or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

The Library Routes Project

   December 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Library arrow signI read about The Library Routes Project on LISNews, and thought it sounded like a great idea. It is a collection of the stories of how people ended up becoming librarians.

You know I love to talk about myself, so here's mine:

Laying the Groundwork
I graduated from the University of Dayton in 1996 with a degree in Business Marketing, and got a job in the marketing department of a small engineering company in Dayton. I didn't have much of a computer background at that point, but they figured that since I was a kid just out of college, I must know all about this new thing called the world wide web. So, in addition to general marketing duties, I also became responsible for the website.

It was a good job, with a lot of support and freedom, and I learned a great deal about working with customers, creating both marketing and instructional materials, project management, etc. I also ended up teaching myself html by switching between the wysiwyg and code views of Hotdog while working on the website.

But by 1999, all but one of my college friends had left town, and I was ready for a change. So that friend and I decided to move to Maine, because it seemed like a nice place. I got a job there as the ecommerce manager of a promotional imprinting company, and what I had been doing translated nicely. Most of my time there was devoted to rebuilding their website, but I also started doing tech support in the company, troubleshooting PCs, applications and printers for the sales reps.

A Round Peg in a Square Cubicle
Again, the people I worked with couldn't have been more supportive and fun to work with, but something still just seemed wrong. I realized that, although I enjoyed what I was doing - working with customers, playing with technology, doing creative marketing, etc. - I just didn't like the business world. I didn't like that everything was always focused on the bottom line and making money. That's just not the way I am, and I decided I would never be happy selling something.

So, I quit my job in 2002. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I did know enough to take advantage of the freedom while I had the chance. I took about three months off and drove from Maine to Colorado, visiting friends and family along the way. Then I flew to England, and traveled around Ireland and the UK.

Of course I thought a lot about what I wanted to do with my life, and I'm not sure when exactly the idea of being a librarian came in. One of my aunts is a librarian in Ohio, who I've always been close to, and I knew she loved what she did. I've also always been an avid reader, and it seemed like my marketing and technical background could be essential in a library, so the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

The Way Life Should Be
I moved back to Maine and was lucky enough to get a part time job as a reference assistant at the Scarborough Public Library. I worked there for about a year and a half, but long before that is was clear I was in the right place. I still got to do everything I enjoyed about marketing, plus I found that I really liked (and I think I was good at) working with patrons and just being in a book/information-based environment. Gone were the pressures of making profit, replaced by the simple goal of helping people.

And once again, the staff was wonderful. They gave me as much freedom and responsibility as I wanted, despite the fact that they literally hired some guy off the street with no library experience. But they must have seen something, because they all encouraged me to go to library school. It was that kind of library - a few other part-time people were already working on their MLS degrees, and another girl was just starting when I left. So in addition to being the right place at the right time, I also made friends with people that helped shape my career.

Going for the Gold(en Flashes)
After deciding I wanted to be a librarian for the rest of my life, I started looking at library schools. The closest one to Maine is in Boston, and I didn't want to do an online or distance program, so I decided to move back to Ohio and applied to the MLIS program at Kent State in 2004. Since I had to move somewhere, this way I'd be close to my family while I was in Ohio.

The program there was great, and I also got a job working at the reference desk in the campus' main library. It was fun being part of a college campus again, but every once in awhile I felt a bit awkward being over 30 (I was even older than most of the other library students). It was all a learning experience, and the balance of school work and working in an academic library was certainly a contrast to working in a public library. The resources there were incredible, but it was clear I was more suited to the public library world.

Go East, Young Herzog
After earning my MLIS degree in 2005, I knew I wanted to move back to New England, so interviewed with a few libraries before applying to be the Head of Reference at the Chelmsford Library in Massachusetts. I have to say that was one of the roughest interviews I've had - I walked into the director's office and found seven people sitting around a small table waiting for me. It was a bit overwhelming, but I think things clicked on both sides, and I was offered and accepted the job the next day.

I've been here for four years, and it's still a great place to work. I know that I'm incredibly lucky to consistently find jobs I enjoy with coworkers I like and respect. And Chelmsford is also a place where people are permitted the freedom to run with their ideas, so I've been able to evolve my position and the reference department as the realities and tools of the library world change. I've also been able to connect with even more librarians though the consortium and regional associations (and blogging), and learning from other librarians has become an important part of my job.

The End?
And I would say, "and they all lived happily ever after," but that implies the story is over. It's not. I'm not sure where things go from here, but I'm looking forward to finding out. Another benefit of working in a library is that you never have to retire, so my library story might go on for a good while yet.

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