How it all started

Tom has tagged me to tell the “How did I get into this crazy gig?” story of my career, so I shall.  I may have done this before, but I’d imagine I think of new details each time, so, well, too bad if you’ve heard this before.  🙂

When I graduated from college, I knew several things.  I knew I wanted to stay with my boyfriend while he finished his last year of school.  I knew I didn’t want to go home to Illinois.  I knew that I was very well-educated.  I knew that I had a BA in English Literature.  I knew this degree was essentially useless.  Some of those things that I knew were true turned out to be false — like the boyfriend, and the going back to Illinois.  Some were very true, like a BA in English being essentially useless.

I have a clear and startling memory of being about 4 months from graduation, and thinking, “uh… now what do I do?”

So when the Shelving Manager at the Trinity College Library took a different job, I applied.  I had been working for Alice Angelo, the Public Services Librarian, for four years at that point, as a student circ employee, shelver, and “In-Charge Student”, which meant that I worked the Reference desk between 10 pm and 1 am on rotating weeknights, and I also opened the library and supervised the circ desk from 8 to noon on Sundays.  So I figured that I could probably do the Shelving Manager’s job.

It was a great first job out of college, and the incumbent had long tired of his work, so he wasn’t doing much… and therefore all my ideas were seen as being good ones.  I struggled a bit managing student workers who, up to a month prior, had been my peers, but I had a great time re-organizing shelving processes, collecting data to monitor effectiveness, and working on the building re-design project.  I learned how to use Excel on that project, counting stacks on the architects’ drawings and measuring collection growth and extrapolating shelf capacity at 5, 10, and 15 year benchmarks.  I also had the support of a very friendly systems librarian who let me poke around in the reporting functions of Sirsi to my heart’s content.

When my ex graduated, I applied to library school.  It was obvious to me that this was the right thing to do; I hadn’t yet had a better idea for a career, and my para-professional gig was kind of fun.  Plus, all the project work Alice had me doing had given me a clear window into the fact that academic librarians did really cool stuff.  They chose books.  They worked with faculty.  They did preservation work.  They taught classes.  They got to stay in college forever.  I wanted to stay in college forever.  (I was only 22. Cut me some slack.)  Add on the fact that my aunt is also a librarian, and has always loved her work, and I wanted in.  Besides, what else was I going to do?  An English degree and a sense that the corporate environment wasn’t for me wasn’t quite enough of a light to illuminate a different path.

And so I went to library school, telling everyone I was going to be a public services librarian, as that was what I knew I was good at — I could manage students, work a circ desk, deal with a hostile patron, provide good directional reference, manage shelving and reserves…  And somehow, I graduated a cataloger.  (Don’t ask me, like so many other things, it just happened.)


  1. Thanks for sharing your story! I went into library school wanting to be an archivist, so I don’t think it’s unusual to get sidetracked by a great professor, great practicum or great job opportunity.

    I didn’t realize that you went to Trinity. I graduated from Wesleyan in 1999, so we were in central CT at the same time!!! We went up to Hartford for swing dancing all the time in college (can’t remember the name of the place).

    Like two ships passing in the night. Sigh…


  2. It’s a super-small world, isn’t it? I was a student at Trinity from 1994 to 1998, and worked there in 1999.

    On the small-world note, one of the librarians I worked with at Trinity is now at McMaster with Amanda, and the systems librarian I referred to above is the director at Hobart & William Smith, which is where a SUNY friend of mine just moved to. Soon, I’ll know someone in every academic library in North America, and they’ll all know each other. Or so it feels like!


  3. Most of our careers are accidents. I graduated with a BA in philosophy (a few credits in a different direction and it would’ve been a BA in English). I was perfectly qualified for my job as a forklift driver in a candle factory. I figured I’d write poetry and science fiction at night. And I did and published nothing and found the factory grind to be grinding indeed. I thought about doing something with computers — the sf geek part of me was curious about that, but when I looked into it, the real world part looked pretty dismal. I’d been a student assistant in the library as an undergrad and I’d enjoyed that. There was a library program at the university in the town I was living in. So what the hell. I got a graduate assistantship. The first day I worked the reference desk I adored it, and my goal was to be a reference librarian in a small liberal arts college library. A few months before I graduated, my department chair gave me a flyer for NLM’s associate program. One line caught my eye — “starting salary, $16,500”. I needed a job and hadn’t I heard that NLM did some stuff with computers? I applied, I interviewed, I was selected, I moved to DC. Twenty-five years later I’ve been director of two academic medical libraries and I’ve had a great time. I never did get to be that reference librarian though.


  4. T Scott, that made me grin. When I had two part-time jobs in grad school, and one had to go in order for me to have time to sleep and eat, the one I quit was the Circ Manager job. Which was what I thought I was going to do for a career.


  5. Nice touch with the photos.

    I wonder how many of these stories are going to involve liberal arts majors lacking job prospects. I’ll go out on a limb and say “a lot.”


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