Sunday, April 20, 2014

#WhyLib: Sharing My Story

#WhyLib: Sharing My Story

In honor of School Library Month, many of my school librarian colleagues have been posting about how they became school librarians. Read Sherry Gick's blog posting for the background.

Here's my story ...

I did my undergraduate work at Stanford University. I chose to be an English major primarily, I think, because I loved reading novels and thought it was a great deal getting credit for doing that. I wasn't quite as keen about writing the papers, but considered it a small price to pay for getting to read so many great books for credit. I also became fascinated by Old English and the history of the English language during the course of my studies.

While I believe I got an excellent education at Stanford, no career guidance was provided. I really didn't know what I wanted to do after I graduated, although continuing my English studies definitely appealed to me. Fortunately, one of my English professors was supportive and helpful. He suggested that I might want to consider library studies and that I speak to the university literature librarian. After I met with the librarian, I immediately decided to earn a Masters Degree in English and follow that with a Library Degree. I had grown up loving my regular visits to the public library and all the wonderful reading recommendations I got from the librarian there, but I thought my own talents were more academic, and my plan was to become a rare books or literature librarian.

I spent a year studying English Language at the University of Edinburgh and then went on to the two Masters degrees at the University of Toronto. While in Library School, I was obliged during my first year to take a class in computer programming (IBM Assembler!). At first, I was quite annoyed; a "technical" class wasn't in my plans. To my surprise, I found that I really enjoyed it. I was so proud learning how to create punched cards that, once run through the huge computer, successfully pumped out catalog cards! In fact, I enjoyed learning about computers and automation so much that I followed it with a second year elective course in programming, along, of course, with the rare books and archives elective.

After I completed my M.L.S., I started looking for jobs. I couldn't find a university position, but I ended up in the Theatre Department at the Metropolitan Toronto Library. It really was a dream job. Reference queries ran the gamut from serious researchers working on Masters and PhD's in Drama to people with TV trivia questions. As one of three librarians in my department, and the only one young enough to have taken computer classes, I had the opportunity to participate in a library-wide committee working on the logistics of automating our library catalog. I also got to lead a project having our rich collection of local theatre bills and newspaper clippings preserved in microfiche. We were very "advanced" at the time!

Two years later, I left my dream job only because it seemed like time to move back "home" to California. I started looking for jobs in libraries, but the position that came along was one with SDC Search Service, a company that marketed research databases to libraries. I thought that it would be good to get experience in this area, and then return to a library position. After a short term on the "help desk," I became the main documentation writer, drafting manuals and newsletters for customers. And, somehow, I ended up making an accidental career change to technical writing in the software industry, a field I stayed in for many years. I enjoyed the challenge of taking somewhat technical information and organizing and simplifying it for users. I also enjoyed some opportunities to design user-friendly interfaces and early websites. And, as a late mother, technical writing proved a good field in which to freelance and have a flexible schedule. I often thought about how I missed working as a librarian, but continued with my technical writing.

When my daughter was in middle school, the librarian retired mid-year. I learned about the opening from the school principal when I contacted him to volunteer to update the school's website. I thought, "I really want to do that!" I didn't have the credentials required to work as a teacher librarian in a school library in California, but I learned that if there were no satisfactory applicants, I could be hired on the condition that I enroll in two credential programs. (I would need to earn both a teaching credential and a library media teacher credential.) And, that is just what happened.

I loved my new job from the moment I walked in the library. I was comfortable with the technology from my experience in the software industry, I was fairly up on the books since I had been reading with my daughter since she was born, and I loved working with the students and teachers. I know now that I was completely unprepared on the teaching side, but I learned about that as fast as I could through my credential classes, but mostly through attending conferences, reading publications like School Library Journal, and following school library gurus' blogs and other online communications.

I feel extremely grateful that I found a field that is a true passion for me and in which I can share that passion with students and make a difference. Since I came to school libraries so late, I have felt from the beginning that I don't have a minute to waste learning and trying everything I can to improve my practice. I am also constantly overwhelmed by the wonderful, incredibly generous librarians in my PLN who challenge me to do more to be better each day. When I was an English major in college, I was overwhelmed by all the "must read" books and the frustration of never being able to get to all of them. With school librarianship, I know that I will never keep up with the new ideas I learn about from the exemplary representatives of my field, but it's the challenge of trying that keeps me going!

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