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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nine? Year Old to Me: "You Should be a Librarian"

There's a project going on right now to collect stories about how librarians came to be librarians, and how they got to be where they are today. It's called the Library Routes Project. I thought it would be fun to share my story. I'm also taking the online course, Yesterday and Today, with Ali Edwards, a scrapbooker, designer and life artist through Big Picture Scrapbooking, and part of week one is thinking about the life stories you would like to tell. (BTW, registration is open for this class until October 7). I think this one is a great candidate -- it happens to be true and has also made a great interview anecdote when I asked the question, "Why did you decide to become an librarian?" or some version thereof.

How I decided to become a librarian. So here's the story. I was in a doctors office waiting room one afternoon the year after I graduated from Lafayette College with a BA in History class of 1987. There was a girl there, about 9, who was reading one of my favorite books of all time "Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle so I asked how she was enjoying it. She said she loved it and I started telling her about other books she might like as well.

She then said to me in a very simple and straightforward way, "Are you a Librarian?"
I replied, "No, I'm not."
She answered, "Well, you should be!"

While I know it sounds cliched, that was the moment when it became clear to me that I should stop agonizing about what to do with my life and figure out how to get myself to grad school for a Library Science degree. It really was just that clear to me. I had been thinking about a career as a librarian, but didn't want to go to school again right after I finished my BA so I was worked as a management trainee at Citibank in Baltimore, Maryland. That was okay, but I didn't like the sales aspect -- or at least I didn't enjoy selling bank services and products. I did like the systems and behind the scenes processes though. I realized at that time that sales is involved in everything, but decided if that was the case I would like to "sell" something I believed in -- which is libraries, literacy and life long learning.

My first library school class. So, I got engaged at that time and my husband to be was an Ensign in the United States Navy so we had very little choice over where we would be stationed. Our first Summer was spent in Newport, Rhode Island and I took an Introduction to Library Science course at the University of Rhode Island to see if this was still something I wanted to pursue. I had a great Professor (Fay Zipkowitz) and the class was interesting, but the coolest thing I learned was that I was not the only girl who had arranged her books by subject and genre, cataloged them on index cards, and loaned them to her friends -- Prof. Zipkowitz confessed to having done the same thing -- I was not the (organizational) freak I thought I was!! -- or not the only one anyway.

My first library job. The next place we were stationed was Pascagoula, Mississippi which I considered to be the edge of the known universe, but which turned out to be an excellent place for me at that time and it's now a year I remember fondly. After I had been there for a month a position became available at as a library assistant at the Jackson County public library in the Moss Point branch. I got the job and spent that year happily working in the public library learning about libraries from the inside and loving (most of the time) working with the public. I was in charge of periodical check in, card filing, exhibits and general circulation desk duties. I read book reviews and could recommend books for purchase to the librarian -- she actually choose to involve us in this selection process because we were out front working with the patrons more than she was! Very enlightened I thought! Working at the Moss Point library cemented my desire to become a librarian.

Slight detour to get a Masters in History with an Internship in Archives and Special Collections. A year after moving to Mississippi we were transferred to Norfolk, Virginia where I decided to get a Masters in History at the College of William and Mary mostly because they had an paid Internship in Archives and Special Collections and they gave me a scholarship. Since there was no library school anywhere near this seemed like the best way to get be on the path to academic librarianship which is what I was thinking about doing. A lot of the job postings I was reading required a second Masters Degree other than the Library Degree, plus I was interested in Special Collections work. So, I spent a great year and a bit working in the archives and special collections departments in both the College of William and Mary library and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation library. This was another great learning experience, but after 3 years I still wasn't a librarian.

Getting to Library School finally. So my husband was due to be transferred again and had a little bit of leeway in where he might be sent so he requested a couple of postings in places near Library Schools. This was in 1991, well before there were any distance learning programs, so geographical proximity was important. He took a post in Newport, Rhode Island and I started library school at the University of Rhode Island in the Fall of 1991. My focus in library school was academic library reference, but I also loved my technical services and cataloging class and also took advanced cataloging, so I was open to technical services work as well, though I still preferred a research environment.

Technical Services Librarian. Rhode Island State Library (1993-1994) I graduated in 1993 when there weren't a lot of jobs, at least in New England, and I couldn't move at the time, so I really ended up taking the best position that was available. I enjoyed this job as it was challenging and I had responsibility for all technical services at this legislative library. I was one of only 4 librarians. I did not enjoy the state house politics however.

Catalog Librarian. Roger Williams University Law School Library. (1994-1997) While on a tour of this new library with other RI librarians they mentioned that they were still looking for a Catalog Librarian. The position as Catalog Librarian at a brand new law school library sounded very appealing to me, after all I had wanted to be in academia. I applied for the position and got it. So for three years I headed up their cataloging dept. which was just me and an assistant. I was encouraged to and did become active in the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). I attended conferences, volunteered for committees, joined the Technical Services Special Interest Section (TS-SIS) and participated as a mentee and mentor. I really like being part of this smaller community of law librarians in both law firms, county law libraries and academic libraries. At this point I guess I had decided to become a Catalog Librarian because that's where my first jobs took me and because I like it too. I was also able to work some hours on the Reference Desk and have some student and faculty contact because this was a smaller school and library and we all took turns doing some reference desk hours. I find if I don't work at all with the public/patrons I start to forget why I am doing what I do behind the scenes and that I am working in a library.

