Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Library Routes

Since it kept cropping up in various places (a comment here, an article there, and then I profiled it for our staff newsletter), I decided it was finally time to write my own post for the Library Routes Project.

A bit by way of explanation: The Library Routes Project is trying to encourage librarians, or those in the library and information sector, to write about their ‘library roots’ and ‘library routes’ – how they got into the profession and why they’re there. If you haven’t had a look and you’re in or interested in the profession, please go visit! I’ve spoken to the creators, and they’re so excited about the project and way it’s taken off.

So. Off we go…I’ll take a cue from Ned Potter’s post and do a roots/route thing…

My family loves books. Seriously. You have no idea. Our attic (where we put all the books that don’t fit on our shelves downstairs) is causing the whole house’s roof to sag, because there are too many books in it. We took “adventures” to Powell’s when I was little, because we loved it. Books were important because they were beautiful, but also because of what they contained – words were important.

When I arrived at Scripps for college, I popped into the library with my family. Within five minutes, my father had charmed the librarian into giving us a tour of the rare book room, and I’d applied for a job. I didn’t realize it until much later, but it was that job that did it for me. Not only was I working in a beautiful library, helping people find what they needed, but I got to spend one day a week working in special collections. I catalogued two archives (one related to a former dance professor with seriously deep ties everything that was going on in modern dance), and I discovered artists’ books.

I left for Oxford to do a Master’s in English, with plans to go on to journalism/academia. But we had to take a bibliography class, and I got to take a letterpress class, and I did more research into artists’ books. Then I happened to meet someone in conservation who was so excited about library work that he got me thinking. THEN I met a member of special collections at a dessert, and he told me about trainee opportunities in the Bodleian.

That’s when it suddenly clicked – although I loved journalism, and I loved academia, I loved libraries more (And what am I doing now? Helping academics, researching book history, and writing for a library-based newsletter. Funny how things work out). I began speaking to more people in the Bodleian about their jobs, and I started volunteering in Rare Books. I applied for and was offered a trainee job at the Bodleian, and spent the year working in all of its departments (very whirlwind, very amazing). I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be in special collections, but I realised what I hadn’t really grasped before – that I loved (LOVED) helping readers.

At the moment, I work in a number of positions for the Bodleian – in a political archive, in the communications department, in the reading rooms on the weekend, and in other capacities on my own time (I’m doing some work with 17th-century library records and bindings and learning Latin for it). It gets a bit hectic going from job to job, but I’m extremely happy doing it. I’m combining the best of all my worlds. The library world is changing, and rare books/special collections may seem like the “old” kind of thing, but they actually offer so many opportunities to find new ways of presenting material. And who am I fooling…they’re just cool (OK, keep in mind I’m the kind of person that has been known to jump up and down because she bought some type for printing by hand or touched an amazing binding).

Anyway, the gist of that is that you have to keep your eye open for opportunities these days, but they’re there…you can be involved in libraries in so many different ways, whether you’re interested in computers or books or people!

Image of Ulris Library Stacks via eflon's Flickr


alg said...

"There is no frigate like a book...." Dickinson. Great essay. Your Blog is your best advertisement of your love of books: it radiates such love. Look at my amended draft e-mailed. When I see a book, or an author's name, it is not just a word; it is a world. When I see the name, I can at one glance see the entire story, all the times I have read it, the characters whom I know and love or hate...Each word unlocks the book and unlocks worlds. alg

Sophie said...

Hi-- this was such a fascinating post! I'm a 2nd year D.Phil student here at Oxford working in the seventeenth century, so obviously spend a lot of time in the library (esp. the wonderful Duke Humfrey's). It's always so interesting to hear about what goes on 'behind the scenes'; I have a friend who's just started the librarian traineeship at the Codrington, and it's always fun hearing about things from her. I did my undergrad and masters here too, and during my MSt I also did the printing course -- amazing!!

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