How did I become a librarian?

The career of a librarian isn't exactly a common one and when I answer the question of what I do, there is typical some mild surprise or amazement, since it isn't the typical engineer/lawyer/doctor/teacher answer most would expect.

Over the years, I've become used to this reaction, I typically shrug if off and change the conversation (unless if the person I am speaking to works in is a researcher/faculty in which case I tend to take the opportunity to talk about the way he does research etc).

Occasionally though someone will be interested enough to ask me how I came upon this career, especially since I have an accountancy degree which to some seems even weirder. I get asked this question too by people who are contemplating entering the industry.

Truth is, it's not a question I like to answer as the answer isn't particularly glamorous or interesting. The simple fact is I stumbled upon this profession out of desperation and it worked out of pure luck.

Like many "accidental librarians", I didn't consider librarianship after I graduated with an accountancy degree in NTU. Like my peers I joined a auditing company and I found pretty quickly that the accounting field wasn't for me. This was compounded by the fact that it was during the time of Enron and WorldCom, which shook my faith on whether what I waa doing had real value to society. I struggled in the industry for a couple of years and I can't remember whose idea it was (probably my father gave me the idea) that I try for librarianship.

At the time, I had no clue at all what a librarian did.

It's almost a cliche now to say the worst answer you can give at a interview for a librarian post is to say you want to join because you love reading.

But the truth is as a child I had a great affection for public libraries and as a bookish and nerdish kid I spent many Saturdays reading science fiction and Chess books at the old red bricked building at the Public Library building in Marine Parade.

Old Marine Parade Library - credits 

You could say the good vibes from childhood was a major reason why I wanted to be a librarian.

I remember signing up as a volunteer with NLB  (I still get emails after 9 years from them!) and submitting an application from NLB that I didn't hear back from and eventually decided to do a masters in library science.

I went so far as even considering going to Australia to do it but in the end went to Nanyang Technological Universities' Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information for the masters (at the time it was not yet named after the late president Wee).

Unlike some of my classmates, having no experience of real library work, I had no idea if the masters was useful. I found I enjoyed the more theoretical aspects of it , in particular I enjoyed doing original research, doing literature reviews, synthesizing ideas, thinking of interesting research questions to fill gaps in the literature etc.

Very quickly before I knew it the year was up and I had to start looking for a job. At the time, one of my professors noted my evident interest in academic research and was trying to persuade me to do a Phd under him.

I was very tempted, but I had doubts on whether I could make it in the academic world (my awe of the title "professor" was strong even back then). Also at 30, I really wanted to start on a working career so I told my professor I would try getting a job as a librarian and if I didn't get any offers I would do my Phd.

As fate would have it, I secured a interview at NUS Libraries and they offered me a job. I don't remember much of the interview except I was warned the pay of a librarian isn't much (that I knew already). It's also interesting to note even at 30 joining the profession, I am not quite considered a 2nd career person and many librarians join after a few years in another career rather than joining immediately after graduating with their bachelors (though I notice in the last 3-5 years this seems to be changing).

I was very very lucky, because I only had a vague sense of what a academic librarian did then even after doing the masters. In a sense , back then the competition for jobs in Singapore was less intense than in the US (from what I hear).

I was so happy to get an offer, I cancelled my pending interview at NLB. (I didn't apply to NTU because after doing both my bachelors and masters there I was determined not to go back again!).

Sometimes I wonder how life would have turned out if I did my Phd instead of joining as a librarian.

But a life as a academic librarian 9 years on, isn't so bad I guess.

So there you have it, my not so interesting story of how I became a librarian.

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