my journey to the library: an update

The Big Life Change continues. [See here, here and here for background.]

I've been accepted to the University of Toronto Faculty of Information. I start in September, going part-time, to attain my Master of Information, surely the coolest name of any degree going.

My goal (as of now) is to work part-time in a public library system, preferably in my own town of Mississauga.

Ideally, employment as a librarian would replace my current day-job as a legal document production specialist, and I would still write. However, I'm not opposed to considering full-time librarian work at some point. I could see doing that for a few years for financial reasons, then dropping back to part-time work.

With this is mind, yesterday I met with the Director of the Mississauga Library System, for information and to start making connections there.

Everything I learned got me really excited about working in Mississauga, for so many reasons.

I really enjoy living in Mississauga. I love the diversity, the excellent services, the friendliness, the cleanliness. I don't love the ugly townhouse developments, but I do love the big-box stores (something I never thought I'd say!) and all the mom-and-pop restaurants hidden in the ugly strip malls. I love the dog parks, and the community centres, and my friendly neighbours who speak 25 different languages. I especially love the library system.

Working in Mississauga would be a joy for commuting, and I would be be proud to serve this community in the excellent, accessible system.

I was thinking along these lines anyway, but since my meeting this week, I'm even more certain.

The Mississauga Library System is very modern, very progressive, for both patrons and employees. It serves 26 different languages in 18 branches and an amazing Central Library.

It offers a vast array of services, from online book clubs, to story times geared for working parents, free computer workshops for seniors, teen poetry slams, a commitment to documenting local history... you can even borrow a pedometer as part of the Get Active Mississauga program.

Almost everything is state-of-the-art, and anything that's not is about to be upgraded. They have an enviable budget, plus a Friends of the Library organization that raises another $100,000 a year with book sales.

From the employee's point of view, the librarians are unionized (a CUPE local), so there's job security and a pay-scale agreement. But, unlike the older seniority systems that many city library and school systems run on, advancement in the Mississauga Library is merit-based.

I'm not knocking seniority systems in general, they were important gains in the early days of public employees' unions. But they have their drawbacks, especially for a person starting a new career in mid-life. In a merit-based system, I'll be able to advance and thrive.

I'll also have more control over my career. If I work in Toronto, I'll have to take whatever part-time job is available, because I'll be so far down the seniority list that I'll have no choice. I could easily have to work in branches that will be difficult to get to and have bad hours, but have no choice. In Mississauga, I'll have a much better chance of having my hard work and talents noticed and rewarded.

There's one drawback, and you can already guess what it is: lower salaries. But the salaries are still fine. They're certainly comfortable, and that's all I've ever looked for or expected.

The Director said the employment outlook is very positive. They're not expecting a wholesale retirement of baby boomers (there is no mandatory retirement, which is good!), but of course some people are retiring, and branches are expanding, and new branches are being built. There are also several nearby towns - Oakville, Brampton, Halton, Milton - that also have good library systems, and where the population is also expanding.

The Director introduced me to a few library managers, who were excited to meet a Mississauga resident about to begin library school. They've already put me in touch with several other resources: a current U of T FI student and a recent graduate, both working in the Mississauga system, the Director of Children's Services and several other relevant folks. They're all so friendly and helpful; it reminds me of our first weeks in Canada.

* * * *

Soon I have to get a student ID, fork over a bunch of borrowed money, and enrol in my September classes.

I'm fighting hard to take it one step at a time and not be overwhelmed. The same strategies that got me through the Canadian Immigration process will work here. Plan the next step, take that step. Plan another step, take that step. Step, step, step. Anytime I feel my stomach knot up with anxiety, it means I'm thinking too many steps ahead. Breathe and back up.


M@ said...


I'm fighting hard to take it one step at a time and not be overwhelmed.

But it must be really helpful to get through a major step like this. Looking forward to hearing more good news.

L-girl said...

Thank you!

Remind me, what major step have I gotten through?

richard said...

I do love the big-box stores

Now there's a phrase I never thought I'd see on this blog [shakes head, mutters] ;-)

L-girl said...

"Now there's a phrase I never thought I'd see on this blog"

LOL, I know! It's not in keeping with anything else you'll read here, but I love them and always have. Schlepping around NYC by public transit for 25 years, my favourite shopping was to borrow my mother's car and go to Ikea and Costco.

I wrote a whole post about it once, I'll look for it later.

But don't worry, I've never stepped foot in a Wal-Mart, and never will. :)

Amy said...

Congratulations on the acceptance (I think that was the first major step referred to in the first comment)!

And that is so encouraging about the local library system. They are opening NEW branches??? In Springfield, they have been closing branches and limiting hours for years now because of financial problems. Is this just one more way that Canada has its priorities straight?

Again, congrats!

L-girl said...

Thanks for the congrats. In all fairness I must say acceptance was a given. That's not false modesty, but anyone with a decent record and willingness to pay will be accepted.

This area is building more libraries because the population is expanding constantly. Mississauga's population has doubled (from 350,000 to 700,000) in the past 6 years and is still growing. It's expected to be 850,000 by 2012. That's all from immigration.

