Andy Plemmons started a campaign for School Library Month and asked librarians to share their story of why they become a librarian, which is a great idea! I’ve read so many and all are not only inspiring, but gives a personal glimpse into the lives of some people I only know online. I wanted to share my story as well.
There were two factors that made me love books, reading and libraries. The first factor was that I lived in the middle of nowhere near the small town of Fredericksburg Texas. Nowhere was named Morris Ranch and although I had fun playing in the creeks, old buildings and open spaces, there were many times when I stayed at home reading. The second factor was that I grew up in a large family with strained finances. Reading was one of those things considered both a recreation and better than that, it was FREE.
To say I’ve known since I was a child I was going to be a librarian is an understatement. While my sisters played with Barbies I would beg them to play library with me. I would set up a table, and grab as many books in the house as I could (to make displays) and my sisters would check out books, “read” them, and bring them back. And guess who was behind the circulation desk? Yep….me. The library was definitely embedded in my life. During the week when my sisters and I had piano lessons, we would walk from the elementary school to the public library to wait until it was our turn.
But it was the summers when I sought out the library the most. I grew up without air conditioning, and the Fredericksburg Public Library was the only place I knew that was cool, quiet and filled with books. I loved the smell of the building, looking up things in the card catalog, the children’s room, and getting my first library card with a metal embossed number on it. I even pretended it was my house, finding all the secret nooks and crannies and building my dream home in my mind.
As I grew older, I still sought out the library as a safe haven not only in town but at school too. Today, I am proud to admit I am a nerd, but back then as a teen, that wasn’t the case. I was quiet, didn’t have many friends and was picked on. So when I discovered how to live vicariously through a book, I tore through as many as I could. In an age (mid 1980’s) when there was very little YA fiction, I read Terry Brooks, Stephen King, Anne Rice, James Michener and anything non-fiction…the bigger the better. This also helped in my English classes as well as the SAT, where my score was so high, I didn’t have to take freshmen English in college (I consider myself a living statistic of how libraries with certified librarians directly influence academics and test scores).
After high school, I went on to college where I had the chance to discover my extroverted side. I didn’t have time to visit the library anymore, and the passion subsided. I graduated with a double major in English and history and became a certified teacher, never knowing there was such a thing as a masters in library science. So I felt like I found my niche in teaching English at the high school level, and with that, I found my reading passion again. I also now had an audience of 14-18 year olds that I had the potential to make readers out of as well. We read the classics and short stories out of the textbook, and I tried my hardest to make the pages come alive. I knew I hit the mark when most of the freshmen class went to see Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet together and could quote most of the movie. Then research time rolled around, and an epiphany happened….
I was gearing up to go to the library to teach students how to use the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature (if you don’t remember those, you missed out!) when the librarian told me I couldn’t use the library because I wasn’t signed up for it. This was in a junior high/high school situation located in a small town where I was the only high school English teacher. Well, I used the library anyway. Little to none of the students ever used the library because of the negative connotation associated with it, which both angered and saddened me. Then BOOM!!! My passion for libraries came back with a vengeance and I decided I could be a librarian and make a difference! So off I trotted to Sam Houston State University, where I received a masters in library science in 2000.
I became the librarian at that school and made some major changes. When bond money came through, the district built two new libraries (one elementary, the other at the JH/HS) and I cut my librarian’s teeth through many experiences from opening and moving a new library to learning how to work with elementary aged children as their librarian. I got to work with other districts who didn’t have a librarian on record and continued to create relationships with the students. Out came the cobwebs and in came couches, technology, YA books, and open doors.
I chose a great time to become a librarian too. The year 2000 ushered in a lot of technology, including social media and web tools I had never heard of before. It was also a time when computers were constantly changing, along with the cell phone (anyone ever own a bag phone?). Not only did I embrace the changes, but it embraced me back. And as they say, the rest is history….
I still go back to where it all started – my hometown library – and see that while it has changed throughout time on the inside, it continues to be nostalgic and safe. Now, as part of the profession, I find myself looking into the future and cannot WAIT to see the changes, with the reassurance of a constant – relationships. Change is scary but having a constant helps ease that fear. SO glad I grew up the way I did and had those influences! Now I get to go work at my passion every day and make the library and librarianship just as important as the classrooms on campus.