Why a Librarian?

This year I was recognized by my institution for 10 years of service. 10 years. When I graduated college I never thought I would celebrate more than 5 years at any one place of employment. In our age of transience, longevity of service within one organization is rarer than it once was.

My library honors employees who have served ten years with a book plate placed in a book of their choosing. The act of choosing a book to bear my name seemed weighty. Should I choose a book I love? Should I choose a book that makes a statement about me? Should I choose a book from my childhood? Should I choose a book that is instructive, funny, or witty?

As I mused on these questions, I found myself reflecting on my professional journey and what drew me to librarianship in the first place and why I continue to be satisfied in my professional role.

Cover of Sacred StacksMy reflections brought me to my book choice: Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell (Chicago: American Library Association, 2006).

My first real interest in becoming a librarian began when I worked as a circulation assistant at Speer Library at Princeton Theological Seminary. Kate Skrebutenas, reference librarian at the time, demonstrated to me how interesting it could be to work as a librarian. She was passionate about her work and highly invested in the success of the students she helped. Working in a religious setting inspired lots of questions for me about the role of librarians in information preservation, selection and access that I’d never considered before. Suddenly library work seemed to carry a great deal of weight and was not merely a practical endeavor.

I did not pursue my degree right away though. It took me several more years to be willing to commit to it. When I did finally make the choice and returned to graduate school, I had the great opportunity to do so while working at Yale’s Beinecke Library, a rare book and manuscript library. My responsibilities there included pre-sorting manuscript collections and overseeing the preservation microfilming of processed collections. In that context the questions of selection, preservation and access grew in importance in my mind. Thus re-affirming my decision to pursue librarianship.

For the past 10 years I’ve focused my questions and passions around information literacy. Information literacy, for me, is the juncture of the big questions that led me to librarianship albeit from a different lens. Information literacy is a competency that engages non-librarians with the big questions of librarianship: Whose information? For what purpose? For whom? Why care? Questions that are more clearly on view in the Framework than they were in the Standards when I first started my career.

For me being a librarian is about preserving the record of human knowledge production and helping others navigate the complex cultural history and knowledge bank that collectively we’ve produced. Information is power. Librarians steward information and thus preserve the story of our culture and time. We help others in using that information in ways that further themselves. We aren’t alone in this task, but we have a unique role to play, a sacred role is how Nancy Kalikow Maxwell describes it. I have found Nancy’s scholarship and writing to be inspiring when I’ve gone through dry patches when I’ve needed a reminder that my contributions are meaningful.

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