Why I Became a Librarian, Part II

Especially during the first semester of library school, the question of “Why do you want to become a librarian?” got tossed around all the time. We all came from different backgrounds, at different parts of our lives, but somehow we’d all ended up training to become some varietal of librarian. Librarianship is one of those special professions where people dream of becoming a librarian since they first stepped into their local public library, so that was a reason you heard a lot. Or people had some really smart things to say about the power of information and their passion for organizing it, so it was the logical next step for them to train as a librarian.

That’s not my story.

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, I love books. I couldn’t wait to turn 6 so that I could get my very own library card and check out WHATEVER I wanted. But I wanted to be the characters in the books that the librarian pointed me to in the library, not the librarian. Astronaut, artist, archeologist: I was going to grow up to be all of those things, and that’s just the A’s. It never crossed my mind to include “librarian” in that list—not because it didn’t seem interesting, but because I didn’t read about them having adventures.

This was more of what I had in mind…

I went to college, and actually started studying to have one of those adventuresome careers. I spent hours in what was, at the time, one of the least inviting academic libraries and only encountered a librarian, I believe, one time: During a class on Chaucer in my senior year, we were brought in to Special Collections and got to touch really amazing illuminated manuscripts. It was awesome, but also too late: I had muddled through my four years exclusively using JSTOR and browsing the stacks for books that looked vaguely relevant to my thesis. I had no idea that there were people who worked there whose job it was to help students with their research—it seemed, like so many things in the library, to be for faculty only. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t true, but without any library instruction, I didn’t figure it out.

Not to give away the ending, but I didn’t become an archeologist. Instead, I went into publishing, since I’d worked for a publisher in college, wanted to have a grand adventure in New York, and, like I said before, was into books. And it was interesting, and it was an adventure (ask me about how I met Oprah!), and I did help make books. But clearing permissions for textbooks wasn’t the same as editorial work on the next great American novel, and it turned out NYC wasn’t for me, so it was time to figure out what else I could do with my life.

So I thought. And thought. And I realized that what I wanted to do was to connect people with books that had meaning to them, took them on adventures, and inspired them. My public librarian had done that for me, if I had only paid attention to notice it, so that’s what I decided to do. Instead of making one book for thousands of faceless people, I wanted to connect individuals with thousands of books. And so I went to library school, thinking that I would become a public librarian.

While volunteering at public library computer classes the summer before I started library school, I met someone who worked at a UNC library and recommended that I apply for a job there. To be honest, I had no idea what I would *do* there, but I needed a job, preferably one in a library, so I applied and got the job. And it was only at that point that I really learned about what academic librarians do (besides cataloging and collection development, that is—I had figured out that part, at least). I learned about information literacy, and how people search for information, and pedagogy, and that being an academic librarian is, in some ways, not all that different from being a public librarian. And what I found is that I wanted to be the person who could have helped me when I was in college, adrift in millions of volumes, unsure of what the heck I was supposed to accomplish with a “research” paper.

Now that’s what I do every day, and if you had asked me three years ago, I wouldn’t have known this type of librarianship existed. Now I think of my job as being the Vergil to students’ Dante: Keeping them on the path, guiding them, and making them feel safe in a sometimes intellectually frightening environment. That idea informs everything I do, from planning classes to meeting with faculty; writing a proposal for new tech to building a new online tutorial.

So this is all to say that I didn’t really plan to be an academic librarian, ever. But sometimes you fall into the right thing, something that magically combines all of your interests and somehow isn’t just all about you. And I may still become a public librarian someday, but right now I feel like I can have a bigger impact in the academic arena. I hope that some of the students that I see everyday will take some of these critical evaluative skills home with them once they graduate, and that the work we do in higher education libraries will have positive and broad implications. Big dreams? Sure, but that’s what makes the job worth doing.

Also, librarianship is the only job I’ve ever had where I don’t get in trouble for doing crafts at work. Perfect.

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Filed under Library Instruction, Posts by Dani Brecher, The Library Game

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