Talking with Tidewater colleagues and reading the journals, I realize that we are not the only library system having difficulty filling positions. We have positions, including Master's-level positions, which have been vacant for over a year and have not had many applicants. We are now also in a hiring freeze. All this has forced us to find creative ways to fill these positions. We have decided that the Newport News Public Library System needs to "grow" our staff so we have embarked on using part of our state aid for public libraries to fund the graduate level studies of one of our paraprofessionals. We are also developing a plan that includes continuing education activities for staff development that will hopefully result in promotional opportunities for non-Master's positions.
This brought up the question: Just why did I become a librarian? What influenced me to take up this career? Was there someone who influenced the decision, or did I stumble into it? Did a particular event cause me to choose this -career?
I had always thought that I was one of those who stumbled into it. I had graduated with a degree in French and had planned to enter the State Department or the Peace Corps. I didn't make it into either and had not taken any education courses, so I was not eligible to teach in my state. I had started to work in libraries when I was a senior in high school, cataloging and processing books. My father had always said I would be a librarian, but I had always fought against it. I am not sure why-perhaps because of the glamour associated with my other career goals or because I didn't want/like the stereotypical image of glasses and bun. But I remained at the Oshkosh Public Library, became a branch assistant, and finally decided to go to graduate school.
It wasn't until recently that I realized that there had been many persons along the way who influenced my decision. Gloria Hoegh was the first librarian I remember knowing. She was a bookmobile libra-rian with the Oshkosh Public Library and the quintessential librarian. I was a grade-schooler, yet she allowed me the freedom to browse the entire collection without, I thought, any apparent supervision. Little did I realize that the conversations we had about the books I was reading and her suggestions of "well if you liked-then you'll probably like-" were just that. At the same time, Leonard Archer became the director of the library. Mr. Archer was pretty exotic for a fairly conservative community. My gosh, he came from New York-that hotbed of way-out, liberal ideas. He began a collaboration with the local college to develop a "peoples' university." The really neat thing about this was that his vision did not limit it to adults; youth were included and indeed often seemed to be the focus. His laughter and enthusiasm for trying new ideas showed me the joy of librarianship. Peter Hamon came to Oshkosh in the 80's as extension services librarian. Talk about learning management techniques! Can you think of anyone who would let a bunch of pages run around the library decorating all the plaster busts with crowns of holly and felt eyeballs? And he was pretty tolerant of the time we managed to set a marble stand for one of the statues on another page's foot! At the same time, he taught me that the quality of service provided is one of the greatest measures of effectiveness. They all quietly led me to the career of librarianship through their own actions and guidance. I owe them all a debt of gratitude for leading me to a profession that gives me great joy and excitement.
Well, all of this led me to ask my colleagues why they chose librarianship. Here are some bits and pieces of their responses:
- My first influence came from Miss Long, a public librarian who came to my school once a week…. In high school I worked in the school library and learned that not all librarians were old ladies. I thought briefly about it as a career but forgot about it until after college when I worked in a bookstore…. After suggesting to many customers that maybe they should "try the library" for what they needed, I decided to take my own advice and go to library school.
- My "fall into it" began in grade school when I started working at my local Kansas library after school at six cents an hour.
- My mother was a school librarian, and she probably influenced me the most. She didn't pressure me, she seemed to enjoy the work and I thought I would too. Our family always read-books or magazines. The thought of being surrounded by so many books and magazines was too much for me! I…became a school librarian and worked at that one year. In 1984 the library board decided to hire a librarian…. I was hired because I had some experience, but it was with the understanding that I would get my MLS. They, the library board, were my push to get the MLS. I would say I owe them so much because they encouraged me to get my degree.
- My mother was a paraprofessional in charge of the music library of my university…. I was fascinated with what went on in music librarianship, though not as much with the rest of the library field…. It seemed a bit boring, in fact! …I was TOTALLY surprised by how much I loved working in the library…. I've been here ever since. Mostly loving it….
- I lived in an area that had good libraries and even the high school library was open evenings. It was a great place to meet people and then go out. My older brother was going to the University of Maryland, and I used to go to the campus with him. I would hang out at the library while he was taking care of his business. It was a blast playing around in the open periodical stacks.
- Becoming a librarian was the last thing I ever wanted to do. But, as often happens in personal relationships, I sort of fell into it, and then I fell in love with it. I took a temporary job as a circulation clerk but soon decided to get my MLS. I didn't much care for the library school courses, but luckily in my library system there was a woman named Jane Hirsch, who gave mandatory classes for readers' advisors. I learned more from her than I ever learned in library school, and that's when I really decided to make this my life's work.
- Being in love doesn't exempt you from difficulties or occasional heartache, so there are days when I wonder why I am still here. But this job makes me happy and gives me a sense of fulfillment and pride.
- I always loved books and learning. I carted multiple boxes of books with me…after I graduated…to teach English with the Peace Corps. When I was home and working in a plywood factory…a friend was working at the Duke University Library. I began working there as a clerk-typist…. I decided to go to library school to try it out, with the idea of working in a reference department, which I did for seven years….
- Mrs. Moll, my junior high school librarian, pointed me in the right direction. I volunteered in 7th grade and she let all the volunteers do more than shelve. I learned to weed, process books, and understand the Dewey Decimal System at age 12. I then became a page at my hometown library and Mrs. Whitney made sure that I saw a bit more than just shelving books during my four-year tenure…. During college Mrs. Moll (now actually Dr. Moll) made sure I had a summer job doing research in several special and college libraries. I headed right to Drexel University after college…. My thanks go to all the librarians who helped me along the way-including Fran Freimarck-who saw the public librarian in me and helped me find the best job of all.
- I think the deciding factor in my life was my job at the University of Wyoming Library while I was a student. I started as a shelver, became a circulation clerk, and was in awe of Director Ray Frantz. My supervisor encouraged me to pursue a library career….
- My next-door neighbor was offered a job at Fine Hall Library, the graduate library of math and physics at Princeton University (Princeton's my hometown), but she didn't want it and offered it to me. Things were that casual back then! I worked there every summer and so backed into the field-I found I loved it…. I'd never wanted to become a librarian because I didn't want to become the stereotype of the -librarian….
- Interestingly, the issue for me was never why I became a librarian but why I was challenged to stay a librarian. A day hardly passes that someone doesn't question why I am still a librarian. With so many info tech jobs, and city admin jobs, even school jobs paying much higher salaries…why stay a librarian? ...Why? The rewards of being a librarian…at the end of the day feeling like we have made a difference in the lives of the citizens, providing a service, a product that is tangible and valuable…together with an intrinsic belief that leveling the playing field in technology is so critical to the success of our community and that an informed citizenry is the only hope for this community to survive….
Let's hope that we can instill that same love of and excitement for librarianship in others.