[NOTE: I wrote this back in 2014 and for some reason never posted it. It feels right to share it now, so here goes.]
I am newly on Twitter (@LibrErinGA) and I noticed yesterday that Marge at Tiny Tips for Library Fun told her story of why she became a librarian in response to this post. I read her story and thought it was really inspiring and interesting, so I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to share my long, sort of unusual path to librarianship.
It started out pretty normal. Of course I loved books, reading, and learning. My parents are very intelligent people who value learning, and they always encouraged me to question, explore, and discover. (Significant side note–they read aloud to me. I still remember the cozy feeling I got when my dad read to me before bed. Folks, it truly is a gift that your child will treasure forever when you spend fifteen minutes a day reading with them.) Anyway, when I was about thirteen years old, my mom encouraged me to volunteer with the summer reading program at our public library. I helped hand out materials for summer reading, and stamped those date cards that you put in the back pocket of a library book back in the day (can you even believe?!?) and I also learned to shelve books. I did this for several more summers and eventually ended up with a paid position as a circulation clerk.
During my later high school years, I somehow got the idea that I needed to be an attorney. I’m not sure if this came from my parents, from an aptitude test, or from TV, but this idea got firmly and stubbornly lodged into my head. From then on, I was in full-on lawyer mode.
I went to college and majored in English because 1) someone told me that it was a good major for people who planned to go to law school–I later found this to be absolutely true, by the way, and 2) I loved to read (duh). In my freshman year of college, my niece was born. Before this, I never considered myself a “kid person”. I didn’t really even babysit. But when that little girl was born, I was so amazed by her. As we played together and talked about things, I just loved seeing the world through her eyes. At the time, I didn’t really interpret this as “enjoying working with children”–she was just my brilliant, adorable niece and I loved hanging out with her. But looking back on it now, I think this is definitely where I started to realize that working with children was awesome.
I graduated college and went to law school, where I steadfastly worked toward a career in practicing law. Law school was very difficult, but also very enjoyable. I loved reading and research, and learning to “think like a lawyer” proved to be an exciting challenge for me. In my second year of law school, I had the opportunity to work at a public interest legal clinic with actual clients. They had a wide range of family law problems, and I loved the feeling of helping someone who was so lost in the process find a resolution, even if it wasn’t always the one they wanted. This experience led me to accept a job with a non-profit legal services organization, where I assisted low-income people with matters such as divorce, child custody, housing, food stamps, and unemployment. I passed the bar exam and practiced law with that organization for six years.
About two years into my legal career, my daughter was born. Like many first-time parents, I scoured the internet for information about making her the smartest, most talented, amazing person ever. Not surprisingly, I ran into lots of information about the benefits of reading aloud. I started looking for book lists and, as we read together, rediscovered my love of children’s literature. As with my niece, I marveled at her eagerness and ability to learn. It just amazed me how she passed each day with learning something that she hadn’t done before. We quickly got into the habit of reading together every night, and it was easily my favorite part of the day.
I wish I could pinpoint a moment for you when I decided that I should become a librarian. When I made the decision to go back to school, I was feeling unfulfilled by my legal career. I started thinking about what I would be happy doing and what I *could* do, and librarianship came up. In the beginning, I told myself that I could still use my law degree–law librarians are generally expected to have a MLIS and a JD. But once I got into library school I quickly realized that children’s and youth services were for me after taking some classes in that area.
Library school took two years, including summers. I took classes at night through an online program offered by the University of Alabama while still working as an attorney during the day. Due to decreased funding to the organization I worked for, I was laid off from my legal job just weeks before I graduated from library school. It was a sad and scary time for me, but I also clearly interpreted it as a sign that the lawyer chapter of my life was over, and now I would help people in a different way.
I have been at my current position for nearly three years now. The learning curve has been pretty steep, but I have learned so much from my fellow librarians, both locally and through communities like Flannel Friday and Storytime Underground. (Not to mention the long-as-my-arm list of librarian bloggers I follow!) I was completely floored at first by the number of smart, caring people out there doing amazing things in their libraries AND SHARING THEIR IDEAS! For those who have always been in the library biz, maybe this is a given, but I was shocked when I came from a profession that was mostly adversarial to one that was so supportive and collaborative.
Long story short (I know–too late!) I feel that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and the path, though long and weird, was exactly the one I needed to take. I feel extremely fortunate to be involved with the children and families I see each day. It is truly a joy to see them play, explore, and learn about their world. I never cease to be amazed by children’s capacity and ability to learn, not to mention the enthusiasm with which they approach learning new things. So my #whylib? Kids. I believe in them and their incredible potential.