library routes: the power of suggestion.

My contribution to the Library Routes project:

I decided to become a librarian in of one of those blithe, accepting-the-good-advice of my elders-and-wisers-without-exactly-realizing-it moments. I had been out of Reed College for about a year, twisting in the damp post-liberal arts Portland wind with more than my share of ambivalence. My History degree (now paying off handsomely in the critical thought and expression dimension and which I wouldn’t trade for the world) at the time left me with few actual skills beyond academic doublespeak and being extremely good at naming the make and model of classic cars. Having rejected the idea of a PhD program in industrial/consumer culture history out of a sense that it was somehow misaligned, I was biding my time temping at Portland State University and vaguely trying to figure out what in hell to make of myself.

After a chance conversation with a fellow churchlady and former librarian named Mavis Davis (not making that up), my ever-wise and helpful mother suggested one day that I study librarianship at the UT School of Information (and if you don’t want to miss the strangest laptop calisthenics picture imaginable, follow that link). As was my way in slightly more stubborn days, I immediately dismissed her thinly-velied plot to get me “home to Texas where I belonged,” but her suggestion planted a seed of balky curiosity in my thick skull that eventually grew into genuine interest. I looked into the program, did the research, and started volunteering at the “Beverly Cleary branch” of the Multnomah County Public Library.

After a spell I discovered, somewhat to my amazement, that libraries, which I had always adored in a fierce (albeit somewhat distracted) home-sweet-nerd kind of way, seemed also to promise the perfect mix of altruism, public service, intellectualism, and… what else? It was my calling, yet I actually had no idea what the professional setting would entail. Librarianship is one of those careers people often enter on faith, as in not knowing exactly what they are getting into in terms of prospects or fruition, but with no problem explaining why. That it seemed like the most inherently helpful and non-evil work imaginable was all the justification I needed.

I did the obligatory degree, racked up a ton of hours working as a grad assistant in many amazing UT Libraries, and completed a practicum organizing the Planned Parenthood Capital of Texas Region video lending library to assuage my guilt for not taking any cataloging. After graduation I tried for a long and frustrating a year to get a professional academic job in Austin, which had its brisket-covered (meat)hooks in me almost beyond the point of redemption. After being shut down with the best of them, I lucked into my Reference/Instruction position at the Ohio University Libraries, which was a spectacular orientation to the field and serendipitous chance to earn a second master’s in Educational Technology. Now I’m at UC Berkeley having a marvelous time trying to explain myself, and thanking my lucky stars for listening to an extremely good suggestion six years ago.

End of (relatively short) story. And, per usual: many thanks for the dead-on advice, Momma.

10 thoughts on “library routes: the power of suggestion.

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  1. Best blog post of the week. Seriously.

    First of all, I know the Beverly Cleary Branch oh so well because I felt like I lived at the library. As a matter of fact, it was my experience there and at PSU that convinced me to go to library school! Small world.

    1. hey, thanks. weird parallel reality, eh? i bet we were avoiding the same overly aggressive pigeons in the park blocks.

  2. Funny. It was a Reedie who worked for Multnomah County Library and supervised my internship there that convinced me to go to library school! similar pathways abound.

  3. I read your piece with great pleasure and pride, added to that ongoing amazement that you ended up doing what I had suggested! As a mom, it is so satisfying to know that you are doing something which you truly enjoy. Too few people get to follow their passion as readily as you have. Keep writing!

    1. thank you, ma’m! and i am proud of you for figuring out how to comment on my blog. momma: 7, technophobia: 0. xox.

  4. I stumbled upon your site while following an “art in libraries” search thread. This post is wonderfully funny and true. Altruism, public service and intellectualism sounds like why I work in a library too. I am immediately forwarding this link to my dauhter, finishing up her MLS at U of A Tucson!

    1. my favorite – a library dynasty. so glad you liked the post, and best of luck to your soon-to-be-mls-minted daughter.

  5. Funny, I didn’t know you tempted at PSU too. I also did that post grad, it led right to grad school.

    1. “tempted” at psu – ha! sounds much better than what i was actually doing, which was essentially telling students they didn’t have enough credits to graduate like they thought they would. i made dozens of people cry, which is probably another factor that drove me towards libraries. where news is usually good, or at least non-triggering.

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