Pursuing a career in library science as a history major
Tracey Gilrein Kry '04, Assistant Curator of Manuscripts & Reference Librarian
Advanced Degrees: MLS in Library Science, Simmons College
Employer: American Antiquarian Society
A typical day. My job is split into two roles – as an assistant curator, and as a reference librarian. First, a quick description of AAS – AAS is an academic research library. Our collection is focused on 18th and 19th century American imprints (we have a cutoff date of 1876). My collection, manuscripts, is a bit different, as manuscripts by nature are not printed, published, etc. AAS boasts the best collection of pre 1820 printed newspapers and books in the country.
As curator, I am responsible for managing the manuscript collection at the society. This involves handling all reference questions related to the collection, processing and cataloging new collections as they arrive, training and supervising interns, surveying the collection for preservation and housing issues, and other special projects.
As a reference librarian, I work half of my time at the reference desk in the society’s Reading Room. While at the desk I answer in person reference questions, assist readers with their research, page material (it is a closed stack library), and enforce reading room policies, including ensuring all readers are handling the material properly.
How I got here after graduating at MHC. I took two years to decide what I wanted to do. I didn’t jump right into graduate school, as I wanted to work in libraries first to make sure it was what I really wanted to do before I invested more money in my education. I attended Simmons College’s Library School program while working full time in a library, so it took almost 3 years to complete.
Since I’ve graduated from MHC, I’ve worked in many different libraries to find the right one for me – a public library, high school library, academic library, a corporate library, and multiple archives. I’ve given up full time work for temporary internships, and I’ve also spent time working in a call center, as a barista, and a lot of shifts at Barnes and Noble. Finding the right job didn’t happen right away, nor was it easy, considering I needed to support myself through graduate school.
Things that could have made the path from a history major to where I am now smoother. Although, there’s not much I would have done differently. People will sometimes comment that my resume is weak because I changed jobs so frequently. Personally, I don’t think that has affected me and my ability to find work. I think it has made me a well-rounded professional, and has diversified my skill set.
The one stage in my career that I would change if I could would be my first two years out of undergrad before I went to graduate school. I would have been riskier in my choices. I would have done more internship or volunteer work while working paying jobs not in my field. That was the time to take the most chances, as I wasn’t bogged down with real life issues yet, so I wish I had done more than I did.
Advice for Mount Holyoke history majors who wants to prepare for a career in my field. I would definitely suggest working in a career, whether it be library science, or anything else, before going to graduate school. I understand it’s a different economy now, and finding a job before graduate school can be impossible, but at least volunteer, intern, etc., to make absolutely sure it’s the right fit for you. It’s also good to build your resume whenever you can.
Speaking specifically to future librarians – it’s an incredibly diverse career. Working in a public library is drastically different from working in a corporate library, for example. Take as many opportunities as you can to find the right fit for you, your skills, and your interests.
While paying for more education is never easy, libraries unfortunately do look for an MLS for anything beyond a paraprofessional position, so library school is a must if you want a career, not just a job, in libraries.
History majors starting out in a career. I think history majors need to think outside the box. You can do some much with the degree! But I do think for many career trajectories, the history undergraduate degree is just the beginning, and specialized degrees are unfortunately needed (but that’s the case with all liberal arts degrees…). But take advantage of your momentary freedom before student loans come rolling in and get experience!
And thinking outside the box is especially true for history majors wanting to become librarians. You can work anywhere! I worked for the Walt Disney Company in Florida as a librarian – library jobs really are incredibly diverse!