February 9, 2006

Confessions of a Science Librarian

Inspired by Adventures in Ethics and Science and Stranger Fruit...

So, how does a person go from being a software developer to being a science librarian?

  • From a very young age, always read a lot of books, magazines, comic books and whatever else is lying around, mostly science fiction and fantasy but a lot of other stuff too.
  • Also from a young age, related to an interest in science fiction, also read a lot and exhibit a lot of interest in science and math. Math is always the best subject at school, by far.
  • Source of much pocket money during college and university -- tutoring math (especially geometry, always loved geometry) and other subjects at former high school.
  • At middle of college career (college in Quebec where I grew up is a two year pre-university institution, equivalent to grades 12 and 13) in 1982 get a tour of a computing centre where a cousin worked and think, "hey, this is kinda cool."
  • Take Fortran course in second year. Life is changed. Even do bonus extra assignment on matrix multiplications. Using computers to solve mathematical problems is a revelation (although this thread is sorta never followed up on).
  • Apply to Computer Science at Concordia University. Pursue General Business Option and end up taking a lot of accounting, finance, marketing, etc, along with Fortran, Pascal, data structures, operating systems and all the rest. Do really well in stats and numerical analysis courses. Except for this one stats course we won't really talk about.
  • Along with tutoring, get a job as Programmer on Duty at Concordia Computer Centre. Involves sitting at desk or roving around helping students debug their programs or get the systems to work. Challenging but lots of fun. Remarkably like reference desk, but never make the connection.
  • After graduation (1986), get job at multinational insurance broker doing database development in FoxPro, later in Wang Pace and Powerbuilder. Work there for 12+ years. Best part about the job? Working mostly with the finance and accounting functions, helping people find the information they need to get their job done. Remarkably like research consultations, never make the connection. Like working with people and crunching premium and commission numbers.
  • Eventually tire of the constant retraining to new technologies, fed up of unstable mergers/aquisitions situation at company for several years, contemplate leaving job and getting a new one. However, since in the middle of a large, multiyear project, don't want to leave until that is mostly put to bed.
  • Have lots of time to think, "Do I want a new job or a new career?" Examples of librarians among friends and family. Research indicates that libraries seem to be rather computer-oriented these days. This is about 1996-97. Start to make some of those connections. Start to make plans.
  • Quit job and go to Library School full time at McGill. This is fall 1998.
  • Figure I'll end up working at a library vendor until, at the end of the first year, a student in the second year (Thanks, Larry!) recruits me to do a practicum placement at the Physical Sciences and Engineering Library. End up doing some volunteer reference work in the fall of the second year, 144 hour practicum in the winter and 3 week contract in the spring.
  • Get acquainted with serving a scitech clientelle as a science librarian and think, "Hey, this is great! I wouldn't mind doing this!" (Thanks, Darlene, Marika and Liz).
  • Coincidentally, while looking for a job during the spring of second year, see a posting on notice board for a science librarian job at York University. Even though it's in Toronto and I'm in Montreal and we don't really want to move, apply anyway.
  • Get job. Start in August 2000. Rest is history.
  • Much sadness about old place of work.
  • Really like buying books on numerical analysis and scientific computing.

You wouldn't believe how often I get asked why I switched from a techie career to librarianship. Now we all know. I encourage more stories.


Anonymous said...

You really had me going until you got to the "numerical analysis" part. I know that no rational human being likes that stuff. But then, the year after I took it at Waterloo, they split the course into two because jamming all the content into one half-credit was just too brutal.

So, I might be biased.

- David @ Western

John Dupuis said...

No really, it's all true. Maybe it was a little different when I took the course -- one semester but really taught as a CS course rather than a math course. In other words, all the assigments were programming assignments and all the exams really focused on writing code samples to solve equations (at least that's what I remember, it's been over 20 years). As I recall, it was also the first course I ever took where you could choose what language to do your assignments it. As I recall, I chose Fortran!