Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How did I get here?

A while back I stumbled across a wiki based in Britain called "The Library Routes Project." It is an interesting project to gather stories from librarians about why they do what they do. I love this particular quote from the main wiki page:
The idea is to document either or both of your library roots - how you got into the profession in the first place, and what made you decide to do so - and your library routes - the career path which has taken you to wherever you are today. As well as being interesting of itself, it will also provide much needed information and context for those just entering the profession or wishing to do so.
So, here is my contribution.

I was always a reader. As a child, and especially in the summer time, I would walk or bike to the public library in the center of town. It was about a mile away, and in those days kids played outside unsupervised for long periods of time, and going to the library for a few hours was not a problem. It was especially inviting on very hot summer days because the library was air conditioned.

In high school, I got my first job. As a "page" in the public library. The children's librarian of my youth had become the Library Director. I suppose that it did not hurt that the mother of the boy next door (who was exactly two weeks older than I) was both the high school librarian and a member of the Library Board, but I was naive in those days. So, I worked my way through high school, usually going to work straight from school, and then heading home.

When I got to college (Brown University), my financial aid package included an on-campus job. Sure enough, they sent me to the library. Actually to the Biological Sciences Library. The librarian there was a great early mentor. During the Christmas break at the end of my first semester, the Biological Sciences Library merged with the Physical Sciences Library and moved into a brand new 14 story building. I got to work lots of extra hours helping to interfile and shelf read.

I worked in that library all four years. Some of it in Interlibrary Loan, and was often the student-in-charge for when the library closed at the end of the day. It seemed only logical to go to Library School.

I graduated on a bright and sunny Monday in early June, and one week later was in Library School classes. In those days, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign library program could be completed full-time in a calendar year. With student debt hanging over my head, that was the choice I made. Of course, I worked in the library there. I was in Interlibrary Loan (again) and also worked as a student assistant for both the Dean and an adjunct professor.

I got married straight out of library school (to a librarian), and we moved to Arizona. Well, there is a library school there, so it took me a while to figure out what to do. I volunteered and helped to organize, catalog, and teach cataloging for a good cause. Then I went back to school. I received an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) from the University of Arizona. About 9 months before I was done, I was offered a job as a young adult librarian at the public library's busiest branch. What a wonderful opportunity! After 6 months, they moved me to the Main Library as the "Business Information Specialist." As I moved up the ranks, I supervised, including a being the supervisor for a branch librarian 120 miles away!

But family called. I saw an ad for a job in Connecticut, and when I was "back East" for the holidays, I interviewed. A number of weeks went by, and I was suddenly offered the job!

I moved back to Connecticut, to the state's largest public library as the Head of the Technology & Business Department. (No, I did not do technology, I was in charge of the department which covered that subject.) After a couple years I was restless, and applied to be a library director in a small-to-medium sized suburban town. That is where I spent the next 9 years. It was a wonderful experience, and I still am in touch with staff from there.

In the winter of 1994-5, I became the executive director of a multi-type regional library cooperative. It was a great opportunity to learn some new skills (layout and design, flyer design, newsletter editing). I also had the freedom to become involved with the state and (eventually) national library associations. I served as the President of the Connecticut Library Association. I also served as the Connecticut Chapter Councilor on ALA Council. From that I had the opportunity to run for (and win) a seat on the ALA Executive Board. That, too, was an incredible learning experience. I have compiled some information on the structure of ALA, and posted it on this blog.

I left the multi-type to become the library director in my then adopted hometown. I had lived there for almost twenty years at that point, and had twice applied for the directorship. Well, this time I got it, and the great title: City Librarian. Urban public library directors face incredible challenges these days. It is constantly wearing to fight for the money, encourage the staff, be the public face of the library, and try to satisfy the public. In many ways you wind up not having much of a private life, and I also was giving to the profession and to community organizations. In short, after almost 6 years I was burned out.

I had the opportunity to move to a position half-way across the country which would give me a fresh start. I moved, leaving much behind, to a very homogeneous community. There are absolutely wonderful staff in that library, and some great library supporters in the community. However, things did not work out, and I left the position after just over a year and half.

I then moved south. After a while, I had the opportunity to work for the state library. Now, I had had many dealings with the state library in my prior two states, but here was an opportunity to see it from the inside. It was also the chance to work with library directors from all over the state, and to do something I always loved: statistics. That is what got me the title of "Library Consultant" and "State Data Coordinator." After almost ten months, I was given additional responsibilities as the Head of Reference, which I wrote about at the time.

I have moved twice to follow someone (to Arizona and to Louisiana). I had someone move once to follow me (to Connecticut). I have lived in places that I never would have expected, but I have loved almost every minute of it! Just remember to say "yes" and you will never know what will happen next.


  1. Hi! I don't know if you remember me, but I worked briefly on the remodeling project in Eau Claire - I came across your blog awhile ago, and it's been very helpful as I'm preparing to graduate this May with my MLIS. I just wanted to say this post in particular was extremely helpful. Going into the library profession, it's always helpful to hear how other people got there! Keep posting!

  2. Thanks Natalie. I do remember you. I am glad that this helped!