About seven years ago, as a college freshman I wrote about why I was an English Literature student. If you have read that blog post, you might notice that becoming a librarian was not in the list of jobs I considered during my student years. Since I did not originally plan to become a librarian, you might be wondering, “Why are you doing this? What’s the deal? What’s in it for you?”
I will attempt to answer those questions here. No special reasons, really. I am writing this post/rant to reflect on how far my thoughts has developed in the seven-ish years since I wrote my reasons to study in a rather unconventional major.
From Translation to Librarianship
Perhaps the most obvious reason I like to change tracks every so often is that I’m a person with many interests. Sometimes, I have too many interests for my own good. Being a jack-of-all-trades might make me a renaissance man. I might have broad strokes of knowledge that allow me to see the world in a birds-eye view. However, that could also mean that I’m a good-for-nothing individual in the job market. Being a generalist is often disadvantageous if you are a fresh graduate looking for a first job.
That is why during the final year as a college student I focused on Interpreting and Translation Studies (ITS). As its name suggests, I studied translation (i.e. the act of changing a text in one language into a text in another language) and interpreting (i.e. the act of restating speech in one language into equivalent speech in another language). As translation projects could involve content from various subjects, normally a translator would have to obtain elementary understanding about pretty much as many topics as they can. At the very least, if the translator doesn’t know anything about the subject they’re about to deal with, they need to be able to learn about it as quickly as possible, preferably through self-study.
It turns out that you also need to do this kind of activity a lot as a librarian. Librarianship, or as people would often “officially” call it, Library and Information Science, is a similarly interdisciplinary profession. A librarian’s main job is about locating and disseminating information rather than retelling it in another language. However, the activities that are done and skills that need to be acquired are kind of similar.
For example, suppose that you are a cataloging librarian. A cataloging librarian’s job is to describe and classify library collections so people can find these collections more easily. You need to identify the subjects and topics that are most relevant to the book. If you work at a reference desk, you need to answer questions from people in all walks of life. People might want to find information about a subject that you didn’t study for in college. But it’s your job to find that information, so you need to learn as you go. Pretty similar to a translator’s job, don’t you think?
Alternative to Academia?
This is somewhat related to my previous point about being a generalist. Basically, I want to know everything there is to know. As with many other people who are passionate college students, I like learning more than I like to work. I wasn’t all too eager to graduate and enter the so-called job market. This kind of sentiment is prevalent in students at humanities programs, such as my own English Studies/Sastra Inggris program I attended.
College seniors (that is, students on their final semesters) are often horrified about the prospects of leaving school forever after 16-ish years attending formal education. For some of them, even the stressful assignments and boring classes are preferable to the many many more challenges that they have to face at the workplace. I was one of those students. That was why, since I was an undergraduate student, I always wanted to become a lecturer a.k.a professor a.k.a dosen.
However, later on I came to a realization that becoming a lecturer is just not that easy. I had only just come to terms with this difficulty after I graduated. First off, in order to become a lecturer you have to get a master’s (S2) degree. This degree costs a whole lot of money. The tuition fees for master’s programs are often far more expensive compared to undergraduate programs’ (since undergrad tuitions are often subsidized by the government). You could also apply for scholarships, preferably to overseas colleges. The reality is, though, that it’s just not that easy to earn a scholarship, and if your aim is to become a lecturer, it’s not a guaranteed path. Which graduate program you take, as well as your college of choice, matters a lot.
Even then, after you graduated, you still need to gain access to employment as a lecturer. There are a lot of lecturer job postings, yes. However, a lot of them are temporary/contract positions. This means that you might be offered an academic position but there’s no guarantee for how long you can keep working in that role. The only real career path to become an academic/dosen is through the civil service examinations a.k.a seleksi CPNS. In English-speaking countries, passing the civil service exam is roughly equal to getting tenure, which means permanent employment. Even in those English-speaking countries, say the United States, the number of tenured college professors has been dropping and there are fewer and fewer positions available for new scholars.
All I can say is that whether you realize it or not, Indonesia is also going in that direction. Heck, the American tenure problem has been an issue since early 2000s, so I don’t think there’s any reason to be optimistic here. The bottom line is this: becoming a lecturer and staying in academia nowadays has become very, very difficult to the point that I argue it’s basically like winning a lottery.
