Tuesday, December 14, 2004

647 Why I became a librarian

A very frustrated librarian is asking his fellow workers at LISNews.com why they became (and remain) librarians. The pay is poor; the institutional budgets are usually strained; and sometimes the people you work with are, well, difficult. There wasn't room to answer him on that discussion board, so I thought I'd post my presentation for "Take a Daughter to Work Day" in 1997. I was extremely surprised when about 25 young people showed up for this discussion--I had no idea young people even picked up on library science as a career choice. When reading this, keep in mind that I'm speaking to elementary and junior high age people.

Take a Daughter to Work Day
Ohio State University Libraries
9:30 Room 122 Main Library, April 24, 1997

Some times choosing a career can be happy thing. In my case, I chose Library Science back in the winter of 1965 because of a terrible tragedy in my life. Everything I thought I was going to do in life had completely changed and I needed a new direction.

I wanted a “real” career to give me a sense of purpose. I already had a teacher’s license, but we lived in a university town overrun with school teachers. What I already had was a degree in Russian, a residence in a city where a very famous library school at a large university was located, a husband who could support me while I attended school, and a history of working in libraries. I was also a reader, which at the time, didn’t seem significant.

Library Science seemed a logical choice for a fresh start. It only took one year and I was sort of impatient. There was a large Slavic department at the university library where I could learn about libraries and foreign languages. I already knew many of the people in that department.

So I had an interview with the Dean, enrolled, took the prerequisites my first semester and then began graduate school and finished in June 1966. The next year we moved to Columbus, Ohio, where I only worked a few months and then stopped for 10 years to raise my children. When I got ready to go back to work, I didn’t remember any Russian, nor was I interested, so I took a temporary job in the agriculture library working with foreign economic material. Then I worked awhile with Spanish language material, and eventually applied for an opening in the veterinary library 9 years after taking that first job in agriculture.

Looking back, everything fits together like a neat puzzle, but it certainly didn’t look that way as it was unfolding. I love the veterinary and agriculture fields. And even though I grew up in a rural area of the United States, when I was your age I certainly had no interest in the insides of animals or their diseases. What I did have, even when I was your age, was a love of reading and a strong curiosity. I was a student who really loved school--I couldn’t wait for September. I also liked art and writing when I was in junior high school. I had lots of pets--even had a horse. I probably also had, without realizing it then, a sense of how things should be ordered. By that I don’t mean I am neat or tidy, but I do see that certain things belong together or have a relationship that other people may not see, or wouldn’t find interesting. I really enjoy finding information for people.

In the 10 years I didn’t work, the library field began to change dramatically. Ohio State became a leader in using the computer for a catalog, so when I returned to work in 1977, everything was different than what I learned in school. And now, also because of the computer, everything is different almost every week, and I am constantly on a very steep learning curve. I use the Internet everyday, but it is not a library. It is a key to someone else’s garage--and much of it is a mess. Librarians are going to help bring some order to that messy storage place.

The other day a veterinarian came to me and told me 350 pigs had died from being exposed to manure gas. She wasn’t able to find any information in print even though she understood how toxic the fumes are from manure pits in large animal holding areas. We sat down together at the computer and I was able to find 4 or 5 really excellent, recent articles for her to look at. While we sat there she told me more about the situation and the seriousness of it--even for people, not just baby pigs.

I love learning, even when it is something as peculiar as this. Everyday in my job there is something new to learn. It is just fun to go to work.

There are some things about my work that I wasn’t told about in school, so I’ll tell you. First of all, some of the extracurricular things you do in school, such as the organizations and clubs, will be as important as your classes. Attending meetings, committees and conferences is part of my job. Being the president or secretary or treasurer of an organization and a willing committee member is important experience, so learn to do that. Frankly, that’s the part that I don’t particularly enjoy, and sometimes I wonder if I’d done more of it in school, would I like it better.

Volunteering in book or library activities can also be useful experience. Perhaps volunteering in your church or school library, or at Friends of the Library Book Sale, or becoming a story teller for children’s groups. Writing book reviews for your school paper would help you learn to be critical of how a book communicates.

I probably don’t have to tell you to learn all you can about computers. If you look around libraries today, you’ll notice them everywhere. You might even create a homepage featuring special book related items.

* * * *
Each participant received: sample journal, 2 library newsletters, library guide, copy of Scientific American article March 1997 “Going Digital.”


Anvilcloud said...

Congratulations on a very productive blogging day. I enjoyed this one and Solomon in particular.

Don said...

My wife's a librarian now, or "media tech", because the school district can't afford anyone with an actual degree in it to run a library. She just started a few weeks ago and is having fun. Has nineteen classes of K thru 6 come in every week and she does stuff with them while the teacher gets prep time. She just ran a book fair and more than doubled last year's sales. She's thinking, maybe when the kids are gone and there's no longer any benefit to having a teacher's schedule, she can take her biz degree and go run a bookstore or three.

Norma said...

She might want to go in and check on www.LisNews.com.

Anonymous said...

Anyone catch Garrison Keillor on PBS? He loves libraries, so he must love librarians!
If there's humor to be found in a library..he's the man!