I’ve been tagged to tell you how I became a librarian, and so, as I wait for the broadcast of the Olympic opening ceremonies to start, I’m sitting here with a smile on my face as I remember the moment it first occurred to me to get into this line of work.
To be fair, the story started back in college, where I majored in English. English majors are eminently qualified to do just about anything, right? And besides, they get to earn degrees for reading and thinking about good writing. What was there to lose?
By the time I graduated, I still hadn’t figured out which part of “just about anything” I wanted to inhabit, though I was pretty sure I wanted to teach literature, so I managed to simultaneously stall and prepare myself for a possible future by going to grad school, where I got to earn another degree by reading and thinking about good writing. Not bad, right? Right. But I studied more than literature and literary theory while I was in grad school. I also studied the job of a professor of English, and I learned that I probably wasn’t cut out for that job as it exists in the real world. My personal Xanadu crumbled little by little as I watched my professors go about their lives.
I remember lying on the living room floor, stroking Toby the family dog, and talking to my mom about how I didn’t feel I’d fit well into my own future if I continued on as I was. Then, from her position near the kitchen sink and the dishes she was methodically washing, she said, “You know, you might consider being a librarian.”
Don’t laugh (too hard), but up until that day I hadn’t known that librarians needed special degrees to do what they did. Nor had I ever worked in a library, even as a shelver. Nor had I ever asked a librarian for help. The children’s librarian at the public library we’d used when I was very young had always been kind, and had saved new books about ballerinas for me whenever they arrived. But that was the extent of my interaction with librarians. (And remember, by this point I was nearly done with a masters degree.) And yet, I found myself applying to the LIS school at Milwaukee and beginning work on my degree there as soon as I’d successfully defended my masters thesis across campus. The next summer (and half-way into my degree program), I applied for part time work at a public library and an academic library, just to see what working in a library was actually like.
The one bump in the road was that public library. It’s toxic atmosphere nearly caused me to drop out of library school and cash in on the promise from the English department that they’d take me back into the Ph.D program there if I ever wanted to return. I spent sleepless nights wondering if I could just run away to New Zealand to help with the filming of the Lord of the Rings or something… anything to get out of what I was pretty sure was the worst decision of my life. Luckily for me, I’m too stubborn to quit something once I’ve invested that much time, energy, and money into it. So I decided to at least finish my degree, however miserable I was with the job and my classes. I could never have known at that point how lucky I would be just a year later, when I graduated and stumbled mostly blindly into the best job I could ever have wished for.
And here I am.