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Straddling the Fence of Both the Academic World and Public Libraries

January 30, 2018

As a recent graduate with my MLS from Clarion University, I have been eager to jump-start my career as a professional librarian. Initially, I had desired to secure a position within a higher education setting, as my previous employment included a nearly nine-year stint with a bustling, renowned community college. During my time there, I was a textbook specialist and buyer at the college’s campus store. (We used to call them bookstores, but as you know, the radical advances in technology and the rising costs of textbooks have forced vendors to offer cost-saving alternatives, including bundled packages with e-books and online access codes to complete assignments. Hence, campus bookstores have undergone a radical transformation since I first started working full-time at one in 2006.) My last two years at the community college, I worked as a secretary to the Center for International Education, assisting the Director with organizing study abroad trips and working alongside with Admissions to welcome the steady flow of international students registering for classes. It was a very stressful and demanding, yet rewarding, job. During that time, I made the decision to finally pursue my Master in Library Science, something I had been mulling over and putting off for well over a decade. The reason for my hesitation was the delusion that libraries were becoming a thing of the past, immortalized by card catalogs and images of white-haired women with glasses, pressing their fingers to their lips. I was skeptical that I would find employment once I had my Master degree. Additionally, aside from volunteering at a public library when I was in sixth grade for community service hours, I had no experience whatsoever with this magical profession. (To give you an ideal of how long ago that was, imagine a time when Madonna stirred controversy by burning crucifixes in her “Like a Prayer” music video and the Internet had yet to overtake our everyday lives!)

The more I did my research, however, the more I realized that libraries were not going away anytime soon. When others balked at my decision to become a librarian, often accompanied with the (very, very untrue) accusation that no one actually reads physical books anymore, I gently reminded them that a library’s presence within a community is to harness, categorize, and disseminate information. That never changes. However, the format in which information comes to us does change, and will continue to change; therefore, it is the responsibility of us librarians to keep abreast of these changing paradigms. That usually worked and was a satisfactory defense on my part.

Once I started my online classes in Library Science and saw how many of my fellow classmates were introducing themselves with “Hi, my name is… and I work at XYZ Library,” I realized quickly that I was going to need an enormous amount of experience in the library field in order to have a leg to stand on once it came to the job hunt. The best I could come back with is, “Hi, my name is Michele. I work at a community college and I like cats.” I knew I had to change my course. Leaving behind my well-to-do job as a secretary, I secured an internship with the prestigious Lehigh University’s Linderman Library for a summer, and was thrilled beyond words to be a part of such an excellent team. It was there that I assisted in the preservation of older journal series through JSTOR. I volunteered at the Moravian Archives, which specializes in collecting materials associated with the Moravian Church and the early founding of my hometown, Bethlehem. Not wanting to lose my touch with a college setting, I also worked at Lehigh University’s campus store.

Below: The beautiful Linderman Library at Lehigh University is one of two libraries on campus.

2015Lehigh2

I continued building my foundation to become an academic librarian by doing a second internship at the library of my alma mater, DeSales University, during my final semester of graduate school. It was an exciting time to be an intern, as the library was undergoing a migration of databases, moving from Millennium to OCLC WorldCat® Discovery. Despite wanting to eventually start a career as an academic librarian, I dipped my toe into the world of public libraries by taking on a part-time job as a reference and technology services librarian. Since the two libraries were literally right down the street from one another, I was able to do my internship at the university, grab a quick dinner in the campus cafeteria, and then head in for an evening shift at the public library. I loved being a part of both worlds because I am passionate about libraries, whether academic or public.

Now I work as a part-time circulation desk lead at another public library. It is a wonderful, inspiring atmosphere and I enjoy interacting with the various patrons and highlighting main attractions, such as a train display for the month of January. I am hoping that I am still getting enough experience in a public library to help me move forward with becoming an academic librarian. While there are many differences between the two, at the heart of being a librarian, it is all about service. Without the patrons and the students, we would not be needed. Whether helping a patron retrieve tax forms or assisting a college student with an interlibrary loan, it is all about acknowledging that someone needs assistance. It is about being comfortable with technology in all its ever-changing glory and disseminating those changes with the public. Databases and platforms, whether Hoopla, GreenFile, OverDrive, or the Gale Virtual Reference Library, need someone who is at ease navigating them and can reveal to patrons and students just how resourceful libraries can be for any community. Researching the library’s catalog to find that one particular item that will thrill a patron or greatly aid a student with a major project? This is the satisfaction I derive from being a librarian and what makes me passionate about my career.

 

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