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Roots and Routes

I’ve been tossing around the idea of starting a blog for a while now, but after reading a number of entries on the Library Routes Project, I realized I could do double duty by both starting off my blog with some background information, and contributing to an interesting project!

Library Roots
I have always been a voracious reader.  As a child, I devoured every manner of book for my age group and often beyond.  I particularly loved going to the library because the selection at the branch we frequented was excellent and I could leave the library with a whole milk-crate full of books.  The milk-crate as dedicated-home-for-library-books, by the way, is an excellent tool for parents of readers who will otherwise lose half of the monumental stack checked out each week or month to the wilderness of a cluttered bedroom or play area!

Growing up, I was also prone to fits of moderately adult-confounding questions, and the library was often the go to spot for finding out just how deep the Hudson River actually is, for example, or sorting out a debate about which dinosaur is which.

Libraries and I just got along, from an early age onward.  They made sense and felt both useful and predictable in an otherwise tumultuous world.  While I never considered the library as a possible career choice growing up, I always felt at home in these spaces and it comes as no surprise to many longtime friends that I have landed in libraries as a career.

Library Routes
Fast forward a few years to my college days.  By the time I rounded out the last few years of adolescence, my reading habits had taken a turn toward the intrigues of non-fiction.  Studying painting and art criticism as an undergrad, my academic library book count was verging on the obscene due to research needs and random, interesting new book hoarding, and I was always in the space anyway, so I pursued a part time job in one of my campus libraries as a desk attendant.  This allowed me even more access to the many glorious books (and to my own account)!  Shortly thereafter, another job came along as an assistant in a special collections environment of the other campus library, mainly digitizing slides and working with the art history department, which was both engrossing and tedious work (I liked the job for both qualities).

After graduating, I entered an extremely depressed job market.  As a painter, I needed a day job to keep afloat.  I briefly searched for arts-related employment, but there were very few jobs available and none I was particularly qualified for.  Broadening my search to bank on my job skills, I eventually found a part-time position in the circulations department at a local college library.  I found the job a natural progression from the work I did as a desk worker in college, so the fit was good in that respect (and the large art book collection didn’t hurt).  I found the job to be a bit overwhelming at first, since the training was minimal and my role as a customer-service agent necessitated a thorough knowledge of just about every aspect of the library.  I was for a time, a perpetual deer-in-the-headlights.  Within a year however, I found myself rather bored, having moved into a more senior full time position and mastered just about everything put before me.  I had good ideas and sympathetic ears in management, but the college itself was in a bit of disarray and overarching institutional issues were a constant problem.

It was in this environment that I stumbled across an ad for a small-town Library Director in Residence position.  The ad was skimpy on the details, providing next to no information about the job itself, but I exceeded the basic minimum requirements and I was very keen on the “in Residence” portion of the ad, which mentioned a spacious, on site apartment, so I made my application.  A few interviews later, and to my surprise and delight, I landed the job, which I have been working ever since.

Working as the director of a small village library has been an incredible learning experience.  I feel as though I have really come into my own as a person and as an information specialist.  I can actively pursue and promote initiatives I could have only dreamed about as a circulation specialist.  Despite the many additional layers of responsibilities, I rely on my circ experience the most often as I run the desk, enforce policies, and work with patrons.  As a reader, frugal shopper, and social individual, I also have great fun figuring out my patrons’ tastes and providing new books and media to meet their needs.  I think what makes working in a library the best fit for me is that I get to use so many different aspects of my abilities, quirks, and skills.  Being a village Library Director is for me, a kind of whole-person job, which you don’t find in many other careers.

That said, I feel ambivalent about whether I will pursue further, formal education in the field.  I think I am learning far more hands-on and from conversations with other professionals, than I ever would learn in an MLS program.  While the pursuit of work in other library settings might eventually motivate me to pursue this education to improve my competitive edge, for the time being, it seems that total, whirlwind library-immersion has been and continues to be my most successful teacher!

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  1. Lauren
    November 9, 2010 at 3:01 am

    I think it is fair to say a problem with MSIS degrees is the lack of hands on learning…An internship will provide a student a small amount of time doing a project, but that project is limited to one particular area of the job

  2. November 9, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Having an internship or two (or a co-op) is of great value, as you mention! Even if the experience is contained to a single project, it gives the student a chance to stretch their legs a little. I think this helps mitigate the pitfalls of any theory-heavy degree program. If I did pursue my degree, I’d look for a program where work experience is emphasized and rewarded! I’d also need some good old financial aid to ease me along – I can’t believe how little fin aid is out there for library students! Especially when you think about how essential library and information professionals are in our information-based society!

    OK, getting off my soapbox! Lacking the library school experience, I do think that what really helps is that as an artist, I was trained to conceptualize and work with ideas, questions, and research in a very powerful and organized way. Ideas are often at the heart of artmaking, so I was taught to take a step back and really consider the practice of pursuing information and exploring ideas as a topic for examination in and of itself. I’m sure this background plays into my performance in the reference roles of my job.

    This just helps explain why you find such a wide range of diverse backgrounds in libraries – I think you can apply learning from so many other fields to working in a library. You need to be adaptable and have a wide range of skills to be successful, no matter your background!

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