Libraries are well funded here compared to the US. Until recently I didn't realize so many US cities and towns have corporate-funded libraries, almost nothing taxpayer-supported.

L-girl said...

I was actually accepted a while ago. I didn't think to post it. :)

Woti-woti said...

This is great news! You have no idea how many of my buddies have lamented the fact that they didn't have the 'whatevers' to make fresh career decisions in their forties. I sincerely hope it meets your expectations.

L-girl said...

Thank you so much, Woti. I'm nervous, but excited and happy about it.

I have a very limited time left to those 40s! (I turned 48 last month.) But still, one can only look ahead.

Amy said...

That is a huge population increase. What is happening with housing, jobs, etc., to accommodate all those people?

The local library system in Springfield as well as the town libraries in the surrounding towns like ours are largely supported by tax money, not private sources. But that is the problem. Massachusetts passed over 20 years ago a tax limiting rule that has choked many towns and cities which cannot get the local support to override Prop 2 1/2. In poor cities like Springfield, there are fewer resources for additional private funding and a shrinking tax base. Libraries, schools, etc., are all suffering.

L-girl said...

Sorry, too much copy/paste there!

* * * *

"That is a huge population increase. What is happening with housing, jobs, etc., to accommodate all those people?"

Massive increases in everything. When we first visited Toronto in 2004, the skyline was filled with cranes.

In Mississauga, every square inch that's not already jammed with either townhouses or shopping plazas has a sign announcing coming construction.

Of course the pace has slowed with the recession, and the Conservatives have changed the immigration rules and are letting fewer people in. But I still think that's largely temporary, in the greater scheme of things.

Mississauga's famous mayor has worked to attract a lot of corporate HQs and other business here. They have to bear all the costs of infrastructure increases - and their taxes help keep property taxes down.

Many, many towns in this area are hit VERY hard by the recession/depresison, as they are dependent on the auto industry. But Mississauga has been shielded from that, relatively speaking.

Re public/corporate money for libraries, I should have said that Mass, NY and a few other states are the big exceptions to that. But throughout the US, "public" libraries are now funded entirely by corporate contributions.

johngoldfine said...

Laura--when you are top librarian, will you please stop the libraries from de-accessioning (sorry for the jargon) their book collections. I do not and never will understand why half the books I buy second-hand originally come from public libraries.

And I have no doubt you will be top librarian if the staircase is built on merit.

Lisa said...

Woohoo fellow library school colleague!

I would say congratulations, but you are absolutely right...there was no question of you getting in.

I may see you around campus, if not in a course (which I think could be amazing and completely weird..!) at the same time...).

I personally am shitting bricks about being school again...my twirly stomach can't decide if its excited or scared.

You are ALREADY networking?


L-girl said...

Thanks Lisa!!

"I personally am shitting bricks about being school again...my twirly stomach can't decide if its excited or scared."

Me too. Me too me too. I have been out of school since 1982!!

"You are ALREADY networking?"

Don't let that impress you. It happened by accident.

I applied for a page job with the Mississauga system, and didn't hear anything for a long time. The application process is completely impersonal, so I finally decided to follow up with a real person.

I emailed the director, asking if he could forward my email to the appropriate person. I ID'd myself as starting FI in Sept, hoping to eventually work in Miss'a.

He wrote back and said he regularly meets with ppl like me, would I like to come in and chat? From there he connected me with so many people!

And YOU, my friend, are networking already because you're already working in a library at UofT! Yes?

L-girl said...

And I agree that being in a class together would be very fun and weird!

johngoldfine said...

Every year I have lots of students back after a million years off, all with twirly stomachs--a problem lasting in most cases for about twenty minutes. Their biggest fear: writing on computers! Is that going to be a problem for you, do you think?


What I found in graduate school after a few years of driving cab, building highway signs, and running heat treater furnaces was that everything was much more grown-up than it had been in college. The universal draft had just been abolished and replaced with a lottery so everyone was there out of desire, not fear, and there was a strong collegial relationship between professors and students. I hated college, loved grad school.

I was interested in your comments about the union. In our community college system and our union, there has been a 40 year struggle over whether librarians should belong to the teachers' union, the midlevel administrators' union, or (if htey are confidential employees) no union at all. For now, no union.

Of course, state financial problems continuously undercut the union: we've just had our contract unilaterally abrogated with all negotiated raises frozen and an unnegotiated increase in insurance payments. Hard to convince new hires that they should join the union when stuff like that happens....

L-girl said...

Hi JohnGoldfine!

Thanks for your thoughts, much appreciated. I recall always having stomach butterflies for the start of school - every year, forever. I'm less anxious than I used to be (years of work!) and I know how to handle the anxiety better. Plus if all else fails: drugs. :)

I loved college (called university here) and I'm expecting to at least like grad school, although in a very different way.

johngoldfine said...

I still have stomach butterflies and I've been on the right side of the desk since 1972.... A long history of anxiety dreams before school starts: go to class, no computers, four times the students I'm supposed to have, somehow forgot to prepare for class, can't even fucking find my classroom, etc. My students are astonished the first day when I tell them I'm damn near as nervous as they are: after all, that first day, there's only one person who is on stage required to stand and deliver....

