Bex McNair is a youth programming specialist at the Bartholomew County Public Library in Columbus, where they connect with tweens and teens over podcast clubs, zine programs, gardens, and board games. Combining a professional interest in youth empowerment through “maker culture” with a background in collaborative storytelling, Bex strives to connect youth in their community with meaningful ways to discover, create, and share metaliterate artifacts that celebrate their unique experiences.
An Indiana native, Bex graduated from Ball State University with a degree in English. Currently, they are working towards their Masters of Library and Information Science through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Outside the library, they enjoy painting jellyfish, doing puzzles, and crying over well-written fan-fiction.
What are the most valuable skills you learned as an English major? How have they helped you post-graduation?
English degrees teach you a great many skills: we are adaptive thinkers, strong writers, and eager learners. These are all core strengths to the humanities disciplines as a whole, and they are all coincidentally qualities that make you competitive in just about any job market. Which puts you, the English major, in a great position to do or become basically whatever you want. If you are like me and that amount of possibility and choice is overwhelming (can I even say, terrifying), do some YouTube “triangle breathing”, and believe me when I say: I know how you feel. I’ve had plenty of those “but what am I supposed to do with my entire life” thoughts. I did not find the answer until years after graduation. When I finished my degree in 2015, I didn’t have a job lined up. I had no aspirations towards grad school. I was burnt out. I had very little money, no place to live, but you know what? I was really, really good at explaining things to people.
More specifically: my English degree taught me how to take an idea or a data set, and present it to other groups of people in a way that made sense. I could articulate why prioritizing X over Y would yield better results. I could make strong arguments in favor or against decisions in the workplace. I could look at the results of a survey or a month of sales (I worked in retail for a while) and articulate why we got those results and what it meant going forward. No matter what job market you end up in or what field you pursue, that very humanities ability to tell stories out of ideas, out of history, out of data, is invaluable. It’s what makes me so good in my current field. Humanities majors are storytellers. Plenty of other fields deal with important facts, discoveries, innovations, and information, but only humanities majors can contextualize those things. So I guess if you feel overwhelmed, just remember that! It’s basically a superpower.
What does a typical day/week/month look like for you?
I found my dream career in public libraries. Currently, I work at the Bartholomew County Public Library in Columbus, Indiana, as a programming specialist serving tweens (grades 4-6) and teens (grades 7-12). That means I’m responsible for designing and implementing formal and informal learning opportunities for young people in my community to participate in when they come visit the library. In a given month, I usually host between 8-12 programs, on top of other duties like circulating books, building partnerships within the community, and working with others on the teen staff to answer questions like, “How can we make our library a safe place for teens? Are we meeting their information needs as well as their social and emotional needs?” (This article does a great job of discussing all the things that 21st Century librarians think about.) A lot of our programs repeat themselves month by month, like book clubs or art programs. Others are constantly added, dropped, or changed according to the season, according to the time of year, and according to the requests and demands of our community.
Libraries are way more than just books, and it takes a lot of creative, hard-working people to keep up with how rapidly technology and information systems change. The job itself synthesizes lots of my passions: I get to work with young people, I get to chew on big questions with complex answers, I get to be involved in the larger fabric of my community, I get to make information and data accessible to people. I get to work with organizations like YALSA, IFL, Indiana Humanities, the Council for Youth Development, Exhibit Columbus. I could talk for a long time about librarianship, information science, and how fulfilling and dynamic the work is – honestly, if you have specific questions about it, let’s connect! I’m happy to answer your questions.
Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?
I’m sure you’d heard of immersive learning. If you haven’t – ask your teachers. Go to this website. Immersive learning opportunities are, hands down, the opportunities I am most grateful for. English majors make great additions to just about any immersive project (for reasons described above), so do some digging. In my time as an undergrad, I worked with Computer Sciences, Sociology, Theater & Dance, History, Business – all through the power of immersive learning. The experience of working across disciplines towards a common goal with a large group of people teaches you something valuable about your strengths, your weaknesses, and what you bring to the table. It’s like a group project taken to the extreme, but the nice thing is, it’s still a class. Your mentors are still there for you. It’s a safe place to try things out, to fail, to try again. Basically, you get to work with a bunch of neat, talented people for a whole semester and come out the other side with class credit and something unique to add to your resume.
What advice do you have for English majors?
Be brave and try things! Stay curious and aware of your community, your field, your world. English majors are great fits for so many opportunities, but the opportunities don’t come to you. You have to seek them out, put yourself out there. I found my place in public libraries by trial and error. I saw the job opening, it sounded like exactly what I needed, so I put myself out there. And I haven’t turned back since!
You’ll probably hear about The Hustle (the capital H is important) at some point in your English major life. The Hustle can be intimidating. Some people Hustle faster than others. There are lots of outside factors, beyond your control, that impact your Hustle. Unfortunately, you kind of have to Hustle (because capitalism), so I’d say my biggest advice is actually to remember to take care of yourself. Learn to love your own journey. Building a career is messy. It’s not linear. Be kind to yourself. You are doing just fine.
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