Before this internship, the word “librarian” had for me the image of quiet work between the shelves, whispering and wearing glasses on a chain and saving the world with literacy in some vague but impressive way. Being able to shadow the library staff at the Bryan College Library has not only helped replace that idealized image with a more practical one which includes less-than-glamorous tasks like customer service and sleepy office afternoons, but it has also shown me that the librarian reality is a lot more appealing than the myth. Some of the work librarians do goes largely unnoticed—staff meetings produce decisions which improve the patron experience and no one outside the office will ever hear of it. But even the mundane is rewarding when I consider that it all adds up to creating a consistent and steady environment on campus, something that I think a lot of students are thirsting for. The library will always be there for you, and they prove it by showing up rain or shine, stormy Sunday night or pale Monday morning. On a general note, I have learned to appreciate the hard work done behind the scenes at a college library.
In addition to the hands-on experience I got with the catalogue, answering questions and helping the library run smoothly in the stacks and behind the front desk, I’ve appreciated my interaction with the staff as a part of the policy manual project we interns have been assigned this semester. Walking through procedures for things like inventory, weeding and interlibrary loan has made the processes make a lot more sense for me, even if as a student I won’t be participating in those larger projects.
Coupled with an interest in classical studies, my research into the library field has led me to an interest in rare books, manuscripts and archives. I’ve had the opportunity to learn about conservation practices from interviews with librarians as well as my own research, and seeing a few weeks ago a collection of 200-year-old documents inked with tiny, elegant script was a real highlight of my time here. To that end, I have been browsing grad schools with a concentration in Archives or Record Management, and daydreaming about combining my practice with classical languages and the next few years of library experience in some manuscript-handling field. In researching open positions in the United States right now, I found a few jobs calling for just that combination—one at Yale and another in the Pacific Northwest invited applicants with library experience as well as fluency in ancient languages. I’ve always found translation fascinating, and in upper-level Greek courses we’ve learned the transmission process for ancient documents as well as text criticism. I definitely would have a fascination for the subject if my career bends that direction.
Because I still have about a year and a half before my grad school would start, I am still in the early process of applying and selecting a school. Schools like UNC Chapel Hill and UMD College Park (Maryland) are both ranked highly on a few websites I looked into; many schools (like Drexel) offer an online degree as well. I hesitate to commit to an online school because I think I could benefit from the hands-on experience that physically attending a school can offer. There are some appealing and intimidating opportunities at larger grad schools, from field studies to foreign study abroad programs, but I’m still in the dreaming phase of this process.
After graduating from Bryan College, I intend to pursue this MLIS degree somewhere on the East Coast and then begin to gather some experience. The next three years following grad school I am imagining will be spent with a flexibility which isn’t natural to my personality—I’ll need to be able to move anywhere for a job and to take close to any job related to my education and experience. By the mile mark of 7 years from grad school graduation, I expect to have built a network of professional contacts and a body of various skills gained from each job I’ve tried out, and hopefully then I will know much better my strengths, weaknesses and passions as a librarian. Five years after that, it’s hard for me to picture from here—the constantly-shifting job field and the librarian career being in flux at this moment make this generation unique compared to previous ones: it’s possible that unlike my grandfather, who worked the same job for many years, I might be working in semi-permanent installments across the country. The universality of the library profession—though a varied community, librarians have a lot of common ground in philosophy and practice—lends itself to traveling librarians. I would say that as far as I know these days, my ultimate “dream job” as a librarian would be something which relates to those classical studies and perhaps overseas travel to the historical sites in which the echoes of dead languages still ring in the distance. I am attracted to the rewarding aspects of student interaction and the environment of learning at an academic library, so I believe that I would also be very satisfied as a reference librarian at a university someday.
From my observation, some of the most valued resources for continuing education once a librarian is employed is simply other librarians. Whether through web seminars, lectures or face-to-face tutorials, our Bryan College librarians are furthering their knowledge and skills to better serve their community. In terms of career advancement and job searching, I’ve read that attending library conferences and forcing oneself out of an introverted shell so common for librarian-types in order to network is a very effective practice. And speaking simply of keeping up with the library profession, while I believe that publications like Library Journal offer a lot of interesting articles particularly on the big-picture scale, the best way to keep a finger on the pulse of the American librarian, besides taking her out for coffee, is to read her blog. There are handfuls of library blogs out there and each offers seasoned advice and sympathetic humor for the frustrations that this job, as all jobs, have. The rise of social media in the past five years feeds these library blogs and the resources available on the internet for even the most rural librarian will only grow from here, as librarians do as they have always been trained to do, absorbing and adapting to new technology to better communicate with and serve their world.
Farewell, dear readers — I’ve enjoyed this semester with you. Keep reading, and frequent your local library!