The Joy of Librarianship, Part II
by Morel Fry
I thoroughly enjoyed the President's Column that Iza Cieszynski wrote last year on the paths taken by people who became librarians. Most of the people came into the field almost by accident. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but I actually set out to be a librarian. In high school, I worked in a small public library as a page and decided this was the profession for me. Luckily for me, the librarian determined that if I were going to be a librarian, I was going to know what was involved and over the next two years I catalogued, did reference, worked circulation, bought books, shelved, and performed a variety of tasks. Nothing discouraged me so I went on, and after over 30 years I am still excited about libraries.
But Iza's column got me thinking about how other library people came into the field, so I decided to do Part II and ask paraprofessionals how they came to libraries and why they stay. Over and over we hear how other jobs pay higher salaries and have better hours, but we remain in libraries. I suspected that the routes into the library and the reasons for staying would be similar. And here are bits and pieces of their responses:
- The reason I got into library work was by necessity. Having graduated from high school in June and with no job and parents who were on my case about being employed, I spent most of the summer looking for a job. No one would hire me, as I had no experience. I was very frustrated since I spent most of my days beating the streets, only to hear the "no experience" talk. I finally applied with the City of Norfolk and they sent me on an interview to the public library. It was a full time shelver's job. I was delighted that someone would hire me with no experience. I took the job and at that point made up my mind that I would never let them down. They took a chance on me by giving me the job, and I was going to be loyal to them. I fell in love with the library and the people who worked there. The job began in the circulation department and reference department. I ended my career in December 1996 as Business Manager, thirty-one and a half years after I began.
- I started working in the Library at Virginia Tech in June 1989. I had been working on campus for some time in another job when there was an opening in the library, so I applied for it. The job was in the acquisitions department, and I have been in that department ever since. Now I take care of all the subscriptions and standing orders. I really enjoy my work in the library. You learn and do something new every day. You also get to see the new material when it first comes in, before it even gets down to the stacks for the patrons to see.
- I arrived at the library via Governor Wilder's 1990 budget cut. It was pretty scary at first and, being the new kid on the block, I did not want to step on too many toes. I am an extrovert and somewhat assertive and aggressive. After overcoming my fears and taking charge of my new job, I discovered that the position and I were a perfect fit. One of my former supervisors noted that I appeared to be a natural born leader and was amazed how people seem to listen or follow my advice no matter what the situation. Later, he was coming to me for advice as well. I like the diversity of my job. It is never the same thing day after day. I like to keep busy, so I am always looking for new challenges and ways to improve things. In a place as large as this, many of my suggestions and ideas are accepted. I love the support, encouragement, and empowerment given me by my supervisors. My unit grew from just one student and myself to three full-time staff and ten student workers. I like it when people return to thank me for helping them get that "A" on a research paper, and I have even had people try to pay me or leave me tips. Most important of all, I love what I am doing. I never claimed that I was sane!
- I got my first library job almost as a fluke. During the summer of 1987, I was working full-time at the Registrar's Office at the University of Cincinnati with a staff member with whom the entire office found it very difficult to work. After a heated discussion, I was so fed up that I started looking for another job the same day. A friend from my Creative Writing in Poetry class told me about working in the Classics Library on campus. She said the head librarian was really intense and, as a result, the place always had high turnover. I wandered over, just wanting to get a job anywhere except where I was working, and hit it off immediately with everyone. I was interviewed and hired on the spot and that was that. I worked there at the end of my undergraduate and all of my graduate-school time, eventually achieving a student-supervisor rank. It is a closed-stack environment but very large; I can remember actually running at times when doing retrieval for patrons. We had a paper, card catalog and paper Cardex for journals and did manual circulation with McBees. I can still remember sticking that metal rod through the holes and twirling them around to let the overdues fall out. I thought it was the cleverest system I had ever seen. Those were the days!
- I was not happy in my former job so decided on a career change. There happened to be a job opening in the Circulation Department at the University of Richmond, which I immediately applied for and got. That was one of the most rewarding decisions of my career. The daily interaction with the students, faculty, staff, and the university community has provided many and varied experiences and challenges. We had 35+ students working in circulation. It was interesting to observe their growth and maturity during their college experience. It's always a delight when they come to visit, even after 15 years. I guess we had an impact on their lives and even more so when some of the students decided on a career in the library field. Providing exemplary customer service was my goal, as well as the library's mission. I feel that part of our responsibility in an academic library is to provide encouragement and set the standards for the future - Vision, Leadership, Achievement, Professionalism, and Foresight. After 30+ years in public service, I now work in the acquisitions department. I began my career with the end product (getting the items on the shelf), but now I work at the beginning of the process (ordering materials). There have been many changes during my tenure in the library. The wonders of technology have changed our jobs drastically. We have learned a variety of new skills. It is important to embrace change positively and objectively, always searching for new and innovative methods to enhance our job skills and improve services to our customers. And yes, I love my job, both in public service and in technical service.
