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Aug 10 / Philip Zupon

The Long Hard Path To Becoming A Librarian – Part II

Like every major chapter of my life from getting my Eagle Scout award to graduating from high school, pursuing my career as a librarian has never been easy. What really makes this chapter of my life so different from many of the others is that I have not struggled as much academically as I have in finding employment. This trend first became apparent to me the summer after my first semester at Oakland University. Around the very last day of finals, I had noticed a posting for a circulation assistant at the university main library near the entrance and I had immediately applied for the position. Within less than a week, I had received a call from the library for an interview and I succeed in landing my first library job ever as a circulation assistant.

At the age of twenty-five, this job was not only my first library job but my first professional job ever. Prior to that, I had worked for three summers as a floor-worker at a warehouse that sold lawn-sprinkling and landscape lighting equipment to contractors and at the time, I was still working as a part-time floor-worker at my local Rite Aid pharmacy. Neither of these environments were professional work environments nor did they prepare me for the professional environment that I would encounter when working at a library. A change in work environments is not nearly as challenging for non-Asperger’s individuals as it is for Asperger’s individuals since non-Asperger’s individuals generally do not struggle with learning the social rules of different work environments like Asperger’s individuals do. For me, the transfer from a non-professional work environment to a professional work environment was particularly difficult because the social rules at both the drug store and the warehouse were rather obvious and straightforward. In a modern professional environment, such as a library, the social rules may seem informal. However, there are many hidden social formalities in how you deal with people in this type of environment that are not obvious at first but nevertheless, still exist and quickly become apparent to just about everyone except individuals like me who struggle with social skills difficulties.
If this had been the only issue of difficulty relating to my Asperger’s Syndrome that I had been facing, I am fairly certain that I would have survived at this job. However, as in many times throughout my childhood, some of the major quirks that are a part of my Asperger’s Syndrome began to rear their ugly heads against me. First, there was the issue of social skills that I described above. Next there was the issue of multi-tasking. Usually, when I learn a job that requires me to do more than one major task at a time, I have to learn each task separately and practice them again and again until I learn them or write the job procedures down on paper so that I can look at the procedures as a fresh reminder whenever I have to do the job. Finally, there was the issue of learning the leadership hierarchy of the library system. Because I had never had so many immediate supervisors and managers directly above me in a workplace environment, I had a terrible time figuring out the chain of command among all of them. This led to my eventual dismissal from the library after only a year of working there.

I did the best that I could to fight to keep my job. Since I was receiving assistance from my state’s disability rehabilitation services at the time, I tried to see if there was any way that my counselor could intervene for me and explain my situation to my circulation manager and see if she could get my manager to let me stay. I also asked my counselor to provide me with a job coach to help me better identify areas where I was having difficulty and convince my manager to allow me to have the accommodations that I needed to perform my work successfully. However, my counselor was only able to convince my circulation manager to let me stay an extra semester longer. Furthermore, while I was provided with a job coach, the job coach only observed me for several weeks and then took the manager’s side telling me that I would never be capable of performing any multi-tasking jobs in a library or any other setting. I stuck around at my job for the full spring and following summer semester while simultaneously looking for another library job and continuing to work at Rite Aid. While I still feel deeply hurt and betrayed by the job coach’s lack of understanding, I lost all of my disability services when I turned 26 that summer and she would not have been able to help me after that anyhow. Meanwhile, I was very determined to find another library circulation assistant position so that I could prove all of my skeptics wrong!

It didn’t take long for a breeze of luck to blow my way. Near the end of the next spring semester, I received a phone call from someone I knew and trusted at the university telling me that the Educational Resources Laboratory (ERL), the department library for the School of Education, had an opening for a circulation assistant. She encouraged me to apply as quickly as I could. This I did. I got the job and my experience at the Education Resources Laboratory was almost completely the opposite of my experience at the university main library. Everyone there was more than willing to work with me and enable me to have all of the accommodations that I needed in order to do whatever job they asked me to do successfully. I proved not only to myself but to all of those around me that I could be a successful circulation assistant and that I was capable of doing the very multi-task jobs that my job coach had claimed that I was incapable of doing. More importantly, however, I proved that I was not only capable but very good at working in a profession that required me to interact with people on a continual basis. During the month of August, Jack’s Place for Autism hosted its summer camp with Joey Travolta—that’s right, John Travolta’s brother—on the floor below where the ERL was located. I don’t think we had a quiet moment that week as the ERL was flooded with young children with Autism ranging from ages six to thirteen all eager to check out the various books that the ERL had in its large children’s section. There are many different views among those of us within the library profession as to what truly represents what the library stands for. I myself believe that the library is truly at its finest during the week of summer children’s reading camp. During this time, the library is awash with young children of all ages discovering the joys of learning more about things that they are interested in and discovering new interests in the forms of things that they never knew existed. It’s all in the colorful “reading rainbow” of knowledge that exists within the pages of the books and many other forms of media that the library has to offer us.

All things must come to an end someday. I had begun my job as a circulation assistant at the Educational Resources Laboratory the summer before my last semester at Oakland University and the position was a work-study job. Consequently, when I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2008, the ERL was forced to lay me off. Everyone at the ERL was sorry to see me go because I was such a dedicated employee and I was very passionate about my work there. However, the ERL library director and a few of the other librarians that I had become good friends with at the university main library were convinced that I would be able to quickly find another library job. I had already been accepted into the Library and Information Science Program at Wayne State University; which I was slated to begin that fall. That summer, I applied for every library position that I could find that did not require a Master’s degree in library science (an MLIS); including library page positions. However, I was not successful in obtaining any of those positions. Fortunately, I still had my job at Rite Aid. So I kept looking while preparing for fall and the beginning of graduate school.

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Part III »