We had our annual New Staff Orientation Day on Friday. It’s a day when we get all of the staff who’ve joined RPL within the past year to come in and hear from the various managers, committee members (eg. OH&S) and others with specialized positions (eg. our Assessment Librarian) about how all of the different areas of the library fit into the larger picture in a way they might not see when they’re just working in their individual branches or units.
I get to give a little spiel about my rather unique role as well (not just because I’m the guy making the agenda!) and this year, I started off by asking the assembled group of newbies how many ever thought they’d end up working in a library at some point in their lives? Out of a group of ~20 people (including two of our newest professional librarians – three if you count me) only one person raised their hand. And contrary to what you might expect, it wasn’t me shooting my hand in the air!
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve loved libraries since I was a youngster and as evidenced by my work in the publishing and writing communities, even managed to wrangle my way into working in the book industry once I got my English degree.
But that’s very different from actually thinking I’d even work in a library as a professional librarian. Now, working in libraries was conceivable and did cross my mind on occasion – especially when I was nearing completion of my BA and discovering that, at RPL at least, this would place me at the Library Assistant level which seemed like a perfectly good and realistic career option at that point in my life. (I should find some of my cover letters from that era – I’m sure I’ve got them somewhere on my hard drive and I’m pretty sure I even applied to RPL.)
But Library Assistant was about as far as it went. In fact, I was probably like the majority of people in society who didn’t even realise that being a “capital L” Librarian required a Master of Library Science degree, let alone that it was something I would ever go on to achieve.
So, with my opening question from the New Staff Orientation ringing around my head this weekend, I tried to think when the idea of actually becoming a professional librarian first entered my head.
And the answer, as best as I can determine, was when I did a semester exchange to England in 1995. There were numerous foreign exchange students from around the world at the small college I attended in York England and I became good friends with one who came from the Chicago area. I can’t even remember what she was completing her undergrad degree in (English too?) but I do remember that she knew she was going to continue on to library school immediately after convocating.
We had many long conversations about all manner of subjects but she is the first person I ever remember enlightening me to the possibility of being a professional librarian.
I returned to Canada, finished my undergrad degree using the popular “four year degree in five years” option then managed find work with the Saskatchewan Publishers Group and later, the Writers Guild of Alberta. But that idea she sparked in me about library school as a possible career option had lodged itself into my brain as a back-up plan if I convocated but couldn’t find work (a very realistic option when you convocate with a BA – English!)
I did a search of my personal journal files (the beauty of having them computerized) and the first mention in any of them of the phrase “library school” was in October 2001, six years after my England exchange and five years after I completed my BA.
At the time, Shea and I had been in Calgary for a couple months and I’d just been hired at the Writers Guild of Alberta. But the thought of applying to library school had been growing in my head over that summer as I was searching for work without much luck. That summer was the first time I wrote away to request application packages from the various library schools across Canada. (The second time, I didn’t need to request the apps by mail. I went to the site of the only school I knew I’d be applying to and downloaded all of the required forms and criteria.)
Ironically, a brief stint at the U of C libraries as a page before the WGA called, helped cement the idea that if I did work in libraries, it would be at a level where I felt like I was working to my full potential and doing work that was a good match for my skills and abilities.
So anyhow, that’s the story of how I became a librarian – from a seed planted by a classmate over a decade before I entered library school that was always my back-up plan for when I needed a change in my life.
(I’ve stayed in touch with the friend who first planted the seed and am happy to report that she’s currently a children’s librarian, living with her family in Arizona.)