Here, Now

I figured, at least six-or-so years ago, that now, today, I’d have a Master’s in Creative Writing. That I’d be teaching nonfiction. That I’d be reading and working on a book. I’m not. Instead, I’m in library school.

Here’s what happened: 

After graduating with a degree in English from Iowa, I joined McSweeney’s in San Francisco as an Editorial Intern and customer service representative. Once I figured out that I wasn’t the happiest doing proofreading, fact-checking, and editing (what I’d likely be doing professionally to, you know, make money and pay the bills), I thought about what it was that I did like doing. The idea of library science popped into my head, and I moved to Wisconsin to pursue a graduate degree in Library and Information Studies

So, now I’m at Wisconsin, and here’s what I get a lot of:

1. “You’ll be a great librarian because you love books!” / “Being a librarian is, like, my dream job: you get to read all day, and you don’t have to do anything.” / “You own lots of cardigans, so you’ll be a great librarian.” Not quite. Listen: I love books (and cardigans). I really do. But you don’t – or, you shouldn’t – become a librarian because you love books. Being a librarian doesn’t mean you read all day, either. Librarians are hardworking, well-educated, technically-savvy working professionals who exist to help you access information through books, magazines, databases, the Internet, newspapers, Twitter, LinkedIn, and on, and on, and on. Librarians exist to organize information and make it accessible. They exist to support their communities, to educate and assist its members. They teach you how to use computers, they host public programs, they educate, and they serve. 

2. “But libraries won’t exist in ten years, will they?” They absolutely will. They just won’t look like they do right now. Which is the beauty of a library. Because libraries provide access to information (and because libraries thrive on changing technology, and being on the forefront of changing technologies), your library changes daily. As long as information exists – and as long as we (library patrons, community members, researchers, writers, educators, and on) need to access information, libraries will do more than merely exist – they’ll thrive.

3. “But what about that bookless library in Florida?” A library is not its books. It’s just not. And this doesn’t mean that every library is going bookless, I promise. But libraries – academic, public, and otherwise – are all about providing information to its patrons, and that’s what Florida Polytechnic University is doing. It’s a neat thing, actually. It’s innovative and it’s daring and it’s something we’re going to see again, and again, and again.

But, okay, disclaimer here: I’m not training to become a librarian. I’m training to become an archivist. Similar, but not the same. Archivists (who many often think of as dusty, glasses-wearing, introverted individuals) still provide access to information. It’s just different information. Right now, I work with researchers: people writing novels, people writing textbooks, and people attempting to discover and understand their own history. And archives are changing, too. The collections I work with at Wisconsin have been donated to the University by former professors, by widowed individuals, by people who move into old houses and discover items left behind in an attic. More and more, though, the way we document our lives is changing: we don’t take physical, printed photos anymore. We don’t store them in boxes. We don’t allow manuscripts and personal papers to yellow in boxes, either. It’s all digital now, which changes the archivist’s landscape. 

How do we preserve and archive and collect things that aren’t physical? How do we fulfill reference requests when our research area goes from a box of old papers donated by a professor, to an endless, disorganized world of online articles, blog posts, Tweets, and Facebook statuses? When a major event happens on campus, do you sent a photographer out to capture the happenings, or do you follow along on Twitter and crowdsource your collection development? 

I want to understand and answer these questions.

Additionally, librarians: what’s the role of a librarian? Is she a counselor? A peacemaker? An organizer of information? Does she wait until the community asks for her help, or does she step into the community and offer it first? What’s the place of a library in everyday life? In impoverished communities? In schools? In businesses? During times of crisis? During times of peace? 

It’s not that I don’t find value in those who proofread and fact-check and edit. People who do those things – and do those things well – are pretty wonderful. But I couldn’t do it, didn’t want to do it, didn’t do it well. And it’s not that I dropped / gave up on / lost some part of myself by not pursuing a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. I want to make that very clear. I asked a few of my former writing professors for letters of recommendation when it came time to apply for graduate school. All were wholly supportive, if not confused. “What happened?” They asked. My passions changed. Which is great! Because information and libraries invigorate me in different ways. To study library science was a calculated, thought out decision: one that I am supremely confident in and happy with.

Anyway, the point: I’d like to use this space to chronicle my studies, and answer every last question I asked above. I’d also like to use this space to ask new questions. I don’t know a thing about what it is to be a real, working archivist. I work with archivists. I do archival-type work. But I am not yet an archivist. And as I spend the next two-to-three years becoming one, I want to make sure that I chronicle the moments that make me think and reflect and question. And that’s what I hope to do here.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading this week:

Help Wanted: Librarians, Sea Captains
Archivists at Coke, Wells Fargo, McDonald’s Advocate for Marketers — and themselves
Why Your Library May Soon Have Laser Cutters and 3-D Printers

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