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Career Strategies for Librarians
Librarianship and Parenthood: Confessions of a New Mother
by Susanne Markgren

After having a baby, the last thing on my mind was work.  I was much too preoccupied with the
simultaneous sensations of overwhelming joy and boding responsibility, and the challenge of figuring
out how to care for a newborn, to be concerned about anything else.  Approximately three and a half
months later I was ready to go back to work.   

I work in a small academic, health sciences library as a reference librarian.  I enjoy my work immensely
and consider myself lucky to have found such a stimulating and supportive work environment and such
wonderful friends all in the same place.  Because the library is small, the professional staff is not bound
to traditional librarian roles.  We are able to take on a variety of different roles and more importantly to
continuously learn new skills and be involved in projects that are of interest to us.  I work several hours a
week at the reference desk as well as coordinate technology projects, maintain and update the library’s
web site, and assist in maintaining and updating the library’s catalog and electronic journals.  I am also
involved in instruction, curriculum planning, and scheduling.

Going Back to Work

After my official maternity leave expired, I was actually a little anxious to get back to work.  After fourteen
weeks of solely caring for my baby I was yearning for a little intellectual stimulation and some much
needed me time.  I also wanted to get back a little of the “old me” – the way things were before my
daughter was born.  Many new parents swear that a baby will not change their lifestyle. Well, my
husband and I were no exception.  She was entering our world, not the other way around.  Boy, were we
naive!  Our world, as we knew it, was completely turned upside down.  Having a baby is definitely the
most wonderful event and the most difficult job one can ever experience, and I am certainly not the first
mother to admit to being both emotionally and physically exhausted even months after giving birth.  
Going back to work would allow me to regain some control and restore a little order to my chaotic new
life.  

I am fortunate that my daughter was able to get into a wonderful daycare a few blocks from my work, and
I am grateful that my work environment is flexible enough that I am able to visit her during the day, and I
am able to take time off with little notice if needed.  With these important factors in place, starting back to
work was a fairly smooth process – on some levels.

Once I began working again, I discovered that although it was nice to gain part of my old life back, and to
delve into something other than diapers and formula, there was definitely something missing – my baby
daughter.  I missed her terribly!  Being without her during the day was a peculiar sensation.  It was
actually a little scary at first.  On one hand it almost felt like I had never left work, since work had not
changed.  At times I had to pinch myself as I sat at my desk — I had a baby…. I had a baby!  Work had
not changed, but I had.  And on the other hand it was difficult to stop thinking about her and her welfare.  
Was she eating enough? Was she sleeping well?  Did she notice my absence?  Do I need to buy more
diapers, more nipples, a new developmentally stimulating toy on my way home from work?  I found it
hard to pay attention during staff meetings, and even harder to care about a journal problem, the new
class we were going to offer, or a newly subscribed resource.  Science’s STKE what?  It took several
months for me to somewhat successfully combine the two very separate sensations and to begin to feel
and act like an actual working mother.

Balancing Act

It takes time to learn how to combine the two distinct parts of your life and to find the right balance that
works for you and your family.  This also means balancing  — or juggling — your emotions, your goals,
and your time.  I have come to realize that although I love my job and my profession, it is no longer as
important as it was before my daughter was born.  I am not quite as involved nor do I care quite as
much.  Who knows, maybe this will change as my daughter grows.  I imagine it will, but for now this is
how I feel.  And, I love my daughter more than anything, but I also realize that I need something for
myself.  I need to work for my own sanity and for the intellectual companionship that my job and my
coworkers provide for me.  I was lucky enough to find a profession that I truly care about and that
interests me and stimulates my ever-hungry mind.  Also, I feel that working and being able to step
outside of the mommy role helps me to be a happier and therefore better mother.  I am not saying that I
have found a perfect balance just yet, but I am getting closer.   

Of course, I say all this now as a mother of one who just happens to really enjoy her current job.  I do
intend to have another child sometime in the future and at that point I may completely change my
outlook.  When that time comes, I can envision not working for a while (which is something I never
thought I would say), or even possibly changing my career goals or changing my profession.  Having a
baby has made me realize that one of the most important characteristics one can possess, both
personally and professionally, is flexibility.  I intend to be flexible and if my work environment is not, then I
will consider other options.   

The Dilemma

Not all jobs or employers are or can be flexible, but I think that librarianship as a profession can be fairly
accommodating.  With occasional exceptions, a librarian’s job rarely involves a high-pressure, after-
hours work environment.  The profession as a whole is generally progressive and liberal, with a laid-
back atmosphere.  It seems feasible to take a year or two leave from the profession and be able to walk
back into it, received with open arms.  After all, our degrees do not expire.

On the other hand, librarianship is extremely fast-paced when it comes to technology.  I can’t imagine all
that I would miss out on if I left the profession for a year or two.  At my library we are currently
implementing OpenURL resolvers and virtual reference services, and promoting open-access journals,
what will be next?  Each month brings new databases, new ejournal and ebook collections, changes in
access, content and interfaces, and new publishing and archiving initiatives. Librarians’ roles constantly
change in order to keep up with the users, the vendors, and the publishing and information technology
industries.  This constant change is what scares me.  But at the same time I am confident in my abilities
to learn new skills and to embrace change, and I feel like I have a solid basis and understanding in the
technology of libraries which will help me immensely in the future, no matter if I take time off or not.

Take Comfort

The word librarian implies “job,” but it really embodies a spirit and a core skill set of an exceptionally
diverse profession. A wonderful aspect of librarianship, and one of the reasons I was drawn to it in the
first place, is its inherent flexibility.  The skills that we learn and practice as librarians can be interpreted
and utilized in many different ways in a wide variety of settings.  This brings me hope for my future as a
librarian and for the future of the profession.   

I take comfort in knowing that so many others are in the same situation and that I am not alone.  And
many of us, thankfully, have been quite vocal and proactive.  I know (or have heard) of librarians who
have changed career paths, gone from full time to part time, job-shared with a co-worker, or terminated
their employment for a finite amount of time after having a baby.  It is possible.  

I am pleased to see all of the current articles, web sites, and discussion lists dealing with balancing
work and family.   It is a relevant topic for many of us, and more needs to be written on the subject as
librarians discover new and unique ways to balance their careers with parenthood. I am also delighted
to see information and resources geared for “stay-at-home parents” who have left their jobs and want to
stay current in the profession. Now …if I only had time to look at all of them.  

About the Author:

Susanne Markgren is Reference Coordinator at the Levy Library, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New
York City, and a mother of a spirited 15-month-old toddler.  She’s been back at work for a year and is
juggling just fine --- for the time being.   

Article published Nov 2003

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