An Accidental Librarian

By Penny Dugmore, Doing “stuff” in libraries since, like, whenever.

I was one of those nerdy school kids who was always the school librarian at lunchtimes.  My family had a Friday ritual of going to the library on the late night and getting a swag load of books.  At first Mum used to restrict us to 6 so she could keep track of them, but once we were old enough we were allowed as many as the library permitted.  We were/are a reading family.

But I never considered librarianship as a career.  It was never presented as an option at school.  People in my stream at high school were shunted in the direction of law, medicine and engineering.  So my initial career choice was medicine.

I suffered crushing humiliation when my marks weren’t high enough to get into med school.  I remember sobbing on my bed as I realised my high falutin’ ideas just weren’t going to happen.  I felt liked I’d failed everyone’s (i.e. my teachers, other students, people I knew) expectations.  Of course with hindsight I know now it is better not to try and please everyone else but rather look for something you feel passionate about.

On the advice of my Dad, I went on to do a BSc with the idea I might pursue medicine again after my first year.  By the time I got to the end of that year I realised that a) I had lost interest in spending 7 years at university for a very stressful vocation and b) actually I was enjoying the zoology/botany/ecology papers mostly and c) I hated chemistry.  I thought I might become a marine biologist.

So I entered my 2nd year of my science degree.  No chemistry (hallelujah!) and all biosciences.  It was a great year but it was becoming apparent that the hot research trend was cellular and molecular biology.  That was the topic that got the most research funding and the head of school was it’s king.  Any post grad work would be heavily weighted to favour topics in that area and to get anywhere in science you need to do post grad work. I had no idea of what I might want to do as a post grad but I knew I preferred whole animal/plant and ecology having spent a summer counting liverwort chromosomes. Most of them have 9 by the way.

Again I suffered a crisis of identity and purpose.  It was a period where I doubted myself and spent a few angst filled months wondering what to do.  One day I dropped into the career centre on campus with the idea I would pick up some pamphlets for my sister who was in her last year of high school and wondering what to do also.  I came across the information for librarianship and looking at the job description and personality requirements I realised I was looking at a picture of myself.

It was truly like an epiphany for me.  Someone asked on Friendfeed in the Library Society of the World (LSW) if people thought librarianship was a calling.  For me it really did feel like it.

I entered my third year with a light heart.  Those were the days you didn’t have to major in anything, you just had to have a certain number of credits at a particular level in order to graduate.  So I took the stuff I was interested in!  I needed “library experience” so I began a Saturday job at a public library and did a summer volunteer stint at the Auckland Museum Library.

I applied for a place in a library course with universities from Adelaide, Melbourne and the New Zealand offering from VUW.  I was less enthused with the NZ option because at the time it was only a post-grad diploma, but I was offered a place on the New Zealand course first so I accepted it because I could get a student loan here easily. Some time later the Melbourne option also offered me a place but getting funding was just too hard.  I later upgraded to the MLIS while working two part time library jobs based in the education sector. Now I work in an tertiary library and feel like this is the niche I’m happiest in at present.

My experience taught me a few things.
1. As much as is practicable, career choice should be about doing things that you love, not what other people expect of you.
2. Librarianship needs all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds. Some career choices aren’t promoted well to school leavers.
3. It’s okay to change direction.

Share your path to librarianship.


  1. Cath Sheard says:

    I love this “It was truly like an epiphany for me”. Isn’t it amazing what finding the right career path does for you? I’m glad you made the change; like you say, librarianship needs people from all backgrounds.

  2. adeej says:

    That’s awesome Penny. Thanks for sharing. Adrian Jenkins

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