[Series] Experiencing LIS: Route to School
21/02/2011 § 14 Comments
One of the fascinating aspects of librarianship is the variety of backgrounds represented in the field. The paths that lead us from a childhood love of books, or a respect for sharing knowledge and supporting local communities, are from many disparate points of view, educational and political stances, and personal histories. Tracing those paths is a subject not unfamiliar to LIS folks on the web; in fact Ned Potter (@theREALwikiman) and Laura Woods’ Library Routes Project and the Library Origins Stories [found on @evagro 's blog] have already done much chronicling in this area. Inspired by such projects, the HackLibSchool teamsters decided to share our “Routes To School.” We encourage you to share your own in the comments, on our Facebook page, or on either of the linked projects above.
The stories that led us here are as integral to our professional growth as the stories we have yet to create.
It’s a classic story. Girl grows up wanting to work at an investment bank. Girl goes to college and pursues degree in business administration while interning at some of the state’s biggest banks. Girl gets dream job a few months after graduating at an investment bank. Girl works for 3 years for them before being transferred to London for another 3 with the investment bank. Girl faces early career crisis at 28 wondering if “this is it” for the rest of her life. Girl decides to move back to Boston to pursue degree in Library and Information Science.
Isn’t that how most end up here?! That’s actually one of the things I’ve found so fascinating about this degree…is how it brings together people with all sorts of different experience. I think that really allows for such a diverse set of views and thoughts, which strengthens the experience. I myself was looking for a change, looking to stop working 50-60 hour weeks, looking to get back to the States, and looking to do something with my career that may serve others in a way that my one in banking didn’t necessarily do. I wanted to be learning on a daily basis and to feel challenged. I also was looking for flexibility in my career and a way to move around if I chose to do so; both location-wise and career-wise. Already I can see that working it’s way into my new path. I came into the program convinced that I would find work in a public library. Through some other means, though, I have found myself working in a corporate setting again and doing research in a private equity firm. And I absolutely love it. However, I also realize that the skills I’m learning both on the job and in my classes, are ones that I could use in several settings; not just my current one. And that makes all the difference to me. And what has made this experience so worthwhile. And what makes me never look back to the day I gave my notice at the bank.
I am and have always been a huge bookworm, and my friends always used to tease me (in a bad way!) that I was going to be a librarian when I grew up. I always used to huff that just because you like to read doesn’t mean you’re going to be a librarian. My “epiphany” came while sitting on the floor of the San Francisco Public Library, doing research on gendered portrayals of violence in children’s literature. I looked up and looked around at the diversity of the patrons using all these resources for free, and realized the library is for me. I felt an almost physical shift in my body, and I swear, there was a beam of light shining down on me. Angels sang. Pages looked at me funny. I was meant to be a librarian, and my third-grade self was right: my decision to become a public librarian had nothing to do with books, and everything to do with politics. My personal beliefs align perfectly with I feel the library represents at it’s best, what I saw in SFPL that day: open, democratic, non-corporate, non-Capitalist, citizenship-status blind, locally active. The creativity, the daily interaction with people, the continuing education, all just icing on the cake!
I have a dirty secret: I didn’t start out wanting to be a librarian. Or an info pro. Or anything close. I started out majoring in Drawing after a lifelong obsession with creating art. After one semester, I realized that I shouldn’t turn it into a career (although I still make plenty of art). I switched to Psychology, hoping to work with sexual assault victims. I volunteered and lectured and did many exciting things. And then I applied to 12 PhD programs and was rejected from all of them. Hindsight being 20/20, this was a really good thing because it saved me from jumping into a field I thought I loved, but now realize was not a good fit for me. Around this time one of my best friends suggested library science. Another one of my best friends had suggested it for years, but for some reason it took two people to make it stick. I remember applying and when I got the letter I told my cats (yeah, I live with lots of cats–big surprise there!) ‘well, here’s rejection #13.’ I opened the envelope and was so excited, I even called my poor friend and woke him up to tell him about it!
