Twenty Years in Libraries

Libraries

I may have realized this earlier in the year and then put it out of my mind, but it dawned on me recently that 2012 marks twenty years that I have been working in libraries. TWENTY. That’s damn near half my life.

Sometimes, it amazes me that I’ve made a career out of this because I never made a conscious decision that this was going to be my career. I entered libraries because I needed a job and particularly a job that would support my never completed graduate degree in Education.

After getting an undergraduate degree in English, I, not unsurprisingly, had trouble finding employment. I could and still might write an entire post about how happy I am that I got a “useless” liberal arts degree instead of something practical, but I have too much to say about that to take the time here. Suffice it to say, I feel I am a better person because of that background and the subsequent struggles.

After a year of very spotty part time jobs, a friend of mine offered me a job at his family’s print shop. I rather liked working there when we were busy and when I was learning the mechanics of actual press printing, but, unfortunately, this type of business was already becoming a thing of the past and I spent too much of my time sweeping floors and packing scant orders. At this time, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in Education at my alma mater, La Salle University. I found out that La Salle offered tuition remission for employees and decided that the best way to afford the degree was to work there. I kept an eye on their job board–this was pre-Internet and they literally had a cork board where they posted jobs. I saw a job opening in Connelly Library in their acquisitions department, applied and got the job. As they say, the rest is history.

I spent two years in the acquisitions department before becoming the Stacks/Student Worker Supervisor. During this time, as I thought more about the reality of my standing in front of a classroom of high school kids and got to know more teachers and heard all that they were going through, I realized that wasn’t for me. So, after 30 credits, I was done.

No longer interested in the tuition remission, I decided it was time to move on from La Salle and I got a job as a Serials Assistant at Talbot Research Library at Fox Chase Cancer Center. One of the unfortunate aspects of many libraries is that they pay their support staff pitifully. Again, that is a whole other discussion. The point is that while at FCCC, I realized the only way I was ever going to make something akin to a living wage was to get a Master’s degree and, in 1996, I began the Master’s of Library and Information Science program at Drexel University, which I completed in 1999.

I really enjoyed working at FCCC but it was a small library and there was no opportunity to move into a professional position. After nearly five years at FCCC, I got a position as an Instructional Services Librarian at Thomas Jefferson University’s Scott Memorial Library. Not having a medical or science background, I never became comfortable with medical research, although I think that I may have given up on it too soon. Professional hindsight tells me that I would have grown more comfortable with it over time.

Scott Memorial Library

Even though I wasn’t entirely happy with being a medical librarian, I was not actively seeking other employment. However, I was still in contact with friends from La Salle and found out that their Media Librarian was leaving. I enjoyed working at La Salle and felt that working at a liberal arts university was definitely more my thing. Given that my only professional experience was one year at a medical library, I was fortunate that my previous experience working there gave them the confidence to hire me. In 2000, I started what would be a seven year experience, mainly developing the film collection and running the library’s web site.

While working at Connelly Library, I began to take my career more seriously and looked for opportunities to do more than just the 9 to 5. I talked with the chair of the English department and began teaching freshman writing courses, which was a great experiment in blending information literacy into writing classes.

I also looked for ways to get more involved in the broader library profession and began attending conferences, beginning, in 2003, with Computers in Libraries in Washington D.C. Soon after, I was attending an Association of College and Research Libraries conference and a couple of Educause conferences. Although I enjoyed attending conferences and always learned a great deal, I wanted more and began participating, first with a poster session with a colleague at American Library Association’s annual conference and then having an article published in Computers in Libraries in 2005, which I turned into a presentation for the Computers in Libraries conference the next spring. That success led to the opportunity to present at Internet Librarian in Monterey later that year, which turned out to be life changing.

Although I always enjoyed working at La Salle, by this time, I had been there over six years and the organization was going through some changes, so I started thinking about moving on. After I presented at Internet Librarian, a librarian from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas approached me asking if I would be interested in an open position they had there. Not one to turn my back on opportunities, I investigated the possibility and in the summer of 2007, I found myself working for Lied Library at UNLV as the Head of Media and Computer Services.

Lied Library
Video Round Table Gala

My position there was tenure track, which led me to many presenting and publishing opportunities, including getting more involved in the American Library Association, particularly with the Video Round Table for which I was the chair and also served on the Notable Videos for Adults Committee for four years. I won’t outline everything I did here, but you can find more on my LinkedIn account.

Living and working in Las Vegas was certainly quite an adventure, but after four years and some major life changes, I felt my hometown calling me and began looking for a position that would lead me back to Philadelphia. Luckily, a position opened up at Drexel University Libraries. I applied and fortunately was hired as the Liaison Librarian for Media Arts and Design, where I have been happily serving the students and faculty of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design, as well as the general Drexel University population for over the past year.

URBN Center, Home to Westphal College of Media Arts and Design

I have a few lingering commitments to ALA. Currently, I am acting as the Past Chair of the Video Round Table. Because my position is not a tenure track position, I am no longer under pressure to present and publish, but I am still interested in doing so because it enriches my experience within the profession. That said, I’m not sure what that professional involvement is going to look like in the near future. I’m in a good position to revaluate my priorities and look for new and exciting possibilites.

That’s my story and I would love to hear more about how other people found their way into their careers.