We asked the American Library Association’s social media followers and newsletter subscribers for their stories about deciding to become a librarian. Here are a few of our favorites:
“My mother was a school librarian and I can remember the countless days we spent as kids in her school library after school and during the summer, just being around books. I also had a church mentor who was the director of the public library and hired me as a part time page in high school and then later as a children’s librarian once I got my master’s degree. They both stand out as shining examples of librarianship and have encouraged me to greater heights with my own librarianship goals and passions.”—Jeana L.
“I worked in a Title I elementary school with no library and limited access to books for students. In creating and curating a classroom library for my students, I discovered a passion for bringing a love of reading to others. There is nothing like watching a child connect with an author, character, or story. Young students have a thirst for knowledge and love reading. My job is to foster that love and keep it alive and burning as students progress to later grades.”—Peter D.
“The philosophies libraries represent, especially for children, are what drove me to this field. Libraries are a place of stories, belonging, and discovery. They show children what is out there and what they can become. Now, more than ever, children need stories with characters that persevere through hopeless circumstances. They need community support through creative programming and outreach. They need to see that their interests are also their gifts that can guide them through their own pursuit of knowledge and self-discovery. All people at any age need to know their worth, and the more connected they are with themselves the more they see their potential.”—Rebecca K.
“I had a literal lightbulb moment, where I realized that everything else I had done with my life had prepared me for the path of librarianship. I had always loved and used libraries, but no one has ever suggested that I pursue it as a career. I was lucky enough to work on a special project with some talented academic librarians, and I realized I wanted to be them! Looking back, it was always the perfect marriage of my talents and interests...I just needed to recognize it.”—Megan S.
“When I was a kid my family didn’t have a lot of money. One day my dad took me to our local public library and signed me up for a library card. Diane, the librarian, took all my information and gave me my card. When I asked how many books I could take out she looked at me over the rim of her glasses and said gravely, ‘You could take out a hundred if you want.’ My eight-year old heart nearly stopped in my chest. Never in my life had I had a hundred of anything, let alone books, which were my all-consuming obsession. My dad said she was joking, but Diane wasn’t laughing, and over the years she encouraged my love of reading and of libraries. She was the first of many librarians in my life who made libraries seem like generous and open places where I could explore the world and myself. In an effort to continue this exploration I became a librarian.”—Shevaun R.
“The library was the magical place for me as a child. It was my work study assignment in college (part of my financial aid package). I found I always felt safe and happy at the library. I wanted to provide that excitement and security to others.”—Dianne F.
“My mother inspired me to become a librarian—only neither one of us realized it while I was growing up! I vividly remember my mother's graduation ceremony when she earned her master’s degree in library science. I was in second grade, and I remembered being awed by the ceremony and at that moment, fully understanding why she had spent all those Saturdays away at school. She then transformed our K-12 school library, which had been just books on the floor (literally!), into a real school library. I grew up in that school library, helping my mother with the shelf list each summer, stamping books and magazines, and repairing damaged books. When I was in 6th grade, I even created my own card catalog (out of index cards) for my own mini-library of books and magazines—because that was normal in my family! But I didn't realize that I could, or wanted to be a librarian, too, until my first year in college. I had signed up to be a work study in my college library, and through that first year, more and more of my classmates came into the library to ask me questions about research. Of course, I redirected them to the actual librarians, because I knew their value and role! But then one day, I had a light bulb moment: that I, too, could become a librarian. And when that thought switched on in my brain, it felt like all the mental puzzle pieces of my life fell into place, and I knew it was the right path for me. My mother, who is now retired, and I still laugh about this, and we still talk about librarianship and how it's changed—and how it hasn't! I am so proud to be a second-generation librarian.”—Jennifer S.B.
“I loved the idea of spending my life encouraging children and teens to grow in confidence and empathy through reading great books. I also wanted to help students learn to search for what is true. So I became a school librarian.”—Mary B.
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the U.S. economy, and our nation’s libraries are no exception. Libraries across the country are reporting drastic budget cuts, making it harder to serve their communities when Americans need them most. That’s why library advocates are calling on legislators to sign the Library Stabilization Fund Act, which would provide crucial financial relief to keep our libraries strong. The bill is the best—and likely, last—chance for America’s libraries to be included in federal relief.
Amid the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, libraries have found powerful ways to help their communities while maintaining social distancing. They’re connecting job seekers with free career resources, keeping students engaged with virtual storytimes and summer reading, providing hunger relief to those who need it, and expanding free Wi-Fi access using bookmobiles and parking lots. The pandemic may have disrupted traditional, in-person library services, but libraries are still hard at work meeting their communities’ needs. As libraries cautiously reopen, they are facing added expenses of PPE, cleaning, plexiglass shields, and more.