Like Britt, I had always been famous for having my nose stuck in a book, and was often found quietly tucked away in a corner either reading or drawing. I have an unhealthy obsession with special collections, but beyond that I wasn’t fully sure what I wanted to do when I got to my LIS program. I wasn’t sure why I was learning computing and I felt swamped with information. I finally found my niche through opening up and interacting with other students and forcing myself to branch out and try new things. Now I get the best of both worlds–I get to do art and bury myself in special collections materials, but I also get to connect with people worldwide through social media and OA publishing!
Some (so-called) friends tricked me into going to library school! Tricky librarians! I’m sure there were other influences, but essentially, I got a student job at the computer help desk at my undergrad library at the end of my first year. I LOVED THE JOB (the librarians, atmosphere, students, work, etc.) and continued working there until I graduated. The summer before my final year, I was given some “special projects” to do for the library. Working on these fascinating projects (a scanning project, inventorying, creating reports, making a wiki, etc.), the summer flew by and suddenly my senior year was starting and I told my (so-called) friends I was headed for my MLIS. They snickered quietly (they’re librarians, remember?) and said, “Yeah. We take complete credit for that brilliant idea.” They totally set me up! Tricky librarians! (Thanks, ladies!)
So, where am I now? I’m about 20 days short of graduating! I’m heading back “home” — to provide library services for people in small, rural libraries. I’m all about service, folks. If there’s one thing I’ve learned these past couple of years, it’s that the best resources are the people you serve! Who knows! Maybe I’ll be a “tricky librarian” and set an unsuspecting person in the IS direction.
From a very young age, I thought that I wanted to be a teacher or a librarian. My elementary school librarian, Mrs. Dodd (no relation), embodied the classic stereotypes of librarians–gray hair, glasses, shushing–but she was so sweet and encouraging, and I adored her. She challenged me in reading from a very young age, giving me scores of advanced reading recommendations before she retired. I’ve since found that I do not want to be a school librarian, but her love of service sent me an important message – librarianship was about people, not necessarily reading or books.
I worked in my community college Learning Resource Center as a work-study student for two years, performing a variety of tasks—circulation, reference, government documents, and more—and was essentially another staff member. I loved the college atmosphere and helping both patrons and faculty with their research needs. This shifted me toward academia, and eventually toward academic librarianship. I took a bit of a detour, thinking that I wanted to be an English professor, but when I finally realized that that wasn’t my path, I knew exactly where I was headed. Librarianship wasn’t my back up plan – it was what I had really wanted all along. I could not be happier with my soon-to-be profession – it contains the perfect amount of service, teaching, and research. Now that I think about it, I should probably give Mrs. Dodd a call and thank her for her service and inspiration!
I went to library school because I didn’t know what else to do, and the application deadline was late in the summer. I enjoyed books as a kid, did well in college as a Humanities major, and went on to a Masters program in American Studies simply so I could write a thesis on punk rock. Which I did. I had the pleasure and honor to work with Dr. Wayne Wiegand in my MA program, and as the doom of graduation started to hit me, Dr. Wiegand took me aside one day and said, “Hey, we could use folks like you in librarianship.” It was not until halfway through my very first semester, in a Digital Media Concepts and Production course, that I realized that LIS involved a lot more these days than books and Dewey. And I was hooked. I have warmed to the idea of books, and enjoyed learning about the history and theory of the profession, but to be brutally honest, I’m still not really sure “librarian” proper is what I’ll end up being. The things I like are all on the outskirts of Librarianship (cultural heritage, digital archives, digital humanities, tech journalism, web technologies, information technology, communications media, etc), and so I think my place may be mediating relationships between these different (yet similar) fields. The best part about all this though is that I do well in communities, and it seems that the LIS field is a community-focused profession, and one I’ll be proud to represent and contribute to, whatever job title that ends up being.