From New York big shot to hometown librarian

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL

With a high-paying job in New York City and bright prospects for her media career, Carrie O’Malley had what many 20-somethings dream of. But she wasn’t satisfied. As she shares in her story “New Rewards,” in our book about finding your own happiness, she didn’t feel fulfilled professionally until she left it all behind to pursue a career that felt truly rewarding. Carrie writes:

I took a huge pay cut when I began working in a library. I had a college degree, was working on a master’s degree and had worked in the media business for four years in New York City. But my work in corporate America wasn’t satisfying. I found myself “working for the weekend” and spending a lot of after-work time at the mid-Manhattan branch library, poring over stories about happier, more satisfied people, and trying to figure out what it would take for me to be happy at work.

It turns out, what was making me happy outside of work could also make me happy at work.

So, at 27 years old, I moved back home to Indiana and became a page — the lowliest of the low-paid in libraries — and my new career with a minimum wage paycheck began.

This also happened to be around the time that the economy crumbled and people began losing their jobs in record numbers. Our library was in a neighborhood that was already poor, so we found more and more people flooding in to learn how to file for unemployment and how to apply for new jobs. Some of them were also simply looking for a good, free movie to lift their spirits. People who hadn’t noticed the library before were now appreciating all the ways we could help.

Although I enjoy helping the adults, what really makes my workdays rewarding is working with the children. During the school year, they come through the doors at 3:30 p.m., looking for a positive escape from the dire situations they face at home. Most of them are in to use the computers, but some of them are in to pick up a new book. And then there are the few who are there to talk to me and the other library staff members, to share with us their triumphs and their hopes for a brighter future.

Many of my friends think I read books all day and then alphabetize the shelves. Well, sometimes I do alphabetize shelves. But more often than not, my job title could be “friend.” Or just simply “caring ear.” Public librarians are often part information seekers, part social workers.

Although I’ve been working at a library for almost four years now, I don’t think I was completely certain that this is the fulfilling career I’d been looking for until one of our regular 10-year-old patrons saw me enjoying a dinner break at the picnic table outside the library last week. He gleefully called my name and ran over to join me. We shared casual conversation until it was time for me to return to work. As I told him I’d see him back in the library, he looked pensive for a moment.

“I’m glad I can always see you in the library.”

Teachers are often rightly praised for all they do for our children. But there are others out there who are working to make the youth of today a happy and productive generation of tomorrow. And I’m proud to say I’m one of those “others” providing a positive environment for many wonderful children who are full of promise.

I know that I will never be rich in money in this career. But I also know that I won’t soon be leaving this career because the wealth of compassion and good I see and help to spread each day is worth much more than any paycheck. And knowing I’ve made even one person’s day a little better because I’ve said hello? That is one of the greatest blessings in my life.

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Visit the Chicken Soup website at www.chickensoup.com. Distributed by King Features Syndicate.