The Librarian as Therapist and Job Coach

Most people think of librarians as someone who merely recommends trashy novels. It’s lots more complicated than that.

It was late on a quiet evening when “Vasek” stopped in to say good-bye after finishing all of his exams. I used to see him night after night studying, and had to remind him we were closing. His dark eyes had deep circles and he wore a slight stubble.

“Hey Vasek, you’re done with exams. Congratulations!” He looked at me.

“Yes, finally I’m done. I go back to Poland to see my grandmother.” Was he drained from his exams, or was something deeper? I waited.

“I have three job offers.” Oddly, he didn’t seem excited, when most people would have been turning cartwheels to have three interviews, let alone offers.

“It sounds like you have time to recover and visit with your family.”

“Yes, that’s true. But I’m not sure I want these jobs.” What do I say to that? I hear many patrons bemoaning their inability to find a job beyond waitstaff at the local dining spot.

Finally I asked, “Do you want to be a software engineer, or stay in computer science?” Is this what happens to bartenders, who listen to a customer pour out his heart just before last call and closing? I wanted to help Vasek, but I had to shut down terminals and clear desks.

Words poured out. He went into computer science because his family pressured him. The work was okay, but he’d rather create an app with a friend of his. Then there were start-ups, but he wasn’t good enough. His family had debt from helping his expenses at school. Exhausted, he stared at me.

“So what do you want? Do you want to move to Silicon Valley, or Seattle?”

His face fell. “I am smart, but not wicked smart, you know? Good money, if the small company lasts, but they don’t.” He was right, of course, and being pragmatic.

Ever the librarian, I thought about books like What Color is Your Parachute, by Richard Bolles, the bible for job seekers. We had dozens of books on resumes and acing job interviews. What could I recommend?

“Okay, you’re telling me you have debts. You don’t want Silicon Valley. You’ve been a grad assistant, but you haven’t worked full-time in a “real” job.” Vasek kept nodding in agreement.

We were going to close in ten minutes. What could I say? He already knew about the books in the 650s for business. He had job offers. What next? Falling back on training, I repeated what he had said, then added my two cents’ worth.

“Vasek, you’re telling me you have minimal work experience, a boatload of debt, and dislike Silicon Valley despite the money. You’re still in your mid-twenties with a dual masters’ degree. Why not take an offer, pare down your debts, then move on in two years. You’ll know then what you don’t want.” His face brightened.

“You’re right. Can I give you a hug, and see you when I get back in two months?” I leaned over the desk and he gave me an awkward shoulder squeeze, then left.

I’ve thought about Vasek and others through the years who have asked for help. The easy solution would have been to list a bunch of books and a list of job hunting resources, but usually that isn’t enough. More often than not, taking an extra few minutes (if there’s time and no one is waiting), and listening lets people figure out their own solutions. Then we can strategize what to do next, or identify resources.

Library school can only teach you so much about finding information, but the real skills happen as you listen and problem-solve, rather than tell someone what to do.

What would you do in my position?

How do you help without forcing advice on people?

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