The current COVID-19 relief packages have left libraries out. Meanwhile, city and state governments are facing hard choices about how to spend limited resources. Now is the time for federal leaders to step in and provide libraries resources to ensure they can continue to offer transformative services during the pandemic and beyond. The Library Stabilization Fund Act, sponsored by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Representative Andy Levin (D-MI), would allocate $2 billion in emergency recovery funding specifically for America’s 117,000 libraries and 370,000 library workers.
Stars from Netflix’s hit reboot of the Baby-Sitters Club have come together to record a video message highlighting all the amazing resources you can find for free on your library’s website.
“The BSC is great at entertaining kids, and so is your local library,” Malia Baker shares. Momona Tamada adds: “Libraries provide access to eBooks like the Baby-Sitters Club Series to keep kids reading outside of school.”
“They also offer great online educational programs for students of all ages,” Shay Rudolph says. Sophie Grace continues: “Libraries are great resources for summer reading and learning.” And, as Xochitl Gomez points out, libraries also “offer entertainment the whole family can enjoy together.”
Check out the full video:
The Baby-Sitters Club cast also recorded select readings from Ann M. Martin’s classic book series. Whether you’re a new fan of the books or re-reading them (again), join the read-along for fun stories.
After learning she is pregnant from her first sexual encounter, Camille is forced to make a decision. When she runs out of options in her Texas hometown, she, Annabelle, and her disapproving best friend, Bea, set off on a road trip to get an abortion.
After Mickey Catalan, a star athlete, is sidelined by a car crash, she relies on pain medicine to help her recover faster. When she discovers that it isn't enough, Mickey spirals out of control, and her need for relief leads her to lie, steal, and shoot up.
Three teens—an Iranian youth hiding his sexuality for fear of death, an openly gay photographer, and an aspiring fashion designer with an HIV-positive uncle—all find love, along with their voices, as activists in 1989 New York during the height of the AIDS crisis.
Aphrodite leads her legal self-defense in front of Hephaestus and Ares to justify her infidelity. Her proof? The love stories—that she helped create—of two couples during WWI. When her tale is done, both lives and love will be different in this beautiful book.
After Audre’s relationship with a young woman is exposed, her mother sends her away from Trinidad to live with her father in Minneapolis. There she connects with Mabel, who is suffering from a life-threatening illness. Told in alternating viewpoints, this is a moving novel of discovering how to live and love.
As both a senior in high school and a mother, Emoni must balance her last year at school with her culinary aspirations, as well as also her obligations to her daughter and grandmother. When Malachi and a new cooking elective enter the picture, Emoni’s strengths begin to shine bright.
Here, 2013 Spectrum Scholar Twanna Hodge—diversity, equity, and inclusion librarian at the University of Florida—shares her experiences and advice about being Black in librarianship.
What has your experience as a Spectrum Scholar been like?
As a Spectrum Scholar, I am connected to the Spectrum Community and over a thousand strong supporters. It's been a positive experience. Spectrum allowed me greater access to leaders in the field, especially those that identify as BIPOC. I have been mentored and mentored others, collaborated with many, and had painful, therapeutic, emotional conversations with folks. Spectrum is one of the spaces that allows me to be able to be myself, no masks, code-switching, or having to prove or justify my existence or experiences. I can see myself reflected in these spaces, and I have role models. I can grow and develop myself and others. Through the sacrifice and support of others, I can be who I am to thrive and not just survive in this profession.
What inspired you to pursue a career as a librarian?
I wanted to become a librarian because I initially wanted to provide access to the wonderful worlds in books. Then in graduate school, it morphed into helping people find the right information at the right time to influence their lives for the better hopefully. It was also about empowering people to take their place in gathering, organizing, and disseminating their knowledge, information, and data.
Only 6.8% of U.S. librarians identify as Black. How would libraries be different if the profession better reflected the diversity of this country?
We should acknowledge that we have never been living up to our profession's Code of Ethics which states, "We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests." By truly realizing workforce diversity on par with our communities, library services, programming, and resources will be more tailored, equitable, culturally relevant, and inclusive. Then libraries will genuinely be for all, and the question of our relevance and funding issues will be diminished. The people in libraries (workers and patrons) will feel comfortable. They won't have to defend, explain, justify their existence, or that they deserve to be treated with human dignity and respect regardless of the darkness of their skin, and these socially prescribed and constructed identities and categorizations.
What advice would you share for Black people considering a career in librarianship?
