Graduating During COVID Sucks, but You’re Not Alone

By Chloe Hovind Clinkenbeard

Raise your hand if this was supposed to be your summer. If this was the summer for you to get that library job, to start a new chapter in a new town, and to begin that career of yours with a bang.

Now raise your hand if, like me and so many people around the world, the global pandemic flushed those intentions down the drain.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who experienced this sudden stop to my library career during the last six months, but I wish that I saw more people out there talking about it. So, I’m going to talk about it. It’s my hope that by sharing my story, the things I’ve learned, the things I’ve compromised, and the ways I’ve coped, that someone else might be encouraged that we are not failures. We are not helpless during this period of waiting. 

So, let’s get real here, but let’s do it together. 

Rewind to the end of February, 2020. I was in Norfolk, VA at the Music Librarianship Association’s annual conference, surrounded by coworkers, mentors, and friends. It was the final night and I was relishing in the bright things up ahead: a night of socializing with the other librarians, a plan with my mentor to co-present at MLA 2021 (my first conference paper!), and new friends from MLStEP to work with in the months ahead. 

Fast forward one month to March 2020, and already the narrative had completely changed. Every day I received a new email about another cancelled milestone event: my recital, a final concert, the graduation ceremony, this that and another conference. Together with many of my friends and colleagues, I suffered during those few weeks where everything shut down – it takes a lot out of you when the rug gets pulled from under your feet. 

And yet. There was still my degree to finish, final projects to complete, and hours to be worked for the library. (Side note: I am especially grateful to my friends and colleagues during this time. This was the make it or break it for many teachers and students, and I feel very thankful to the librarians and faculty at Indiana University for doing what they could to ensure that my colleagues and I could still finish off the semester strong.) In the end, I still received my MLS this May with a specialization in Music Librarianship. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t decide whether to be joyful at this milestone of an accomplishment, or to cry because my “ceremony” was joining a Facebook live session to watch my name scroll by while sitting on the couch in my living room.

The question then became, “What next?” Most of my job applications for library jobs came back during those months to say that the position had either been removed or put on hold indefinitely. Originally my plan had been to find a job before graduation and to move to that location during the summer, but with no job offers and 45 days left on my lease, I decided to just move back home to my family. To summarize the next few months that followed, I took a break from worrying about jobs to move across the country, get married, move into a new place, and finally catch my breath.

I knew by then that my chances of finding either a music job or a library job in my town were slim, but I still applied for a few positions that seemed promising: a clerk at a music shop, a reference librarian substitute, an education coordinator for the county libraries, etc. By the time I had interviewed and been turned down for each of those positions, I felt a mixture of complicated emotions. First, I felt like a major let-down to all of my amazing mentors over the last few years. Secondly, I was left wondering if all the schooling and work I did was even worth it if I couldn’t even qualify for what seemed like simple, entry-level positions. Thirdly, I felt confused and annoyed that I couldn’t tell what was caused by the pandemic, and what was caused by my own short-comings. 

Inevitably, time kept ticking away and I couldn’t afford to be unemployed any longer (no, I didn’t qualify for unemployment, ugh). So I took a deep breath and started a job in retail. Forgive me if I seem to be over dramatic, but it felt a little like a rock-bottom for my career, and I had barely gotten started!

But I knew that dwelling on those thoughts and feelings wasn’t going to change my situation, and that comparing myself to my other colleagues who did find library jobs was only going to make me feel worse. So I decided to be open about my discouragement, and found that hearing from others about their own experiences was immensely encouraging! A librarian back in Indiana had sent me some encouragement that I re-read over and over and over during these last months to remind myself of something very important: I am not alone. I am not the only one to have gone through something like this. Let me share some of what she said of her own experiences:

“That time was very different from right now, but it was similarly difficult to get a job. After teaching for a year, I decided to take a position that was completely outside my field. . . At the time, it felt like I was failing because I wasn’t working in my intended field, but looking back it was awesome. It was in some ways freeing to step away from what I had been entrenched in for so long. I learned so much about technical writing and data management that I ended up using through graduate school and in my job now. . . I taught violin lessons during that time so I still felt connected to music. All that to say, if a library job doesn’t come up right away, you can still gain skills and experience in a fulfilling way outside of a library. . . [and] you will make the most of any opportunity that comes your way.”

Using that encouragement, I felt empowered to make a choice. I could either let my disappointed feelings overwhelm me and give up, or I could let this time be an opportunity to grow in my skills until the time is right to begin my librarian career. This is a choice anyone in my boat can make too, and by choosing to make the most out of a crappy situation, we can be better prepared for our futures.

So, I started to see my retail job as a way to grow in my customer services skills and front-desk-efficiency. I decided to make use of free educational resources in my free time to progress my learning (such as reading the free ebook, “Archival Description of Notated Music”). And I’ve begun to search for any remote library internships or volunteering opportunities to keep my foot in the door, and to continue to build my local network of library peers.

It may not be ideal, but looking for the opportunities during a delayed library career and being open to sharing your experiences with others who are in similar situations are the ways in which you, me, and others will get through this. Just remember, COVID sucks, you don’t, and together we will be okay!

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