My Librarian Origin Story
My librarian origin story begins with bats…
Actually, I don’t know if that’s true. It may have begun before, when I landed a job after college graduation at an university academic library’s interlibrary loan department (that I couldn’t take because of my plans for Uganda; more on that below). It may have begun before that, when, in late high school and early college, I worked summers at my local public library’s children’s department. Or I may have been doomed from the start, raised up on story time and summer reading.
Anyway, I’ve always loved libraries, but I didn’t know that was where I belonged until the spring I was 23, living in rural Uganda.
After college graduation, I got married and my husband and I moved for six months to Uganda. When we had listed our skills before coming, the bishop had suggested I might work in the local libraries and help the librarians there. It sounded OK to me, and it was, battling a bat problem in the school library, sharing meals of rice and beans with the local librarians, helping sort donated books, developing a workshop on the Dewey Decimal System. So I spent my days in the village reading to neighborhood kids and learning to cook and visiting local libraries and applying for something like 20 graduate programs in English lit.
See, I was going to study Victorian’s children’s literature, and I needed to apply to a couple dozen programs because my husband was also applying to grad programs in computer science, and we needed a school or city we could both attend.
The problem, or a problem, was that this was 2008. The economy had tanked a few weeks after we’d arrived in Africa, and by spring 2009, as we prepared to return to the U.S., rejections started to roll in, many (though of course not all) citing the economy as a factor in their reduced cohort size.
There’s no way to pretend this was not a blow to my pride, but it did give me a chance to reevaluate my career choice. I don’t love literary theory. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in school forever. I wasn’t sure I wanted my career to be my life, or that I be a professor without my career being my life. And my time in Uganda had taught me I wanted to do work that concretely made a difference in the lives of others.
At Easter, my husband got into a grad school in Massachusetts off a waiting list he didn’t know he was on. That summer, I found a volunteer-run neighborhood library that needed an intern, and applied to library school more or less as a lark. What’s one more application, after so many?
I got in, and the scholarship that made my first semester free cemented my decision. I tried it, I liked it, and libraries have been the place for me ever since.
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