Deciding to take an interdisciplinary approach to your education? Here is how you sell it.
The first time I exited the Campus A bus in front of the Herman B Wells Library, I felt cold (I came to Bloomington from southern California in January), lonesome and was wondering: “what did I get myself into?” I had made my living as a singer, flutist and dancer all of my adult life…so what in the world was I doing in library school? Six months earlier, I had completed a Master of Music in Afro Latin Music from California State University, Los Angeles and adjusting to the culture of library school was by no means a small feat. By the end my first week of classes, I felt the inevitable approaching of an identity crisis; but there was no time to nurture these feelings, I had a goal to attain. Far away from my sun-kissed comfort zone, I realized that I wasn’t in music school anymore and getting accustomed to the world of library science was going to take some time.
When I graduated from music school in June 2009, I knew I needed to gain a skill-set that would set me apart from every other musician looking for a job. Three years prior, my aunt, (a retired school librarian and owner of the largest multicultural children’s bookstore west of the Mississippi River) put the library bug in my head after I told her that my ultimate educational goal was to get a PhD in Ethnomusicology. She told me, “Madelyn, you should think about getting a second master’s degree (a master’s degree in Library Science) it will help you with your research”. She was right.
Before leaving for Indiana, I did some research about hot topics in librarianship. It seemed that digital librarianship was the way to go, so I decided to focus on metadata. Many times, my colleagues encouraged me to specialize in music librarianship; however, I was convinced that I needed to engage in areas that challenged me. Even if it was painful I knew that I needed to gain skills that were transferrable. I took, XML and Perl/CGI workshops, Semantic Web, Digital Humanities, Information Architecture and Metadata. I took the most practical courses that I could while in library school, the most practical being Dr. Alice Robbin’s Introduction to Research.
After two semesters of confusion and doubt in Bloomington, I landed a job in the former Digital Library Program as a Metadata Specialist, for the Variations/FRBR project. Here I was afforded the opportunity to work in an environment where I could mix my formal education in music with my new metadata skill set. Working under the incredible Jenn Riley, the experience gained there was invaluable. I deepened my knowledge of mark-up languages, was involved with user experience testing and learned the inner workings of project management, and ontology development. Most importantly I co-authored a paper on the project that ended up being presented at the DCMI Annual International Conference in 2011.
Just as I was feeling comfortable in library school, it was time to graduate and look for work. I knew that I wanted a job in academia and using the now deceased Google Reader, I started a love of RSS feed aggregators that kept me abreast of job advertisements. My job search was fairly concentrated to locations in Indiana as I had an obligation to fulfill to work in the state for two years upon graduation. The career services office was just getting off of its feet and I had subscribed to its feed at its inception. Two weeks before the closing date, I saw a posting for a Visiting Reference Librarian at the University Library of Columbus, a small joint-use academic library in Columbus Indiana, architectural jewel of the Midwest. I applied and two interviews later, was hired on August 29th 2011.
The major function of the University Library of Columbus is to provide research services to the faculty, students and staff of three distinct academic institutions (Indiana University-Purdue University, Columbus, Ivy Tech Community College and the Purdue University College of Technology). I am one of two IU employed librarians and I work alongside two Ivy Tech Librarians. It has been lovely working in such a stunning setting. After only nine months working as a librarian, my supervisors and supporters recognized my ability to shoulder responsibility with unruffled leadership, and I served as the acting Interim Executive Director of the library during the director’s maternity leave.
I consider myself lucky to have landed such a job in this very small setting. We do a little bit of everything, so I am gaining valuable experience, and adding tremendously to my skill-set. About 60% of my job involves teaching (reference and instruction) the rest is outreach, collection development and a tiny bit of cataloging. Another bit of fortune came this past fall semester when I got my feet wet by teaching my very own semester-long class.
One bit of advice that I can give job seekers that are taking interdisciplinary approaches to their education is to never disregard your years of experience in a discipline outside of librarianship…even if you do not think that the skill set is related to the job that you are applying.
My first interviews for library specific jobs were awkward. When I interviewed for the Visiting Reference Librarian position at the University Library of Columbus, I shied away from talking about my background in music. During the interview, Gary Felsten (Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at IUPUC) shed some light on me. He made mention of my degrees in music and told me that I ought to play to it more often, as it tells people that I am a disciplined and dedicated person. Another of the librarians on my search committee even told me that my background in performance easily translates to instruction.
The decision to move to librarianship after working 13 years as a performing artist has helped me cultivate a unique personal mission: I aim to build bridges between cultural groups through the critique, cultivation and dissemination of social histories of music. There is a need to enhance bibliographic access to scholarly resources for jazz scholars and I see myself as a key player in the growth of Afro Latin Jazz as an academic discipline.
In March 2012 I went from being a Visiting Librarian to an Assistant Librarian and I am enjoying myself working on becoming a tenured librarian. Although I am still quite new to librarianship I feel fortunate to have a position in a library where I am respected, loved, and encouraged to pursue activities that will help me attain my next educational and professional goals