I would argue that not only are libraries magical places, but that librarianship is transformative - with a reach that exceeds the physical walls of a library. In 1995, I was diagnosed with a chronic physical illness. At the time, it was unclear how sick I would become. For weeks I was too symptomatic to go to work, so I lied about and pondered my life.
Feeling an overwhelming lack of control over the future of my health, I was determined to make the best of
those parts of my life that I could control, and the one that needed the most work was my professional life. I had grown weary as a social worker and longed for a change. On one of my good days, I made it over to the public library and checked out a handful of books on careers. In one of those books, I discovered the career of information brokering - the gist of which is finding and evaluating information, making sense of it and providing it to a client in a way that helps them with their own work.
This sounded perfect for me - I always liked doing research and writing papers in college - and as an information broker, I could work from home, set my own hours, and be my own boss. According to the career book, many information brokers were also degreed librarians, which could add a stroke of legitimacy to the job. As luck would have it, the university in my hometown had such a program and I enrolled.
For the next five years I worked towards my degree, continuing full time work as a social worker. Three years into the program, I quit my job, started my own information brokering business, and took on two part-time library jobs. Two years later, I graduated with a Master of Science in Information Science. During my studies, I spent a lot of
time in the library, but also watched, with amazement, the
unstoppable growth of the World Wide Web and the steady rise in the number of electronic databases that were not only available for use in the library, but could be accessed remotely from my home.
It's a little over five years since graduation and I've been working full time in librarianship since then - but not in a library. I have had one of the coolest jobs in the library realm - I've been the personal researcher and librarian to writer and cultural visionary Kevin Kelly. Kevin hired me after I did some freelance research for him. The job brought me out to San Francisco where a whole new world opened up for me.
About my illness? Turns out that I am one of the lucky ones - I have only the mildest form and am rarely bothered by it. And my career? This spring, I'll be moving on from my incredible position with Kevin to return to friends and family in Tennessee. My career has come full circle. Embarking on a library career at the inception of the Web and working for Kevin allowed me to explore the idea of librarianship outside of the traditional confines of a physical library. Much of
the research I did in that position could be done online - but not all of it, for sure. Having had that alternative experience of doing library work outside of a library, I find now, that the physical library draws me more than ever before.
I yearn for the aliveness and community of a bricks & mortar library and the tactile and sensory satisfactions of the materials they house. Even as more information goes online, as books and journals are scanned, as music and movies are digitized, there is still so much that can only be located in or discovered by browsing the stacks of a physical library. I'm glad for this, because I owe a great deal to libraries, for abetting my life's major transitions, and I like knowing that there will always be a need for them in my life. So what will I be doing in my next job.
I'll be looking for a position in, of all places, a library.