The Working Life on the Job: Library Worker

  • This blog series continues with a look at the kinds of jobs people with schizophrenia have been successful working at. Stumbling through cyber-space years ago, I met someone from Israel who is a librarian, as I am, and after that, it seemed everywhere I went, I discovered librarians with SZ. I'll use my experiences as the springboard for you to consider making such an employment leap.

    In June 2000, I obtained my MLS-Masters in Library and Information Science-from Pratt Institute, which is, unfortunately, close to $1,000 per credit now so I couldn't do that today. When I worked at the last insurance brokerage, I was demoted and decided to see a therapist but the health insurance authorized only five visits because I had a pre-existing condition. When I told her I was in danger of losing my job, she said she was a career counselor by day in Manhattan, and would help me in that regard. She gave me the MBTI and some vocational tests, and at our last visit, she suggested I'd make a good librarian. That's all I needed to hit the ground running. I applied to the three library schools, and my first choice was Pratt.

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    In June 1997, I started classes and worked at part-time jobs in libraries. In April 1998, I started work at a law firm library. "Special libraries" are called that because you find them in advertising, law, consulting firms, museums and other settings. At these kinds of libraries, reference librarians do online searching on databases such as Lexis-Nexis and Dialog. Your employer will expect you to be an expert online searcher, so it's best you get as much practice in school by taking online databases classes, such as the ones I took in law and business.

    You could also work at an academic library at a college or university. For that, you often need two Masters degrees. When I graduated, I returned to a public library. It made all the difference in my recovery. The reason I left the law firm was that I was passed over for a promotion. At the library where I work now, I'm content to do my work and go home. We get a pension and health insurance. I suggest you start by volunteering at a public library, assisting with programs or doing other work, to see if you like it.

    It was through education that I healed-going back to school made sense to me. One semester, I'd spend my time in the Brooklyn Law School library doing legal research, and it gave me confidence because it was something I never did before yet excelled at. I welcomed the chance to challenge my brain.

    If you have no plans to gets a Masters in this field, you could become a clerk-someone who processes the books that come in, and staffs the circulation desk. A lot of times you'll get patrons who claimed they returned books that are missing, or who want their fines waved. The best part of either job is that you don't have to wear a suit. In a poem I wrote I called my ex-business attire a "power blue straightjacket." [No offense intended.]

    So you could be a librarian or a clerk or do volunteer work, either way. Another option is to work as a library associate: someone with a four-year degree who does a lot of what the librarians do every day. I don't find the job stressful at all. When I asked my boss at the law firm to promote me and she hired someone else, that was stressful because I felt like she crossed me and I wouldn't get ahead. I didn't want to risk a meltdown there, as I had when I tried to make a go of it at Parker Madison, the last insurance brokerage.

  • I'm happy to report I've worked at my job for close to nine years now. It has aided my recovery greatly. Had I not followed through with my goal to go back to school, I don't think I would've recovered.

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    What I do on the job: provide career services assistance to customers who need help with their resume or job search or other goals, as well as weed the collection and host the book discussion group, and staff the information desk. Saturday and evening hours are required. I'm going to retire in 20 years even though a deep cut will be made to my pension, because I'm certain that my early fifties will be a good time to re-invent myself. I would like to be a mental health counselor.

    The good thing is, I accrue time off so can take off one day a month to see Dr. Altman in the City, no questions asked as to why I need the time. Another benefit is my co-workers are good people, easy to get along, with and the supervisors don't act like they're big shots and we're second bananas. My boss seeks to improve things and allows room for change so that we don't get stuck in a rut.

    Experts suggest that your favorite childhood activities indicate your best work. I walked up the mile to the library in the next town, checking out an armful of books each week. Poetry was my thing: I stuck my nose in the 811s stack for hours. In 1979, I was 13 years old and reading Nikki Giovanni. Libraries are a great "third place" because they're open to everyone for recreation and education. If I could live in a library, I'd be a happy camper.

    You have options. I urge you to consider this type of work, or anything that has to do with computers, such as programming or web design. Computers are a kind of language, and it's been observed that people with SZ do well with computers. Give any job at least a year before ruling it out, knowing you can always change your focus at a later date. Even if you get a part-time job or volunteer work in a library shelving books, it might just give you joy, too.

    I'd love to know what you think. Join me next week for a look at college and other educational opportunities, either as a segue into paid work or simply for self-enrichment.

Published On: December 01, 2008