my first time living away from home and college. I learned about Progresso Lentil Soup.
Spring Street Books, The Drama Bookshop, and Wendell's. I learned book trade stuff at these jobs, like selection and reader's advisory, and also picked up intense expertise in theater books and plays. The software they used for inventory and ordering was also good for me to get familiar with in the early 90s. At Wendell's is where I got my first taste of managing other people, and I didn't like it any more then than I do now.
poet, dancer, puppeteer
Not that I was paid for any of these things. These were times in my life where I was unstructured, had a chance to explore who I was and what I wanted to be. I freelanced as an electrician or collected unemployment. I was friends with other artist types and went to spoken word events and off-off Broadway shows. Surely there are tangible benefits to my librarianship of having lived this life, but mostly I think it was important to me developmentally.
Stage management is for Type A/control freak personalities. You have to know and manage everything. You have to deal with egomaniac assholes. You learn (and teach) the value of saying please and thank you. The work ethic is unparalleled.
This is another job where you are responsible for everything. The actors, designers, crew, etc. sit there looking at you until you tell them the plan. Here I learned more about dealing with different personalities (including my own). I learned how to look at the big picture, to be the vision person, and to let someone else, like the stage manager, deal with the details. This was also important to me in getting to know my own mind, imagination, and authority. I wasn't interested in being the boss, but I did feel responsible to my vision for the piece, and therefore I had to say no to people sometimes when their ideas clashed with mine. I had to express myself to people with different learning styles and orientations--talk visually to a designer, justify my crazy idea to a technical director, etc.
Troubleshooting! Is it plugged in? Is it turned on? Righty, tighty; lefty, loosy. Working with a crew, valuing labor. Identifying the best tactic for dealing with a knotty issue (e.g. cable from the circuits, vs. from the instruments). I also got to see some of the world as an electrician. I got a job one summer at a theater in Germany, where I was exposed to theater folk from all over Europe. Another summer I toured Brazil with a dance company. Travel--probably good experience for any profession. Would I have ever done these things if I'd gone straight from college to grad school? No way!
This is like stage managing, but with even more and bigger assholes. I had to run meetings attended by egotistical Tony Award winners, and later with egotistical 20 something dot commers. I learned how to anticipate problems--that is see difficulties before they existed. Working at the dot com, although I wasn't super involved in the computer tech part of it (I was running the tv studio), exposed me to new media technologies, including video streaming. Useful!
Since I'm running out the door soon to see a dance piece in which a friend in her 20s is performing, I'm going to skip some of the less relevant, and also more relevant (i.e. library) jobs and sign off here.
Btw I chose to explore this on my blog, rather than on my zine (though I may reprint it there) because I thought it would be interesting to see what others have to say on the topic, in a public forum. So please comment or otherwise share your experience.
PS In case anyone cares why I haven't posted in a while, it's just because I've been consumed with other projects, including writing reference and zines annual reports.