Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Second generation librarian

Library Roots

My mother was an Elementary School Librarian and both my twin sister and I are librarians so we always joke that it is in the genes. Although I loved to read I did not plan on becoming a librarian.

As a youngster my exposure to libraries was from the unglamorous side. My sister and I were enlisted early on to help my mother inventory her library collection every summer which meant the mind-numbing task of one of us reading the shelf-list from the card catalog and the other checking the shelves for the books. There was no time to enjoy looking at the books. It was a matter of forging ahead and getting it done in the few days my mother was allowed access to the school in the summer. Even better was having to change out boric acid traps and checking for mold. See in Houston, Texas two big enemies of the books were bugs (who were attracted to the glue in the books) and humidity. This was before most schools had air conditioning so moldy books were a very real threat.

One other thing we got to do (although I am not proud to admit it, but I didn’t know any better at the time) was drawing bathing suits on naked bodies. Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen is one book that comes to mind. It was my mother’s safe way of keeping objectionable books in the library. As I got older I would get to help her review books for possible selection by the Houston Independent School District. I enjoyed this much more than other tasks and discovered one of my favorite books and authors in doing so – William Sleator’s House of Stairs.

In Senior High School my sister and I were music librarians for the band so it was probably no big surprise when we were labeled “Most Likely to Become Librarians” in our high school year book. At the time, we both denied that label vehemently.

I went to college with no particular plan in mind so I tried many things – accounting, computer science, philosophy, archeology and more. I ended up with a double major in sociology and anthropology. In my senior year I began to think about my options for gainful employment upon graduation. I realized that I did not want to teach and that I would not be able to handle the emotional stress of social work. I narrowed it down to museology or library science. I decided against museology because I did not want to go to the two nearby universities that offered it. The university (University of North Texas) I was going to had a good library school program so I decided to stay there. I ended up getting a minor in library science and started working as a library assistant in the university library before starting graduate school.

Oddly enough my twin sister was pretty much arriving at the same conclusion about the same time at another university. To this day we still teasingly argue about who decided to become a librarian first.

Library Routes

I started working at the library science library as a library assistant in my senior year at college. That is also when I began taking library school classes. The arrangement could not have been any better because I worked just down the hall from my classes. Working full time it took me two and a half years to finish my Masters in Library Science. Much of my coursework was in academic libraries, but when I started interviewing in my last semester of graduate school I found that public libraries were paying better and did not require a second degree like many academic libraries. I also did not want to deal with tenure track which was common at the time in academic libraries. I had taken a couple of courses in children’s and teen literature so when San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) offered me a position as Children’s Librarian II at a few thousand dollars more a year than the academic libraries I jumped at it. Just as a side note, my twin sister took the path to academic librarianship.

I worked at SAPL’s McCreless Branch for a just under 2 years as a Children’s Librarian. In that time I learned that I loved selecting materials, maintaining the collection and doing the creative aspects of the job (bulletin boards and crafts), but I did not love doing story times. I was not a natural performer and dreaded the weekly story times. After 2 years in San Antonio I began to look for a job that would move us closer to my husband’s family. I soon found a job as a Children’s Librarian for Fort Worth Public Library’s Central Branch. I had hoped to find a job outside of children’s work, but found what many other Children’s Librarians find. It can be difficult to switch course once you are on that path. Once you get pegged as a Children’s Librarian many managers find it difficult to see you as anything else.

I worked at the Central Library’s Children’s Department for about a year when I moved to a new library that was opening in the Fort Worth system – Southwest Regional Library. It was our first regional library so it was larger than any of the existing 9 branches (we now have a Central Library, 2 regionals, 10 branches and 2 satellite branches with 1 new branch on the way). It was a bit of a shock going from the Central Library to Southwest Regional. At Central I was doing good to have 100 kids signed up for the Summer Reading Program. The first year at Southwest Regional Library I had over 1,000 kids registered for summer reading.

The next step in my career was totally serendipitous. Back at the Central Library the Head of the Business Reference Department had a vacancy. He had interviewed several people and was not satisfied with his options. He contacted me and offered me the position even though I had not applied. I had never even considered applying for that position, but I had cross-trained in his unit and he liked what he saw. I saw this as an opportunity to gain experience outside of children’s work so I accepted the position.

It turned out to be a good decision. Even though I was only a Librarian I when I started there I was given plenty of opportunities to grow. I headed up the Continuing Education and Training Committee for 3 years, was President of the Staff Association, headed up the committee to conduct the first inventory of the collection in at least 10 years, and chaired the Selection and Ordering Taskforce which came up with a new way to handle selection and ordering of materials (basically we went from mostly de-centralized selection to centralized selection). More than anything else, I believe that it was these assignments that helped me move up in the organization.

After 3 years in that position I realized that I wanted to start a family so I started applying for a position that would not require me to work nights and weekends. I interviewed for Interlibrary Loan (ILL) Manager and Assistant Manager of Cataloging and was turned down for both positions. When the ILL Manager position became open again about a year later I applied again and got the position.

I worked for ILL for 4 years. Forth Worth’s ILL office was grant funded by the Texas State Library and FWPL was one of 10 ILL service centers for the State of Texas. It was a big change for me because I had to do a budget and request the grant money every year. One year we had a budget cut and I had to lay-off 2 of my staff. There were rumors that further budget cuts were coming so I decided to start looking for another position. I had my eye on Head of Acquisitions. When the position became vacant it was offered to me. I have been in the position for about 13 years now and it is constantly changing either due to changes in purchasing procedure, technology enhancements or restructuring within the library. There have been times when I have been just over acquisitions and others time when I have been over selection as well. I am currently over selection and acquisitions. I currently have 10 staff (2 are vacant due to retirements and hiring freezes).

The highlight of my career was being named Employee of the Year in 2000. It meant a lot to me because it was an award given by coworkers and peers rather than library administrators.

I will be eligible to retire in a little over 3 years. Some days I think I will continue working as long as I can. Other days I feel like I can hardly keep up with technology and should retire as soon as I can.

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