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From Bookstore Manager to Assistant Librarian: The Jessica Olson Story

COVID-19 was difficult for us all. We lost friends and family, jobs and experiences. Each of us was forced to decide what should be a priority in our lives while going through a pandemic where we couldn’t see our loved ones. This was especially true for my mom, Jessica Olson, who lost her job during the pandemic and had to change careers in an instant. Even though there were weeks of stress and uncertainty, she managed to still be a wonderful mother, wife, daughter and friend. Jessica made the ultimate girlboss move by switching careers at 45 and now has the dream job that we’re lucky enough to hear about in this article.

Her Campus (HC): How long did you work at Barnes & Noble (B&N)? How did you work your way up to Community Relations Manager (CRM)?

Jessica Olson (JO): I worked for B&N for 26 years. I started as a part-time bookseller and worked my way up to key-holder and then assistant manager by the time I graduated from college in 1998. After two years as assistant manager, I had my incredible daughter, Natalie. When my maternity leave was up, I wasn’t quite ready to leave Natalie full-time yet so I went back as a part-time bookseller again. Once Natalie was a few years old I had the opportunity to go back to B&N full-time as Receiving Manager. A few years later when the CRM position became available, I applied and happily accepted the position.

HC: What was your role as CRM?

JO: As you can imagine, my role changed over the years that I held the position, from 2005-2020. When I first started the job, it was largely centered around setting up in-store book signings, local author events, music in the café, trivia nights, storytimes and other children’s events. As the years went on, the emphasis switched more towards sales to schools and nonprofits, but still I had the excitement of doing both components of my job. A few years later, the job began to transform even more, and the title was changed to Community Business Development Manager (CBDM). This name change also meant a change in responsibilities. I started doing even more sales, but I still loved it because the majority of my sales opportunities were still working with the schools.

HC: Explain your feelings around losing that job and having to start a new career.

JO: In April of 2020, I was placed on furlough due to COVID, then in late August I received the call that my position had been eliminated and there were no full-time positions available at the store. I was absolutely devastated. I felt like the world was crashing down around me. I had worked for B&N for over half of my life, what could I possibly do now? I spent a few days—probably weeks actually—trying to process what had just happened and then I started reaching out to everyone I knew, trying to find ideas for a new career at 45 years old. Thanks to a B&N customer turned friend, I learned of a long-term substitute position in the front office of Poinciana Elementary and started there in October. As the long-term sub position began to wrap up, I started looking for other possible jobs in the public school system. That’s when I saw an opening at Lely for a media assistant.

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Photo by Don Eckert

HC: What is your job now? What do you do and what is the best part of it?

JO: I am now the Media Center Assistant at Lely Elementary School. I honestly believe that it is my dream job… if only it paid closer to what I was making at B&N. Every day I read to students, help them check out books for pleasure and school projects, reshelve books and maintain the library. I also get to spend some time outside on the playground as the recess lady. In order to generate a little more income, I also work in the after-school program. This makes for long and often tiring 10-hour days, but I really wouldn’t change it for anything.

HC: What was the hardest part about changing careers? The best part?

JO: I am so thankful to have found a new career in a position that I was able to use so much of the skills that I developed at B&N over the years. For that reason, I don’t feel that the actual changing of careers was hard at all. It was more the abruptness of the change and the time of uncertainty after being laid off. The best part of the career change is that I get to work with amazing students every day. Also, not having the sales aspect of my previous job is great.

HC: For anyone wanting to switch careers, especially those who have already had a whole career, what advice do you have to give?

JO: My advice is to reach out to your family and friends for help, ideas and encouragement. A career change later in life can be incredibly difficult and stress-inducing, but it also can be one of the best things to have happen. I can honestly say that I have found my dream job and am happy every morning when I wake up and realize that I’m headed to school.

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Hey there! I'm a staff writer for Her Campus FSU and my passions include reading, writing and binge watching anything Netflix suggests to me. My major is Editing, Writing and Media and I'm minoring in Women's Studies. I'm a lover of all things Taylor Swift, YA novels and cringey TikToks. In my free time, you can catch me cuddling with my cat Mavis or making some delicious food while an episode of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina plays in the background.
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