Jan 01 2006
While walking to work one morning, I was thinking about staying connected to the profession. I’ve worked at the same library for nine years - seven in the technical services unit - and sometimes it’s hard to connect to Longfellow’s romantic feelings about libraries and books: “The student has his Rome, his Florence, his whole glowing Italy, within the four walls of his library. He has in his books the ruins of an antique world and the glories of a modern one.”
It is easy to lose sight of the many professional roles librarians have within their larger organizations, while remaining focused on providing service and making information available. Most days, since I oversee the unit that gets the material to the shelf, my job is similar to working at a grocery store: get the merchandise on the shelves, and let the customer know what’s available!
I appreciate Orwell’s memories of working in a bookstore: “Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and slightly sickening.” How do I remain inspired by the idea of assisting people in their search for information, when my day is spent trying to get a vendor to respond to online access issues?
Walking To Work, Waking To Possibilities
Because I have walked the same route to work for the past seven years, my mind tends to wander, and I think ahead to the work day. Rarely do I remember anything about the trek once I reach my office. On this particular morning, while greeting the crosswalk guard and maneuvering across the slippery intersection, I looked up and recognized the jaunty walk of an elementary school boy who shares part of my route almost every morning. In the navy overcoat that he has worn for as long as I remember, he was a dark figure against the background of new snow.
There was something different about him this morning, though: he was carrying a big stick in both hands, his arms hanging down in front of him so that the stick bumped against the spot where the hem of his coat met his legs. As we came closer to each other I got ready for our usual morning greeting - he throws up his arm and wiggles his hand in my direction, looking shyly at me between the edges of his hood, and I return a singsong “Good morning!” But this morning he changed the routine: as he neared me, he shifted the stick, and, carrying it as a spear, jogged past. No wave, no shy look my way.
Going To School, Connecting With the Profession
Noticing that change while thinking about staying connected made me realize that we need to look at our daily work in a unique way and gain a new perspective. Going back to school forced me to reconsider how libraries provide information and services. But, I didn’t go back for additional library education. For years, I’d had a writing project in mind, but life, personal and professional, had been busy. In 2003 everything came together and I joined the Creative Writing program as a half-time graduate student, working full time and attending classes at night. I was looking forward to the opportunity to pursue my personal goal, but had no idea how much being part of an academic department as a graduate student would help me connect to my professional role as a librarian.
As a graduate student, I became aware of the bigger issues: What are our patrons’ expectations? What do they experience when they use library services? I had to search our collection for material to use when writing papers, and soon noticed gaps and began suggesting titles for purchase. I gained an appreciation for our local public library’s collection and services, spending Saturdays browsing their shelves, reading, and using their laptop stations to work on my writing. During university classes I heard firsthand comments about our collection and services.
Mostly I was shocked to find that the library was not pushed as a resource, and eventually this became my role as librarian. I was offered the English liaison responsibility - the library saw this as a means of infiltration, and it has worked out that way. More importantly, it has become a means for me to concentrate on a subject, understand the research needs of the students and faculty, and examine the role the library can play in the pursuit of information.
Not everyone can or should take on the work of pursuing additional education. Even so, anyone can look for ways of staying inspired. My liaison work has not resulted in a significant upsurge in use, but I have made contacts, and this semester gave 20 bibliographic instruction sessions to the freshman English classes. I am working on a blog - something that will provide helpful information about research for students and teaching assistants and a place for creative writing students to post information about the writing community at the University and in Fairbanks.
Through New Eyes
We can stay inspired if we’re willing to look at our professional responsibilities in a different way. We don’t have to make changes every day, but we need to stay open to new ideas, and notice subtle changes. Sometimes we forget about the creative aspect of librarianship: we come in contact with a broad array of information and people, and each needs to be approached in a unique way. Our profession teaches us to find innovative ways of discovering information. That’s what I call inspiration! We just have to put it to use day to day.
Natalie Forshaw is the Department Head of Technical Services and Acquisitions at the Elmer E. Rasmusson Library at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and Liaison to UAF’s English Department. She will complete an MFA in Creative Writing in 2007.