As I mentioned, this trend of decreasing permanent employment in academia is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the problem has become so big that people are seeking alternatives to being employed as a lecturer or as an academic in the ordinary sense. There’s a kind of movement among under-employed PhD degree holders to “escape” from academia to other kinds of jobs, especially in the private sector. This “movement” is called Alt-Ac or Alternative Academic.
Being a librarian is one of those alternatives. There are also a host of other roles, both in academic institutions and in private ones. But the one role that presented its own opportunity in front me was librarianship (i.e. it was one of the best positions that was available at the time I took civil service examinations). That’s why I made the jump and haven’t looked back ever since.
There’s Just Something about Libraries
After graduating back in 2017, I attended a seminar about entrepreneurship, i.e. how to start your own business. One of the speakers was a graduate of Library and Information Science program at my university, and he was introduced as one during the start of the talk. That person spoke about their food business and how they started it. This is basic stuff that anyone would hear at an entrepreneurship seminar.
The interesting thing happened during Q&A session, when someone in the audience brought up that person’s credentials. “I’m a student in Library and Information Science, and you mentioned that you graduated from the same program. Why didn’t you pursue an occupation in Library and Information Science?” the questioner said. The library-science-graduate-turned-business-owner answered it roughly like this: “I don’t think my college education means anything. What do you think? What’s the use of Library and Information Science outside of college? I think it’s useless. I have learned more things when I am out of college than when I was in there.” At that moment, something ticked in me.
“Is it? Is Library and Information Science useless?” I wondered. At that moment, I had a strong hunch that this person’s answer would be relevant some time in the future. This was even before I considered being a librarian myself. Roughly a year later I passed the civil service exam, currently trying to familiarize myself to a discipline and profession that is said to be useless. Whether that person is right or not, we might see in the coming months and years. 😅
Maybe the reason I still remember that moment was because I do believe in the importance of libraries, including studying about and for these institutions. I don’t know why, but libraries always attracted me since I was very young.
In my native town of Malang (the city, not the regency), there was a big public library I used to go to. I didn’t go there that often, but the several times I went there have left its mark in my memory. It was a pleasant place to be in. Thank god for the librarians there! When I moved to Surabaya, I was also enthusiastic about libraries at both my Junior High (which didn’t have a lot of collections) and Senior High Schools (which have lots of good books). During my college years as an undergraduate, my favorite place was again the library. I couldn’t point out at any particular reason why it’s so memorable. Probably, I just like to reads books so much, and libraries are the places where I can find many of those books.
Of course, loving books is not enough of a reason to justify being a librarian. In fact, one Youtuber even pointed out that if you want to become a librarian just because you like books, you’re going to regret it. Why? It’s because libraries are not about the books. It’s about the people that you serve. I sort of get this idea when I signed up to become a librarian, but I really didn’t have a complete picture about how much you need to dedicate yourself to serving other people until I go to the actual workplace and do my job.
For me, being a librarian has been a roller-coaster experience so far. I found many things that I have to keep up with and learn as I go, like customer service, verbal communication, project management, and many others. I know that a librarian wears many hats, but I didn’t expect for there to be this many hats. 😂
That being said, I also don’t regret this decision to become a librarian so far. Aside of the many, many things I have to do that have nothing to do with books, I get a lot of time to access books and collections that I just couldn’t had I not been a librarian (especially in my current institution). Interacting with people who are enthusiastic about knowledge also motivates me. There are still many more things to do and say about this, too. I hope I can share those with you when I can.
I’m going to end this rant by presenting a passage that I strongly identify with:
People become librarians because they know too much. Their knowledge extends beyond mere categories. They cannot be confined to disciplines. Librarians are all-knowing and all-seeing. They bring order to chaos. They bring wisdom and culture to the masses. They preserve every aspect of human knowledge. Librarians rule. And they will kick the crap out of anyone who says otherwise.Librarian Avengers, Why you should fall to your knees and worship a librarian
Header image from U.S. National Archives. https://nara.getarchive.net/media/mildred-c-crabtree-a-civilian-librarian-selects-books-in-the-library-for-distribution-3915ac