Comics Libriarian As A Career Path

By | Tuesday, November 20, 2012 Leave a Comment
I'm still kicking around some thoughts from my visit to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum yesterday. Not so much the work that I saw, but the people working there. Caitlin McGurk noted at one point that working at the BICLM this was really part of a deliberate and decidedly conscious career path. She had previously worked in research/librarian capacities for the Center for Cartoon Studies, the Bulliet Comics Collection at Columbia University and Marvel among others.

It's that last item at Marvel that caught my attention. Not so much because "Ooo, it's Marvel" but because they were the first comics outfit of any sort that I had heard of to have a librarian/archivist. That would've been Peter Sanderson. When I first learned of Sanderson and his role at Marvel, I was quite jealous. I mean, reading and organizing comics all day? And getting paid for it? How awesome is that?

But that was pretty much it, as far as job possibilities went at the time. There was no set of courses you could take at college to train for "comics librarian" or "comics archivist" or anything like that, because that simply was not a job opportunity. It wasn't like saying you wanted to be a rock-and-roll star, where there's also no standard path to that job and your odds of landing in the position are extremely remote. No, back in the 1980s, there was not a single job opportunity like that anywhere! There was Sanderson's job and that was it!

Now, you could go into library sciences and become a "regular" librarian and maybe you could push for a comics collection of some sort. That's what some people were trying to do in the 1980s. But if there weren't comics involved, honestly, the librarian aspect doesn't appeal to me all that much. That's why I went into graphics as a profession.

But, now, you've got people like McGurk who has carved out a career path as a comics librarian! Not a librarian who does some stuff with comics, a comics librarian! She's held (to my knowledge) five different positions at five different, wholly unrelated places, as a comics librarian. I can't speak to the career histories of the other folks working at BICLM, but they're all comics librarians too. There are five (I think) of them working full-time at the BICLM.

Five. At one location. Now check out this list of libraries that have reasonably sized comics holdings. Not a bad list, eh?

How cool is it that we're at a point now where "comics librarian" is not just a possible vocation, but one where, if you really dislike your boss or the surroundings or whatever, you still have a decent shot at being a comics librarian somewhere else? I honestly don't know if I would've enjoyed the librarian angle enough to have enjoyed the non-comics stuff that I would've almost certainly had to have done before getting to now, but that the occupation is viable now where it was barely realistic a decade ago is phenominal.

Anyone reading this who's still in high school or can change majors in college? Take your interest in comics to go get a library sciences degree!
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