A former classmate and friend tagged me on a request for advice to current English majors regarding potential, non-teaching careers, which got me thinking about my own career trajectory and how I came to do what I do.
So here it is:
I am a librarian, but I am a writer first. I will save you the usual “I love books” story—I do love books but that is not why I became an English major or a librarian. I started as a biology major (undeclared on paper, but pure science at heart). I loved biology. I dreamed of labs and microscopes and discovering things… but I hated math. Check that—I was really slow at math because I never really learned any. A history of low quality math education meant that I was seriously behind my peers when it came to working the complicated equations that were necessary to pursue a career as a biologist. I was at a loss. What else could I do? I had no idea, but I had time, so I started taking classes, many of them English and other humanities courses. I discovered that I really liked academic writing. I liked research and discovery that didn’t necessarily involve lab work. So I took a chance. I debated whether to major in English or History: English won out. I believed that it provided a better skills set than what I could gain from History (no offense to the History majors). My intention was never to teach; I knew that from the start. However, I wanted to stay in that research environment. I finished my BA and went on to earn my Master’s, carving my own path by focusing on the literature I most enjoyed: books about women being their own heroes. Despite my reluctance, I did teach for a while. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it in the way that I believe a good professor needs to love the work. It did, however, turn me on to librarianship. I like helping students find things and think about their research, nerdy as that sounds. It’s not my passion—that’s still writing—but I enjoy the day to day work of it, particularly the novelty of it (no two days are the same).
I’m an English major. I’m a librarian. But what I am is a writer and a thinker. I consider questions and look for solutions, and I bring these skills to the work I do (both on the job and in my personal life).
My advice: think of your skills, not your label when earning a degree in English (or LIS). What can you do? And how can you use it? The rest is up to you.