Center Blackness. Center yourself. Learn about Black librarianship history and current events. Carefully research library schools. Choose the best library school for your needs (online, residential, part-time, full-time, and more) that meets your standards, connects with your values (social justice, equity, and inclusion), aids in your job attainment, and supports your career and professional development. Apply to ALA's Spectrum Scholarship Program, Association of Research Libraries Kaleidoscope Program, and any scholarship and grants available through local, state, regional, and national library associations. Becoming a librarian is an emotional, physical, mental, and financial investment, so make sure you are ready. Ask yourself, what are you willing to sacrifice to become a librarian? Will the return be worth the risk? Know your worth. Learn how to advocate for yourself.
Gain experience in libraries if you can—conduct informational interviews with those in positions that interest you. Find a mentor. There are many areas and specializations within librarianship, and you are not relegated to just one in your lifetime. Know and understand the difference between having a job, having a career, and being in or a part of a profession. Know when you need to leave all or one of them. Your professional identity doesn't come before your salient identities, needs, and wants. Critique your decision to become a librarian. Learn about vocational awe and savior complexes. Build support networks.
Work-life separation. Taking breaks. Maintain support systems/networks. Reading fanfiction. Volunteering. Hanging out with friends. Putting my needs and wants first. Learning that my value and worth is not tied to what I do or how useful I am. Taking care of my body—walking, drinking water, getting annual checkups, taking naps, et cetera. Taking care of my mental health and taking care of my emotional health.
Racial justice and racial equity are everyone's job, especially if you are white or benefit from whiteness. Race is a social construct created to justify white supremacy and the standardization of whiteness. The impact of race and racism (systematic, structural, and institutional) is real and has been intentionally built into the United States of America's fabric. There's no leveling the playing field. It's about educating ourselves, being transparent, holding ourselves and others accountable, eradicating anti-Black racism, and dismantling white supremacy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the U.S. economy, with unemployment rates higher than any period since World War II. If you’re one of the millions of Americans looking for work this summer, check out what your local library has to offer—even without leaving your home, you can access a vast array of free career development resources online.
Audiobooks and eBooks
Libraries offer wide-ranging collections of books that can help with your job search, from guides about interviewing and negotiating to industry-specific texts to help you stay at the cutting edge of your field. While you may not be able to visit your library in person to check out a physical copy during the pandemic, check to see if you can download free eBooks or audiobooks from your library online.
Many libraries have extensive online guides for job seekers in their communities, including lists of state and local employment agencies that can help you start a search in your area—visit your library’s website to see what resources they have available. You can also find information about applying for unemployment or other economic relief with help from your library.
Your library card may grant you free access to extensive online databases to help you navigate job searching or running a small business, including guides to different career paths, searchable company profiles, and sample business plans. Visit your library’s website to see what databases they have available.
Online Courses and Tutorials
If you’re hoping to add new skills to your resume, take an online cover letter-writing class, or prepare for a professional certification exam, your library may offer access to virtual trainings to help you achieve your goals. These online learning opportunities can help you enhance your job prospects while staying safely at home during the pandemic.
Workshops and Programs
Libraries have long offered in-person career assistance, from group workshops to one-on-one coaching. While the COVID-19 crisis has put these face-to-face services on hold, many libraries are still offering professional development opportunities remotely. Check online to see if your library has upcoming virtual events for job seekers or a service where you can ask employment questions over the phone.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, people everywhere are living through historic, challenging times. With that in mind, Virginia’s Arlington Public Library (APL) launched a “quaranzine” to provide a creative outlet for local residents.
Since early April, APL has published weekly online issues of the Quaranzine, spotlighting multidisciplinary contributions from community members of all ages; submissions include paintings, comics, poems, photographs, sculptures, and even recipes. Some works evoke the anxiety, anger, and grief that characterize life during COVID-19, while others take a more light-hearted approach, focusing on moments of beauty and humor amid such difficult times.
The Quaranzine is the brainchild of Liz Laribee, APL’s programs and partnerships librarian; the Editorial Board consists of Katelyn Attanasio, Brit Austin, Hannah Axt, Ruth Compton, Deborah Khuanghlawn, Janelle Ortiz, Peg Owen, Megan Wianecki, and Alex Zealand as well as Laribee. “Creative expression is a really valuable tool I have for working through my own thought processes and anxiety,” she told WAMU. “Having a tool like that for myself, I thought it might benefit a larger community group.”
Here are a few highlights from the 11 Quaranzine issues published thus far:
Miss spending time at your local library? Tune in to the live feed for the Bird Library, a popular hangout spot for sparrows, starlings, and other feathered friends.