Maybe Amy has the same issues or maybe she is made of tougher stuff than I am!

Anyway, from following your thinking and doing and being in these two blogs, I know you're going to ace it and be the Master and Mistress of Information in a big way.

L-girl said...

Oh the anxiety dreams... :)

I taught briefly and have done a fair amount of public speaking. Oddly, I have always much less nervous about that than I was about school - despite always having been an excellent student. What it is about school that puts us back in that position.

Thank you so much for your thoughts and your confidence!

L-girl said...

"My students are astonished the first day when I tell them I'm damn near as nervous as they are"

Ah, that's a good teacher who shares that with his students! I'm sure it helps you and them.

Amy said...

John, to answer your question: I have always said that the day I start a semester and am not incredibly nervous is the day I know that it is time to retire. If you do not have some anxiety, some adrenaline rush, that first week, then you probably no longer care whether you are doing a good job.

Now that does not mean that I am as nervous as I was 27 years ago, but I am still nervous, just more confident. Even now, with school still over a month away, I find myself waking up, thinking about my syllabus, the need to update materials, etc.

Amy said...

Anxiety dreams: For years and years I had a recurring dream that I was registered for a math course that I had forgotten about. The exam was coming up, and I knew there was no way I could BS my way through math!

Now those dreams tend to be more along the lines of a course I am suddenly assigned to teach that I have no idea how to teach!

johngoldfine said...

"My students are astonished the first day when I tell them I'm damn near as nervous as they are"

I could come in the first day, slam my books down, and say, "I'm your teacher, I'm the boss around here, so don't you ever try to challenge me 'cause you're always going to lose!"

I know colleagues who still think you catch more flies with vinegar than honey. Of course, once you launch yourself on that idiotic route and role, you're stuck with them forever. Although I have anxiety dreams and real anxiety too, once I'm in class dealing with students, I lose nothing and gain a lot in general good atmosphere by admitting to anxiety, stress, anger, and all the other woes of humanity. It's not like students are ever fooled anyway!

The only time I have to tee off on students is when I get one of those smirkers wearing a MFY cap or other regalia. I usually terrorize them thusly: "You know I don't ordinarily give a fuck what you say in class, with a certain exception. Yes, there are three dirty words that really press my buttons." Then I roll my eyes over to the NYY logo and hold them there till I get a laugh....

johngoldfine said...

"What it is about school that puts us back in that position."

Even for those of us who were student whizzes, somewhere inside we are always little, feeling overwhelmed and helpless, dependent on a big person of uncertain goodwill, and struggling for understanding.

Amy said...

I agree, John, that admitting your humanity only helps with students. Although when I was a new teacher, I feared admitting I did not know something or that I was wrong, I have learned over the years that students appreciate honesty and modesty and feel more willing to admit their own confusion and errors if they know that the teacher experiences those things as well.

I also always "pick on" the Yankee cap wearers! I warn them that they are just looking to be called on when least expected! (Yes, I do that Paper Chase thing of "cold calling" on students to present cases.) But then I also always disclose that I am married to a Yankee fan so that they know I won't really hold it against them. (Plus we have anonymous grading!)

impudent strumpet said...

Teachers get nervous??? Seriously?? I had no idea!

Serious question: if it makes you nervous, why do you do it?

L-girl said...

"Serious question: if it makes you nervous, why do you do it?"

I am not a teacher, but I can answer that question about many things. I get nervous when I start big assignments. I do public speaking and I get nervous every time. Every actor and musician I have ever known gets nervous before performing.

The anxiety is not a bad thing. It's part of the process. It can be like a charge, an adrenaline rush.

Obviously too much of it would hamper one's performance, but the presence of anxiety isn't necessarily a negative.

L-girl said...

Typo: I get nervous when I start big ^writing^ assignments.

Amy said...

IS, I do it because I love it! And I am not always nervous, just at the beginning of the semester. Once I know the students and have the rhythm of the class, I am not anxious except perhaps when I am teaching something new or trying a new approach. And being nervous is not a bad thing, as Laura said. It's part of caring about what you do and wanting to do a good job.

impudent strumpet said...

Wow, I don't get anything positive out of being nervous. No adrenaline, no rush, nothing. It's just an obstacle.

This is so interesting, I had no idea that different people experience nervous differently!

Amy said...

I don't like being nervous, but I accept it as part of the job and know it will go away. It is only a positive in the sense that it reminds me that I still care. It doesn't make me a better teacher.

L-girl said...

It is interesting!

I have a thing about forcing myself to do things I'm afraid of. Not if I don't really want to do them, but if I want to do something, and I'm afraid - and fear is the only thing stopping me - I try to make myself do it. If I can do it, even once, it's very rewarding. And in some cases, I can keep doing it, and the fear lessens considerably, and I feel really good to do the thing w/o the fear.

Some nervousness is like that to me - a challenge.

L-girl said...

I should also say that (like Amy) I don't find most anxiety positive. But, for example, the anxiety I have over writing I have come to recognize has part of my writing process. I can't stop it, so have to accept it and move through it.