My Library Roots and Routes

Veins of Life by Saint Roberts Journey
Veins of Life by Saint Robert's Journey

Here’s a post on my roots and my routes, for the Library Routes Project. Ned Potter asked me to participate in this before the holidays, but as has been the case lately, I’m just now getting around to contributing….

It’s a great project. The idea is that library bloggers tell their story of how they got into the field, in order to help potential library folks see the different roots we have and routes we’ve taken. These types of projects are very important to me, I’m a big fan of mentoring and helping people find the field, and it reminds me a bit of Library Day in the Life.

So, without much ado…

Routes

I didn’t learn how to read when most of my reader friends learned. Through a somewhat complicated series of events for a child, I ended up entering first grade not knowing how to read, and left reading chapter books. The year, if I remember correctly, was not all that fun in the beginning. We had quiet reading time and I’d try to find an out-of-the-way place to stare at a book. My teacher knew what was going on though, so in addition to tutoring me (THANK YOU MRS. BREWER), she talked to the school librarian. She told the librarian I loved kittens, so Every Single Time the class went to the library, the librarian had saved a new picture book for me filled with cute kittens. I’d spend the whole week looking at the book and by the end of the year was a die-hard reader.

The next year I went to a different elementary school and went in expecting a nice librarian. I was lucky. Grace James was there, and was absolutely fabulous. She was the opposite of librarian the stereotype, with short hair, purple glasses, a red convertible, and wildly entertaining. I spent a lot of time there, and by the fifth grade I was a school year and summer volunteer with her. In fact, she made such an impact on me that when I wrote my book on getting into librarianship (in much the same spirit as this post), I dedicated it to her.

I also volunteered in public libraries during this period of time, which meant I had access to an entirely different world of books. This lasted through part of middle school, when things got busy, and I was around books a whole lot less.

In college I got a job in the Interlibrary Loan Department of NCSU’s DH Hill. (If only I had known at the time that I was working in a world class library!) It was a good job, but a bit dull as many student jobs are. I was also writing for the school paper. When I got a job as a Resident Advisor I was told I’d have to quit any jobs not associated with my career path. I kept the journalism job and quit the library one. Crazy.

Roots

Thus entered a phase of immense soul searching. I changed majors several times. I considered everything from computer science (and met some sexist professors along that path), to academia, to counseling, to law, to student affairs. I was really serious about student affairs. I gave presentations at student conferences and wrote articles on related topics. One summer I ran a residence hall.

I got really interested in Service Learning (even working with the NC School of Science and Math on implementing it there). I gave a few presentations with one of my faculty members on inquiry guided instruction and service learning.

I took career placement tests. They said I should be an engineer, lawyer, or philosopher. They said I should not be a librarian (I checked; I still thought fondly of my childhood librarians and the nice folks at DH Hill).

I also took many different types of classes. I picked up a graduate one or two and knew I’d definitely pursue that level of education one way or another. I took a horrendous online class (logic) that was truly the worst class I ever took. I took it again in person and found I quite liked the subject, just not how it was taught. My first declared major was philosophy, which I dropped for something more practical. When I was about to graduate I reflected on what I would regret most about college and it was that I didn’t take the time for the philosophy degree.

So, I added a fifth year and got it. (It would never again be as easy or cheap to do so, after all.) In that fifth year I also finished my minor in Women’s and Gender Studies, and really grew to love academia. I even (halfheartedly) applied to a few PhD programs in philosophy. But I also couldn’t fight the nagging feeling that there were aspects of faculty life that I wouldn’t like: the hierarchical nature of it, the boy’s club of insiders (in philosophy at least), the need to specialize in such an intense way, the mad dash towards tenure… I knew that I would want something with a little more flexibility and collaboration, and ideally something that would allow me to operate from a big picture view rather than a detailed specialist one.

Then I graduated into a bad economy. Not as bad as today’s, but it still took me 6 months to get a job. And I had tons of really good work experience. My only criteria for work was a living wage doing something that at the least didn’t cause harm and wasn’t something I’d feel ethically questionable about. I had two interviews in the 6 months. One at the library for a microtext job and one for a residence life job. I left the residence life job feeling frustrated that it went well and that I’d probably have to take it and continue living in dorms for the rest of my life. When I got to the car there was a voicemail on my cell phone saying I had the library one. And there was much rejoicing.