Librarian Rebecca Flowers and woodworker Kevin Cwalina created the Bird Library five years ago in their Charlottesville, Virginia backyard, inspired by a Norwegian café-themed bird feeder that went viral the year before. The library features handmade, bird-sized bookshelves and a circulation desk; Flowers and Cwalina keep the space well-stocked with birdseed for avian guests to snack on.
They also mix things up with seasonal decorations for holidays like New Year’s Eve as well as library-specific observances like National Library Week—both Flowers and Cwalina have arts degrees, which they’ve put to good use creating a beautiful ambience for the birds. In 2018, they rebuilt the Bird Library to have more capacity, and looking ahead, they’re hoping to share building plans that other birdwatchers and library lovers can use in their own communities. They’re also considering adding computer stations to the current space. “Our patrons have expressed an interest in tweeting,” Flowers told I Love Libraries.
In addition to their growing social media following, the birds have also been a big hit at Johnson Elementary School, where Flowers works as a media specialist. She installed a smaller version of the space just outside the school’s library so that students can observe the birds in person as part of their learning. “We learn about the characteristics of a bird, study different species of birds, practice using binoculars and using quiet voices, and try to identify the birds around our school,” she explained. “It’s a lesson in being calm, quiet, and patient, for both the student and the teacher!”
While the kids have enjoyed getting to know the Bird Library’s eccentric cohort of regulars, Flowers is glad to see that her students haven’t picked up any bad library habits from the birds. “The patrons at the Bird Library are terrible guests! They make a mess with the birdseed, poop on the floor, and fight with each other,” she shared. “My elementary school library patrons are much better-behaved.”
In addition to her many responsibilities at Johnson Elementary and the Bird Library, Flowers is also a cofounder of Books on Bikes, a team of seven teachers and librarians who deliver free books to children in local public housing. “Our mission is to make sure our students continue to read during the summer when school is closed. While the program continues to be a way to keep our students reading, it has also become a very effective way to build relationships with our students that continues into the school year,” she shared. “We have continued our program during the pandemic by safely bringing books to students’ homes through contactless delivery.”
Now that Hamilton is streaming on the Disney+ app, history buffs and musical theater fans alike have been able to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical at home. Looking to learn more about the Founding Fathers after watching? The Library of Congress has extensive materials from the life of Alexander Hamilton and his contemporaries, and many of these resources are free to explore online.
The Library of Congress collection includes more than 10,000 items extensively documenting Hamilton’s childhood, marriage, military service, and political career. You can find drafts of his writings as well as his correspondence with John Adams, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, George Washington, and more.
Navigating thousands of digital materials can be daunting, so the Library of Congress has compiled a resource guide featuring highlighting from their Alexander Hamilton collection as well as links to related resources and external websites. You can also use their Ask a Librarian feature for help with any research questions that arise during your deep dive.
If you’re still hungry for more Hamilton content, check to see if your local library has Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow—the biography that inspired the blockbuster musical—available to borrow as a free eBook. You can also check out Hamilton: The Revolution, an audiobook narrated by actress Mariska Hargitay that chronicles the making of the show.
In addition to providing free access to books and media, libraries have longworked to provide hunger relief in their communities. With food insecurity on the rise in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries have continued to work tirelessly to keep local families fed.
Many libraries across the country have been pursuing partnerships with local food banks and hunger relief organizations to distribute free meals to those in need. Curbside or drive-through pick-up has allowed library staff to pass out the food while maintaining social distancing, mitigating further spread of COVID-19.
Some libraries are distributing books or craft supplies alongside free meals. California’s Monterey County Free Libraries in California are including activity bags with each lunch for kids. “We want to get some nutritious food and fun stuff in the hands of families,” county librarian Hillary Theyer told King City Rustler.
High Point Public Library in North Carolina has managed to keep running their weekly farmers market, which helps local families access fresh groceries, during the pandemic. “Our community has serious food insecurity issues, and we have been involved in addressing that for the past several years. COVID-19 has made the situation even worse,” they reported in a recent American Library Association survey. Their staff have been engaging in outreach to make sure residents are aware that SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance) benefits can be used to shop at the market.
Ohio’s Columbus Metropolitan Library has been offering free summer lunches to local children for nearly two decades; this year, they’re offering grab and go meals in library branch parking lots. “So many children in our community rely on free or discounted school lunches,” Kathy Shahbodaghi, the library’s public services director, told Fox 28. “It is absolutely critical that students have access to healthy, nourishing lunches and snacks. It not only benefits the body, but the mind as well.”