The Library Routes Project & Rural Librarians

Library_Sign in PIIn October 2009, three information professionals began a project called, The Library Routes Project.  The Project is designed for library and information professionals of all kinds to tell their story;  how they got into librarianship, the deciding factors, and the wending routes leading them to their current career.  I’ll write a little about the project, why I think rural librarians and Library Routes belong together, and tell my story.  A link to this blog will appear on the Project list.  If you decide to contribute, please let us know.

The purpose, as stated by the creators, is a collection of stories that is interesting information, but also a potential tool for people just entering the profession.  Already, there is a long list of librarian names, where they work, and a link to their stories.  To see more about the project, go here:  http://libraryroutesproject.wikkii.com/wiki/Main_Page

I write about it here on the ARSL blog to urge my colleagues in rural & small libraries to also contribute.  Many poignant stories I’ve heard and read during ARSL conferences and  journeys to visit rural and small librarians are stories worth telling and preserving.  It stems, perhaps, from a belief that rural and small library staff voices are not only interesting, but crucial to the sustainability of the library profession.

Often, we emphasize telling our library and community story, which is, no arguments, important, but the stories of the people are a shadowy epic untold.  The Library Routes Project, combined with the voices and stories of rural librarians is a sensible union.  With the creation and contributions to Library Routes, an opportunity to tell your story is brilliantly presented.

My story in brief…

I was a new mom raising three small children and situated in Northern Maine with a rocky marriage, sees an add in the paper for an assistant children’s librarian a block away from my apartment.  I applied, but with a high school education only and no library experience, I wasn’t even interviewed.  I was crushed.  My heart said, this is where you belong and I knew that I’d do my very best.  I wanted the job because I knew that I enjoyed solving mysteries, I was passionate about reading something and passing it along, and I loved people.

Weeks went by and the phone rang.  It was the children’s librarian.  The original candidates  selected had quit, the original interviewees no longer interested. I’m leaving out the fact that I had chicken pox when they called and implored them on the phone that I’d be cleared for work soon and to please hold the position.  I was in. Not the most glamorous of circumstances, but it was a gift from the library goddesses and I made the most of the offer.  I stayed for five years, took classes online to fulfill a BS in Library Science, and then I wanted management.  I knew that I wanted to make a larger impact on the profession.  I still love people and believe that their access to information is paramount–not a perk, but paramount to their quality of life.

With a smattering of library courses and library experience I’d come a ways but needed more if management was the goal.  I wanted to be the best librarian possible.  I started to look all over the country for management jobs.  We had friends that moved to Moab, Utah and there was an assistant library directorship open.  Never imagining that I’d get it, we visited the area and it seemed like paradise (and it is),  I applied for the job and got it.  Within a few months, the library director moved on and I became the interim library director and subsequently hired for that position.

Life has a way of throwing rocks in a road and my divorce was a boulder.  I stayed as long as I could in Moab and loved every minute, but the fibers of my life were unraveling and now a single mom struggling to find daycare, still going to school to finish a bachelors, in the high desert (for a northern Mainer, this is the purist of culture shocks) without family and I knew I had to regroup with family nearby.  There’s a digression about desert hairy scorpions taking residence in the walls, roof, and inside my condo at the time too but I’ll spare that revolting epic for another time.

If there is a turning point in this story, it is now.  This fork in the road was hard.  What is important to note is that, however, by now, I’d built relationships with people who served as friends, mentors, colleagues, and acquaintances.  The network of persons were former professors, long time friends, new friends, work mates, community members and patrons.  It is the network of persons that let me make the decisions, but offered help and guidance along the way.  If you have room in your belief system for one more belief, make it this:  your network of people and relationships propel you forward in your career in tandem with your own dogged determination.

Packed up the kids, returned to Maine and worked in a school library.  It was a professional culture shock, going from public library to the structure of a school library but I learned a great deal about the dynamics of school librarianship.  Finished my Bachelor’s in library science and continued to look for a position in management.

My hometown, Presque Isle, within a couple of years needed a librarian.  It never occurred to me that I’d return to my hometown and a circuitous route never my plan.  However, my heart pounded hard at the opportunity to return to where my library career began and to contribute what I’d learned along my journey.  I was hired.  That was nearly 6 years ago.  With a full scholarship to the University of South Carolina, I graduated with a Master’s degree in library and information science with an emphasis in rural librarianship offered by Clarion University.

I was fortunate to be chosen for a scholarship to go to the Association for Rural & Small Libraries conference in Columbus, Ohio and met rural librarians from across the country and Canada.  What I learned there was enormous but nothing was as clear to me as the desire to serve and become friends with rural librarians and communities.  I’ve now attended the ARSL conference three years in a row.

Honored to be current president of the Maine Library Association and VP/Pres Elect for ARSL and still work in a rural library and spend a great deal of time speaking at conferences and teaching people the value of mitigating rural isolation and reaching out to one another to determine where our missions intersect and what challenges and solutions can be exchanged irrespective of ones geographic location.

There are still boulders that intrude and the route to librarianship hard at times.  At the most difficult times, I returned to that brief list of why I set out on that path and the answers were always the same–solving mysteries, sharing books, loving people.  There wasn’t a boulder big enough to change that, really.

Not sure whether the next route is winding, rocky, smooth, uphill or down, but I’m looking forward to the people that I meet along the way and the ride.  What’s your story?  I really want to see it on Library Routes.

One Response to “The Library Routes Project & Rural Librarians”

  1. thewikiman says:

    Thank you very much for this, it’s a really interesting contribution… (and thank you for the Project advocacy!)

    As you say, reaching out to each other in this profession is very important (more so in rural isolation, I’d imagine) and one of things I like about this line of work is how happy people are to be reached out to, as it were. Librarians are always sharing tips and advice and best practice etc, and that’s a grea thing.