Head of Copy Cataloging and Database Management. Harvard Law School Library. (1997-2001)
My husband got out of the Navy and went back to get a PhD at the in Boston at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. I was all set to keep working in Rhode Island while he stayed in Boston during the week and came home at weekends. It turned out we both hated it even though we'd spent plenty of time apart while he was on sea duty in the Navy. So, I started looking for a position in the Boston area. I was pretty picky, because I didn't need a job, so I just applied for things that would be good or at least interesting career moves. I thought the position above sounded challenging and interesting, and a good fit for me, so I applied for it, got an interview and accepted it. (Events listed in the previous sentence took over 6 months to happen in real life -- slow hiring processes in academic libraries). This position was a great chance to work at a top notch, large research library, and to learn law cataloging from some of the best catalogers in the "business". I also gained supervisory experience as I was in charge of the copy cataloging unit of 4 paraprofessionals. I remained active professionally and coordinated a program at the AALL conference in 1997. There were only two things missing from this position: I wanted to be more involved with the management and decision making in the library -- and we wanted to be able to afford to buy a house since we had just had a baby. Boston housing prices were (still are) incredibly high so when I saw a job add for Cataloging Services Librarian at the University of Georgia Law Library I decided to apply. My husband figured he could write his dissertation just as well there.

Cataloging Services Librarian. University of Georgia Law Library. (2001-2007)
So, we bravely packed up everything we owned and moved a thousand miles away to Athens, Georgia. And, Yes, we did buy our first house! My husband stayed home with our toddler and wrote his dissertation and I actually supported the family as a librarian! I digress, this was and still is the best position I have ever had. It was indeed challenging. As a smaller library I was involved in management decisions for the whole library as part of the management team (Steering Group). They were just setting up this team system when I arrived so I also got to be involved in it's creation and ongoing development. I was also in charge of the cataloging department, including one professional catalog librarian and three paraprofessionals. This was a real challenge as the former catalog librarian had been there for 30 years or so and the department's practices and processes all needed to be examined and modernized. (They were still typing cards and pockets in 2001). We switched to printing labels for the cards and pockets from the online system right away, and the library implemented online circulation a year later. I had great co-workers here and we really ran the library in a collaborative way. I had the opportunity to lead the Library Systems team and make policy decisions regarding our Innovative Millennium system. I also worked at the Reference Desk and taught an annual CLE on Internet Legal Research to lawyers in the Atlanta area along with my co-workers. Thanks for my contacts at AALL I was asked to teach at the AALL/TS-SIS Intermediate Legal Cataloging Workshop in 2002 and to speak at a program in 2001. Athens also turned out to be a terrific place to live -- love those small college towns. But my husband finished his PhD and was working at a think tank at the University of Georgia as a researcher, but was looking for a teaching job. Enter reality in the form of his dream job in Newport, Rhode Island as a Professor at the Naval War College, and I had to leave my great position at UGA Law.

Librarian. Partridge Snow & Hahn, LLP. (2007-present)
And enter the world of law firm librarianship. Here's an interesting anecdote. It appears to be much easier to move around within the world of law librarianship than it is within the world of academic librarianship. My former position at UGA Law Library had more in common with similar positions at "regular" academic and research libraries, but I have not been able to even get an interview for any of these positions. (Any ideas from academic librarians as to why this is so please leave me a comment.) The only differences I can see is that our collections in law libraries are more narrowly focused, law school libraries are smaller than many academic libraries, but then the cataloging rules and practices are the same. In fact law cataloging is harder than most other disciplines (except music). So, here I am at a Law Firm library for which I was arguably less qualified than the aforementioned academic/research technical services positions. I say was because I have been here over two years now and have really learned tons about law firm librarianship, legal research, more about legal and business research tools than I ever did before, and about budgeting. Maybe I shouldn't confess in public that I wasn't sure I knew what I was doing when I took the job. Thanks to former colleagues at UGA and in AALL, other firm librarians in Providence, and also the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section I am up to speed here. I have a new found respect for my Acquisitions Librarian friends particularly. And, I do know legal resources pretty well -- we also get a lot of business research requests which was news to me. I have also had the pleasure of supervising and mentoring two library assistants who were also University of Rhode Island Library School students.

Independent Contractor. Cassidy Cataloging Services (1996-1997; 2007-2009)
Along the way I have worked on two projects for Cassidy Cataloging as a contract cataloger. The first one was re-classing the collection at Yale Law Library from their own classification to the Library of Congress classification. This was a great experience in really getting into and learning this classification system. More recently I worked cataloging online databases available through Lexis and Westlaw. I mainly did so to keep up my cataloging skills and remain marketable in that area too -- though I also really like cataloging.

So, that's my journey so far. As you can see I am certainly not working as the type of librarian that the 9 year old in the doctor's office anticipated, but it has been a fun ride. I look forward to reading what others have to say in their posts. Hope you enjoyed mine. Feel free to leave comments/questions.

Thanks.

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