I have a niche in librarianship. A specialty, if you will. I’m a cataloger, with a focus on specific formats (serials and electronic/online resources). My expertise is what got me hired by my current institution. They needed someone with my skills. Boy howdy did they need someone with my specific format skills after several years of position vacancy. I have lots of cataloging clean up to work on. It can be almost overwhelming at times. In a positive light, it is job security. And I love what I do.
I participate in several cooperative programs, including CONSER. In these cooperative programs we all agree to work together with a common goal. Typically within cooperative programs people have the same or similar specialties within librarianship, so we all speak the same “language.” But working together still creates challenges at times, because everyone brings something different to the table. Every institution is different and has different needs. But ultimately these differences enrich the program and provide the variety of perspectives needed for us to truly be responsive to the needs of the users. All the users, not just one subset of users. After all, aren’t the users supposed to be why we do what we do?? I think sometimes we forget that…
But librarianship is very very diverse, and it’s important to find your niche. Groups focus on what’s relevant to their jobs. Cataloging makes sense to me. From day one it just clicked and made sense. I understood exactly what I was doing and what the big picture was. I could never really truly understand what the issues are in reference. Intellectually, yes. But I’m not a reference librarian, and I’ve never been a reference librarian (if you don’t count the time I was an intern and “back up” reference/circulation help), and the issues they face don’t apply to what I do directly. Indirectly, often, yes, but not usually directly…as in I don’t worry about how to make the reference desk more inviting to users, or how to be more accessible via chat or IM reference, etc. Catalog issues and accessibility/findability of items, on the other hand, directly relates to what I do. I have no expertise in reference, but I have lots of expertise related to findability. So I gravitate towards what I know and where I can make the most impact. And I try to figure out how to work with reference to make sure we’re ultimately serving the users. I rely on them, on their expertise, to help me do my job. They, in turn, rely on me for the very same thing, to help them do their job. We’re all approaching the same goal from different angles depending on our expertise. That’s what ultimately happens…people follow their expertise because it’s where they can make the most impact. There are those groups that cross boundaries, but the people that participate in those groups have a passion for the focus of that group. And they find a way to utilize their expertise for the good of the group.
Finding your niche is not always easy. My intern right now (yay! for extra help) is learning. Sometimes you have to do different aspects of librarianship before you figure out where you fit. She’s figured out she really does like cataloging, and wants to make that a career, because it makes sense to her. [I swear, she came to that conclusion on her own…I did not torture her and force her to decide that! but I am very happy to have another cataloger in the world.] My bestest friend is in library school and is finding her niche, too. She’s figured out she doesn’t want to be an academic librarian, so she’s now focusing on public librarianship. She’s also figured out that she wants to work directly with the users and that coding anything (which includes cataloging) is not how her brain works. So she won’t be going into cataloging. Oh well, we can’t all be perfect (a joke, people, a joke), and I love her anyway. After all, we can’t all have the same expertise now can we? It’s the diversity that makes our profession strong.