Working Knowledge

A Monthly Column about Life on the Job



By Elisa F. Topper
American Libraries Columnist

Elisa F. Topper is director of the Dundee Township (Ill.) Public Library District and a career consultant. Contact her at

Column for March 2004

Family Planning: Home, Career, or Both?

I have worked as a librarian for six years and will soon give birth to my first child. I love my job and always figured I would continue working after I have children, but as my due date approaches I am considering other options, like continuing to work part-time, quitting and doing freelance work, or taking a few years off completely. How would these affect my career in the long run?

—Librarian Mom-to-Be

First of all, congratulations! What a wonderful experience is in store for you. I faced the same dilemma many years ago as I too contemplated whether to stay home or continue working after the birth of my first child. The answer became clear after I had been home for three months and found myself alphabetizing the spice rack. I realized I needed to be in a structured environment, so I did continue to work but—and these were key factors in my situation—in a position that wasn't stressful, had a generous vacation and holiday package, and was just a short cab ride from home. While I essentially signed over my paycheck to the daycare provider, I felt staying home would make it harder for me to get back into the profession later. It wasn't until my children were established in school that I really attempted to advance to a more administrative position.
    Employers questioned why I had stayed in one job for 12 years and then suddenly wanted a change. I found that in some cases it was best to explain that I had had small children and hadn't wanted to take on administrative duties; other times, I simply stated that I had developed the small library where I was working as much as possible, and that budget cuts meant my position was likely to be cut too.
    Every family's situation and needs are different, so I'd urge you talk to coworkers who have children to find out how they handled the decision and how their choices affected their careers. Also check out online forums such as Yahoo's Librarian Stay-at-Home Moms (and Dads) group ( for insight from other colleagues. If possible, take a leave of absence or use your maternity leave to test the waters of being a stay-at-home mother before making any final decisions.
    Meanwhile, a few other critical factors and questions to consider:
  • A top priority should be ensuring adequate insurance coverage for you and your new family. Quitting your job and taking advantage of COBRA can be costly; if you are eligible for coverage under a partner's employment, you'll want to carefully evaluate the plan.
  • Consider additional costs such as child care if you do decide to continue working, and factor in not only financial expenses but also the extra stress of balancing work and family lives.
  • Don't rule out the option of a father becoming Mr. Mom. According to the 2002 U.S. Census, among two-parent households, 189,000 were stay-at-home dads—an increase of 18% since 1994. You may want to consider this option if your salary is significantly higher.
  • How negotiable are your duties and hours? It's worth asking about the possibility of cutting back to part-time, at least temporarily. You might even be able to reduce your hours just enough so that you're still eligible for full-time benefits.
  • If you decide to go the 100% stay-at-home route, stay connected to the profession by volunteering, doing freelance or part-time work, and keeping up with professional literature.

Additional Resources

    Association of Part-Time Librarians (
    Staying Home: From Full-Time Professional to Full-Time Parent by Darcie Sanders and Martha M. Bullen (Spencer and Waters, 2001)
    Stay-at-Home Handbook by Cheryl Gochnauer (Intervarsity Press, 2002)
    Stay-at-Home Dads: The Essential Guide to Creating the New Family by Libby Gill (Plume, 2001)

(c) Copyright 2004 American Library Association

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