I recently read an article entitled So you think you want to be a librarian? , which, despite being very American-orientated, raised a number of few good points about what it is like to work in the information industry. Among those listed include:
– The face that no one outside the information industry has any idea what we do
– The amount of tertiary education required (in the US, you are required to have a Masters. Australia only requires a Bachelors)
– The changing face of libraries, and technology
– The constant “ Aren’t libraries/books obsolete?” questions
At any rate, this article got me thinking, wondering why I wanted to be a librarian in the first place. This is a harder question than most would realise, primarily because I have always wanted to be a librarian. I do not remember a point in my life when it wasn’t the career I wanted to peruse. I never questioned my goals, instead trying to figure out what it would take to achieve them. It was just always was.
As an infant, my mum to me to the public library pretty regularly, for activities such as Story Time, and holiday activities. This means I had my own library card by the time I was four. However, once I started primary school, these visits dropped off, and I stopped borrowing from there, only a book each week from the school library. I was always an avid reader, and by the time I was eight I was starting on the junior novels, including the first Harry Potter book (I loved it so much I bought the Chamber of Secrets the week it was released in hardback). When I was 10, I had to do a project on the history of clothing and fashion in Australia. It was the first time I had an assignment which required research beyond what the school encyclopedias could provide. I asked my mum for help, and she walked me down the street to the public library, and taught me how to research.
Well that was it. I was hooked. I got the books I needed for the assignment, and then went for a look around the fiction section, and got a couple of others I wanted to look at some other time. And when I went to return them by myself (the library was only four blocks away, and our sleepy country town was safe enough for a ten year old child to wander during the day), I came away with a few more. Each week I would go and borrow ten books, and have them read and returned by the following week. A year later when my fourth sister was born, the library became my escape from the noise and chaos of the house. I would stay longer and longer at the library, reading on the back sofa, until my mum had to restrict my to one-hour long visits each time. I had a back and read shopping trolly from Red Dot I used to put my books in, so I wouldn’t strain my back with the weight. And above all, I was happy.
When I became a teenager, I started to have these new and strange feelings, which my friends didn’t share. I was too scared to turn to anyone I knew, so I turned to my library. It was there that I discovered not only who I was, but there was a whole world of people out there like me. It was my haven from the world. These books were my one connection to the LGBTI community (living in the country there were no community or school services really available to me).
By this time my teachers were telling us we needed to start thinking about careers, university and jobs. There was only one answer for me- librarianship. By the time I was 14, I knew where I was going to study my degree, and the exact name of the course I would need to take. I had teachers , friends, and other adults in my life tell me that I was smart enough to do something much more exciting, like a science or engineering degree, but I wasn’t interested. I was told that library services didn’t pay much, it was boring, and that I could do so much better in life, but I didn’t care. I wanted to spend every day of my life surrounded by books. Perhaps the only people who didn’t discourage me were my parents, who by that point had resigned to the fact that information services was the only direction I was interested in (although they didn’t stop dropping hints about how nice it would be to have a doctor in the family).
Since starting my degree, I have only become more and more passionate about what I do. I have presented a paper at an international conference, had articles published in InCite, and I get involved with ALIA as often as I can. I am passionate about providing library services to marginalised members of our community (particularly LGBTI individuals and people with disabilities, of which I am both).i see libraries being a form of community centre, a safe space, and becoming what the client needs it to be at any given time. And that is exciting! When I worked at the FPWA Sexual Health Library, I once helped a young girl research abortion as she readied herself for making a life-changing decision. I provided a DCP officer graphic birth DVDs for her to show her 13 year old clients to discourage them from actively trying to get pregnant. I once even provided a mother with information and pamphlets of domestic violence, for her to give to her daughter. I was quite literally changing people’s lives. I once heard a librarian from a medical library say that it was her job to help doctors be better doctors. At my current position, at the Mental Health Law Centre WA, I am helping lawyers be better lawyers, who aid people with all kinds of mental health problems. Some of our clients have been marginalised and discriminated against all their lives, with no one to advocate for them. My fiancée is bipolar and autistic, and has had many a trip into psychiatric care, sometimes as an involuntary patient. It is NGOs like where I am now that speak for people like Sam. And I am the one handing the lawyers the information they need to fight on their behalf.
And that is why I wanted to be a librarian.