- Walking into the Longwood College (now University) Library in1973 to interview for a position as secretary to the director was an action that changed the course of my life. The library director didn't hire me as her secretary that day because I had never learned to take shorthand, but she did hire me to work in the technical service area. So my history as a library employee began with my working in tech services under the supervision of Becky Laine, who taught me to love library work. Work in a library does not cause the earth to move, but it has always been the perfect place for me to work. First of all, to be surrounded by books is like a dream come true. Who could ask for more? In addition to keeping company with tons of books, it has been fun to learn how to catalog using both the Dewey and LC systems. It sure teaches one how to organize information and streamline thoughts and ideas. For the last ten years, I have been fortunate enough to work with the archival and special collections. It is rewarding to work with and organize a collection of materials so that they can be useful to those doing research, and it is fun to help people in their search for special bits and pieces of information. It is also rewarding to know that the preservation work I do will result in Longwood's history-related materials being around for others to use long after I retire. Getting involved by attending workshops, conferences, and working in VLA organization is just icing on the cake. Networking, sharing ideas, and attending conference presentations all work together to make one a happier and more productive library employee. It has been my privilege to be a member of VLA because it has allowed me to get to know so many wonderful people who work in and love libraries. Life is good!
- I started as a student shelver in gov docs because I needed a convenient on-campus job while I was working on my philosophy degree. By the time I finished my degree, I realized I needed gainful employment, and it so happened I thought it was the cleverest system I had ever seen. that an entry-level slot was open in reference. I had found my experience working in docs to be interesting and enjoyable and decided to try for the reference job, thinking it would be a good place to be while I looked for "something else." As it turned out, I became more and more interested in what I was working on in the library and less concerned with finding "something else." My current level of involvement in libraries is as a paraprofessional working on an M.L.I.S. degree: A seemingly short-term, spendingmoney job has turned into a career. Any way you look at it, working in libraries is about working with people - from working with the public to working on committees, to training staff, etc. That is the most rewarding part of the career for me: being able to communicate and collaborate with many different people on a wide variety of problems and needs. Perhaps this sort of environment could be had in any large service organization, but the problems we have in libraries seem more compelling to me. I find it much more satisfying and interesting to help people understand the nature and process of information and how to become empowered by it.
- I began my library career as a summer, student worker at Sweet Briar College. I was a student at UVA, not Sweet Briar, but my mother was a college employee and helped me get an interview. My main duty was taking inventory. This was back in the late 70's, when it was done the old fashioned way, in teams with one person calling the number and the other person searching the shelves. The conditions weren't the best: no A/C in hot, humid, Central Virginia, but what fond memories I have of that summer and the ones that followed. After graduation, like many college graduates, I had a degree but no job, so again I worked at the Sweet Briar College Library. As luck would have it, that summer the state funded the retrospective conversion project. I was hired as a data-entry clerk and promoted to supervisor! This job lasted about a year - until the funding for private institutions ran out. The public libraries still had funding, and Lynchburg Public Library needed a person to continue working on the project for them. I was hired and worked there for about seven months. Then I received a call from Lynchburg College, which needed a circulation supervisor, a job that I held for 17 years from 1983 to 2000. I was extremely fortunate to work with a wonderful, professional, talented and fun group of people at Lynchburg College. In 1990 our library, as part of the LION (Lynchburg Information Online Network), finally automated. Again I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I helped set policies, make the changes automation allowed, and write a detailed policies-and-procedures manual, used by both regular and student library-staff members. It was also around this time that I became active in VLA through the VLAPF. I attended one of their programs and was so impressed with the quality and organized manner of the program and the friendliness of the people that I thought, "I'd really like to be a part of this group!" So I joined the Executive Board. That was one of the best decisions I ever made. Being a part of VLAPF and serving as Recording Secretary and later Co- Chair afforded me opportunities and rewards that I never could have imagined. They included working with such talented and respected individuals as Carolyn Tate, Beth Perkins, Ruth Turner, Linda Hahne, Clara Stanley, and my co-chair Elna Ann Mayo; helping to sponsor the best paraprofessional conference in the nation; appearing on the cover of Library Journal; being named the 1997 VLAPF Outstanding Paraprofessional of the Year; and receiving a Distinguished Service Award from VLA. Being actively involved with VLA/VLAPF has really enhanced my library career. In August of 2000, I accepted the position of Circulation Supervisor at Lynchburg Public Library. Going back to the public library 17 years later as a department head, I felt I had made a complete circle. I still work with the Dynix system that I know so well and helped to implement at Lynchburg College. I guess the upshot of my story is that I must have been destined to work in libraries. One opportunity always led to another, sometimes quickly and sometimes years apart. I even met my husband in the library! Also, the time span in which I've worked has seen remarkable technological changes. It has been an exciting time to work in libraries and it continues to be. It wasn't always easy, but the challenges made the results all the sweeter. I really do enjoy the work and the people with whom I work. I love libraries; I love working in libraries, and I love VLA/VLAPF!
To answer my initial questions, we come to libraries in a variety of ways. Why do we stay? Again for differing reasons but mostly because there is joy in librarianship, and we love what we do. How lucky we are!