Routes

It didn’t take long in that position for me to figure out I should go to library school and get an MLIS. So the next fall I was taking classes at UNC-G part time. I was very lucky to get scholarships for the last 2 of the 3 years I was in the program, and also extremely lucky that Wake Forest continued to give me more responsibilities as I completed the program.

Not ever wanting to face what I faced after college again, I threw myself into the field far more than I would have thought possible. I gave presentations, wrote things, and somehow got myself appointed to an ALA committee. I lept at every opportunity that came up. I took my classes very seriously and looked for ones that would offer something I wouldn’t get from my day-to-day job, mostly in the realm of instruction and education. I took some online classes, one of which was the best class I’ve ever taken.

And luckily, oh-so-luckily, the Z. Smith Reynolds Library let me stay on as the Instructional Design Librarian. And I’ve been given a few really interesting projects along the way as well. My day-to-day work is always different. I do a traditional things (teaching, a few hours on the reference desk a week, liaising, committee work galore), and I do a non-traditional things (explore emerging technologies, pilot new programs, work with strategic planning, help our librarians teach more effectively, work with faculty to incorporate technology into their teaching, liaise with the University’s Teaching and Learning Center, and on and on). I love my job.

The funny thing is, those early roots really laid the groundwork for this. And the routes I took when not in libraries all led to doing more interesting library work.

  • The many majors and classes I took have helped along the way from reference to having something in common with different groups of students to understanding how the disciplines are related.
  • I came in with a good understanding of academia from all the time I spent in student affairs and all the thinking I did about faculty life.
  • Giving presentations (despite my shyness) and publishing wasn’t threatening since I had done so in my student affairs life as well as with a faculty member at their “grown up” conferences.
  • Running a residence hall (and being a Residence Advisor) prepared me for supervising and training students.
  • The Service Learning, inquiry guided instruction, varying online learning experiences, and education classes I took in library school prepared me for my instructional design position.
  • The skills and traits that would have theoretically made me a good engineer, lawyer, or philosopher actually are pretty good for librarianship, too… even if they aren’t the traditional ones.
  • I ended up using the Philosophy degree and Women’s Studies minor… I liaise with both of these departments at Wake Forest.
  • Librarianship tends to be a fairly open profession (though there are niches with insiders), allows professional to be generalist, offers some flexibility in work, and encourages collaboration. I actually have faculty status, though no tenure pressure. And the big picture view is what I think I bring to the table. It’s a lot like taking that PhD/faculty route, but with just the specific things I wanted to be able to do.

So, as it turns out, the point of this library roots and routes post is that it was inevitable that I’d end up in this position. Just kidding. It wasn’t. I could have just as easily taken the residence life route or gone for a PhD if I didn’t find a position to work in. (Though, in all honesty, I think I really am in the right place… Librarianship really fits me.) The point of this post is that in retrospect, all those crazy steps along the way prepare you for what you end up doing. I mean, even my philosophy degree is relevant to my job, for goodness sakes!

And that’s one of the fun things about this profession. You can draw on your lifetime’s worth of experiences and all of it can be relevant. It’s just a matter of connecting the dots and seeing how it’s related.

So, that’s my library roots and routes story. What’s yours? If you’re just now thinking about the field, go check out the other R&R stories… you might find something there that resonates particularly with you.

3 thoughts on “My Library Roots and Routes

  1. I just found your blog today through ALA Learning and have more or less been reading all of your recent posts while I wait for my next class to start. I’m a sophomore at Virginia Tech, loving life as an English Literature major, and aspiring to make my way to an MLIS, so this post was an absolutely perfect bit of encouragement to me. I almost jumped out of my seat excitedly when I saw that you were a resident advisor, seeing as I just finished my application to be an RA yesterday afternoon and had to write an essay about how working as an RA relates to my longterm goal of being a librarian. The point of this long-winded comment is that your blog post left me feeling encouraged and I simply wanted to thank you for that! Have a beautiful day. :)

  2. Hi Kara, thanks for the comment! It sounds like we have a quite a bit in common! I totally see the benefits of my RA experience in my day-to-day job. If you ever want to chat about it, let me know. I hope things go well. Don’t you love that if your goal is an MLIS, you can major in the humanities with a good response to all the “you want fries with that” jokes? ;)

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