Still Hitting the Books: Graduate Alumni Discuss Library Careers

A year after earning her Ph.D. at Princeton, Deborah Schlein *19 (NES) still spends her days at Firestone Library—only now she does so as the Near Eastern Studies Librarian at Princeton University Library (PUL).

Schlein is among several recent CDH graduate alumni to pursue a career in libraries—a path they say has important continuities with their work in graduate school.

CDH alumni in library careers
CDH alumni, from left, Deborah Schlein, Daniel Johnson, and Miranda Marraccini

“There is no typical day as far as I can tell, which I actually like quite a lot,” she says, “but typical work for me includes research consultations with students, ordering books, working with our vendors in the Middle East to acquire the most relevant and important works . . . and collaborating both with my colleagues at PUL and with my Middle Eastern Studies librarian colleagues at other institutions. It's a job that requires good people skills, and that's my favorite part of the whole experience.”

“I know how lucky I am that I was able to get a job that combines so many parts of my experience: teaching undergrads, helping shape digital projects, collaboration, and public service,” says Miranda Marraccini *19 (ENG), who serves as Digital Pedagogy Librarian at the University of Michigan.

Marraccini’s work includes consulting with students and faculty and leading workshops on text analysis, project management, and more.

Daniel Johnson *16 (ENG), English and Digital Humanities Librarian at the University of Notre Dame, says he looks for ways that his scholarship in long eighteenth-century literature “might overlap with collection development or teaching.”

Johnson’s work as a librarian enabled a digital edition of John Keats’s copy of John Milton's Paradise Lost, an effort that saw him partner with colleagues from Notre Dame’s Department of English and external collaborators.

For Schlein, Marraccini, and Johnson, preparation for a career in libraries began early—even if they all did not plan to follow that path from the start.

Schlein knew all along that she wanted to work in museums or libraries after earning her Ph.D.

After interning at two museums before graduate school, she sought advice from the Middle East Librarians Association about how to gain experience for a career in libraries during her time at Princeton.

“Don’t be afraid to cold email people,” she advises.

Her Princeton graduate student experience included a stint as Graduate Assistant at the CDH and a semester as a CDH Graduate Fellow. She also worked at Special Collections through the GradFUTURES University Administrative Fellowship Program.

Although Marraccini did not set out to become a librarian, libraries have long been part of her life. She worked part-time in the library as an undergraduate at Amherst College and as a graduate student at Princeton.

She was also a graduate fellow at the CDH, where she worked on a DH project related to her research and had the opportunity to lead workshops like the ones she coordinates now.

“Since the CDH is in the library,” she says, “working there also helped me understand how different parts of the library functioned, because my other experience was in special collections. This was especially important because I don’t have a library school degree.”

For Johnson, however, “digital humanities and library opportunities came more as productive tangents.”

Having worked at the library reference desk as a master’s student at Wake Forest University, he took on a position at the Scribner Room at Firestone Library. Johnson also served as a map cataloguer and georeferencer at the Lewis Library, and co-chaired the DH Graduate Student Caucus.

“For all of these positions, my original motivation had not been big career-trajectory planning, so the lesson there is not to underestimate the influence of side-gigs and hobbies,” he says. “The ‘little’ avocations ended up having a major influence on my eventual pivot to librarianship as a career.”

To be sure, even for those with excellent preparation, the post-Ph.D. career landscape is not an easy one to navigate—especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schlein advises current job candidates to recognize “that the abysmal job market is not a reflection of you or your work.”

“I applied to numerous jobs and postdocs—in libraries, museums, and academia—in my last year as a grad student,” she says. “I made it to some secondary stages, but I was also outright rejected from many other jobs . . . All I can say is keep trying until you find something that works for you.”

Adds Marraccini: “The hopeful thing I can offer is that you might be sincerely satisfied with a job that’s not what you were originally looking for when you started the program.”

Author's Note: This story was developed in collaboration with GradFUTURES. Visit their website for profiles of more Princeton graduate alumni.

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