I had an opportunity recently to chat with a group of library colleagues from various roles in JCLS about how they came to work in libraries. I knew some of these colleagues better than others (none of them very well) but their stories all resonated with me. I was struck by the words that kept coming up: childhood, safe place, home, community, making a difference. Every one of our paths to libraries was different, but each of us recognized that we had found our way into work that is worth doing. 

I’ve had this conversation with other library folks over the years, and I’ve begun to recognize some themes. People who are drawn to work in libraries come from a plethora of backgrounds, but often find something in the library that makes sense to them. It is not hard to find a through-line in their stories.

Here’s a sampling of the paths to library work I’ve seen: 

A lifelong voracious reader got a job shelving books as a teenager and never looked back. Now she’s a manager in the same branch she visited for Storytime as a toddler. 

A paralegal burned out and went into libraries to become a children’s librarian, finding a creative outlet she never had before. 

A longtime writer and editor made a career change and found new satisfaction advocating for library service for those who need it most. 

A homeschool parent who used the library heavily started out by doing children’s programs a few hours a week at her local branch. Now she’s a librarian mentoring others in the field. 

An adventurer and artist found his way to libraries and found a home for his curious mind and creative spirit. 

A kid who grew up in libraries, volunteered in libraries, and got her first job in libraries spent years as a business researcher before coming back to public libraries. 

A child whose home was not a safe place found safety and somewhere to belong at the library. Years later, she creates that safe place for others. 

A library super-user saw a job opening and thought, “why not?” She discovered that she loved the systems, logic, and problem-solving that are part of library work. 

Then there’s my own story. After dabbling in theater and education work, I realized that public libraries were the sweet spot where my love of stories and learning new things overlapped with my desire to help people. 

Each of these stories reveals someone who, through luck or planning, has found meaningful work in a field that allows them to contribute to the well-being of their communities. 

One of my favorite things to say about working in libraries is that, eventually, everything you have ever done will come in handy. Are you a gardener? One of these days someone will come in and ask you to suggest some gardening books. Do you read mystery novels? Plenty of patrons will be eager for recommendations. Do you know how to juggle? There’s a library program in the making! 

Library folks are curious people. We like to find creative solutions to problems and are willing to be interested in anything. We are stimulated by doing something slightly different each day. Any question could walk in the library door, and if we don’t know exactly where to find the answer, we’ll stick with it until we figure it out. We’re here to help, whatever the need may be. 

Library people are story people. We look for connections and know that people are more than what meets the eye. Librarians are trained to help people get to the root of their question and determine the best resource to meet their need. That could be a bus pass and directions to the local food pantry. It could be a lesson in how to use our genealogy research tools. It could be recommendations for a next favorite novel. Whatever it is, library people tune into the individual with whom they are working and do their best to completely answer their question. 

There are as many paths to library work as there are people who work in libraries. Some people find it early; some after years in another career. Working in libraries, I’ve met some of the most fair-minded, creative, motivated people I know. Whatever their story, library folks bring their hearts and their lived experience to their work, and that work changes the world for the better.  

Oh, and, in case you’re interested, JCLS happens to have several job openings right now. If any of the stories or qualities struck a chord for you, take a look at what we have on offer. I promise, it is a good gig.