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15 Aug 2008 / Julie

How I stumbled into libraryland and didn’t trip

Tombrarian tagged me in superstarchivist’s frendfeed comment-turned-meme on How you got into libraries…

Well, i’m not totally sure!

I suppose it all started when i was a kid. Sure, i liked to read, but mostly i was just curious. I got into stuff, tried to see what they were about, how they worked (or why they didn’t). I liked everything- literary and visual arts, science (not the math part), psych and soc stuff. The thing that (i realized YEARS later) tied them all together was the fact that i just wanted to know about everything. I couldn’t get my hands on enough information. I loved learning (read that, not the structured learning in school, per say, but the stream of consciousness learning that takes you from one thing to another).

In college, i couldn’t stick to a major. I started out as English and Theatre because exiting high school i wanted to be a writer… and still wanted to be involved in the theatre. Against my better judgment, mom convinced me to drop the theatre as a major and add business. a few business classes later i realized it was too limited too. I was paying (well, my parents were) a lot for college and i felt it was my duty to squeeze every bit of knowledge out of as many topics and people as i possibly could.

Eventually i ended up in the “Liberal Studies” major. Mostly this was the major for folks coming back to finish their schooling who couldn’t be limited to what they could take to finish their degree. For me, this was perfect because you picked a concentration- physical science, social science, or humanities- and took any classes you wanted that met that concentration. Well, i found the “pick one” to still be limiting so i picked two (thank you to my advisor who “let” me)- social science and humanities.

I was taking anything (and everything, except astronomy which i could never seem to get in to) i could get my hands on. Towards the end, i took a lot of Womens Studies / sociology courses because the professor, Dr. Ana Maria Garcia, lit the fire under my ass and made me feel like i wanted to (and could!) change the world.

I graduated having majored in Liberal Studies and minored in English and Womens Studies. Which, you can imagine, gives you a lot of marketable skills…

Well, it did. My love of learning and desire to try stuff ended me up in a lot of random jobs. commercial artist, data entry for a real estate appraisal co, stage manager and other tech positions, and freelance writer and editor. I worked in a counseling center, had very brief stint at a local newspaper as copy editor (apparently grammar isn’t my gig, as i prefer to make up language rather than stick to it) and did the obligatory time in food service (i can make a MEAN cheesesteak!). This was all before i graduated college…

There’s some important things that happened in here that are fuzzy… I was working on my undergraduate thesis (interpersonal communication / perceived realities in computer mediated communication) trying to figure out what the hell i was supposed to do now. College was the “next thing” you did, i didn’t give it much thought. But now i was 21 and had to have some sort of plan. My plan was to be a professional student.

I looked into grad schools… publishing, womens studies… i couldn’t figure out what i wanted to do. Someone mentioned the tie between all my seemingly unrelated loves was the love of learning, finding, and knowing. At the time, one of business professors at Arcadia was going for his MLIS and mentioned it to me. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but the idea started to seep in.

See, i never thought of libraries. I have no recollections of visiting libraries as a kid (i read like a fiend, but everything was purchased), and barely used the physical library during school (it was a crappy building the first few years and under construction the last few). i did all my self-interest research using the internet (it was always there…) and whatever online databases i could get my hands on.

I was friends with the librarians from my high school and middle school, but i never wanted to do what they did (which, for the most part seemed like crowd control).

After graduation the plan was to hold out for something that made me happy. After 3 months home with my parents either they or i decided it was time to get a job. Any job. I just had to do something. My friend Stephani had recently started work at an auto insurance company in Princeton and she hooked me up with an interview. I got the job and started in August or September. It was riveting. It was a calling center. and if that doesn’t sound bad enough, it was for new jersey auto insurance. I did the 3 hour round trip commute each day and didn’t have a life. I woke up at 6am to get there by 9 (leaving later than 7 meant i was late, but leaving at 7 meant i was early).. got home around 6pm at night, had dinner and promptly fell asleep on the couch. No life. So, i moved into my first apartment the week or so before Thanksgiving. My commute was now 15 minutes. Much better.

But the job wasn’t better. It didn’t light anything resembling an ember, let alone a fire, and i had a hard time adjusting to it and being away from everything i had known for the previous 20-something years. I was partnered with my trainer for longer than most were, always needing someone to double check my work. Eventually, it clicked. It wasn’t that it was hard- it was just something that had to be rote. It’s hard to remember shit you don’t care about.

I did that for a few months but I was bored. I needed something else to do. I figured grad school was as good a choice as any- i missed learning… about stuff i cared about. I figured i’d give libraries a shot. I was accepted for the Spring 06 semester and went part time at night. When i realized it was something i thought i could stick with, I quit my job and went back to school full time. Undergrad was a present from my parents, so this one was on my own dime. They funded me the first semester until my govt loans kicked in.

About halfway through grad school something happened. I met Dr. Marie Radford, who had the same fire as Ana did. I had heard stories about Marie before i had a class with her and was a little scared but quickly learned that she was a strong woman i could relate to. Soon, i was taking multiple classes with her and working with her on her research project which seemed like fate- interpersonal aspects of computer mediated communication was my last passion in undergrad and here was this woman tying it into libraries!

What seemed like moments later, i was in love with virtual reference. And f2f reference too, working as a grad assistant on the reference desk of two of the libraries at Rutgers, i LOVED being a part of the knowledge/information quest for people.

I kept working with Marie after i had finished my coursework and sometime in September, i think, she handed me a printout of a job opening that had come across a list. It was for a statewide VRS in Maryland. I had seen the ad too, but deleted it quickly because i wasn’t sure i wanted to move and didn’t think i had a chance (especially considering i couldn’t even land an interview for any of the reference/instruction positions i had been applying for in academe). But luckily, she convinced me to apply for it. As my dad always says, “minimize your maximum regret.” I figured i could always apply and not get it/not take it, but i’d never know if i didn’t try.

Good thing too! I’m not the proud holder of that job, soon to take over the project as my friend and boss, Joe, moves up and on in the world of Maryland Libraries.

All my life i thought i’d be going from job to job, interest to interest.. and while i still do, i think libraries are a place i could run around for a while. :-)

So, now that i’ve rambled on for days, what’s your story?
I’m tagging:
all of the folks at the Library Garden
the (almost) BaldGeekinMD
and Bridget @Beyond the Reference Desk

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