February 16, 2011

My Library Roots

I'm still following Gretchen Rubin as part of my embedded librarianship project. I find her more and more useful every day. (In March I plan to do a follow-up post about the "Work" section in her book, which is the March chapter.) She recently encouraged her blog readers to think about what we did for fun when we were 10 years old. As for me, I went to the library.

This post is part of the Library Roots/Routes project, celebrating the myriad paths we've all taken. They are seeking blog posts from librarians like you and me about how we got here and where we're going. It's been a nice opportunity for me to reflect on the role of the local public library during my formative years, even though the library I ended up working in bears little resemblance to that small but valuable institution in Cary, Illinois. (It's weird to me that they have a website--since they had only a couple of rooms when I was young--but they do.)

In grade school I was part of the Book It! program every summer. I would have to carefully write out my reading list on a sheet of construction paper on which I had drawn ruled lines, evenly spaced apart. For each book I finished--my all-time favorite was The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright--I would get a gold star next to the title. Soon the gold stars would fill up the poster, which I proudly displayed next to my closet. If I read all my summer choices, I was treated to a pizza party at the local Pizza Hut. I'm amazed that this kind of food-incentivized reading program still exists, but I can't say enough about its role in my own reading, not to mention my library-awareness.

In high school I spent my afternoons and weekends in the reference room wrestling with huge, green volumes of the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. I would look up references to my favorite bands, and then meticulously fill out call slips and take them downstairs where the periodicals librarian would hand me copies of People or Rolling Stone that I would then pore over for hours, learning what Michael Stipe's college major was, or obsessing over what John Linnell's mother did for a living.

This all seems significant to me now, given that I blog weekly about librarianship and can hardly resist weaving in musical references. But at the time--and the importance of this cannot be underestimated--this was all just an afterthought. I grew up at the library. Books were like air. It did not occur to me to become a librarian.

Like many of us, I had other career ideas during college, and for a number of years afterward. I studied psychology and French, and then joined the Peace Corps as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language. Even then I didn't see too many obvious connections with librarianship, but I did select as my "secondary" or summer project the daunting (and dirty) task of organizing my school's unused warehouse of books, "cataloging" them (before I had any sense of what that meant), and suggesting possible ways teachers could use them in their respective curricula. I was becoming a librarian.

Wara Middle School, Kankalabe, Guinea, West Africa

After a short but intense career in educational testing, I found that what I really enjoyed in the workplace was wrangling technology and training other people to do so. I was fresh out of graduate school in another discipline and the thought of going back, and taking on more educational debt, seemed crazy. Still, the field I was in was not a good fit for me. Something was missing. I wasn't sure if it was technology or people or both. Enter library school.

In retrospect, the library ethic and orientation were always in me, alive and well, if dormant for many years. For me, it took having a few different jobs to realize what I was and wasn't good at, and which of my interests were simply hobbies or intellectual curiosities, as opposed to the beginnings of a profession.

Go to now. I've found a way to combine my passion for language and literacy, my teaching background, my tech skills, my people skills, my service orientation, attention to detail, steel-trap memory, and most especially my love of reading, all in one satisfying career. Those are my library roots.

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