For the past year I have been working on a Master in Library and Information Science with the University of North Texas. If all goes according to plan I should finish this August at which point I will start looking for jobs in earnest. The library was not my first choice for career. In fact, I’m not sure I even had a first choice. In high school I asked universities for information on their physics departments. By the time I started applying I was enrolling in a psychology program. In the spring of my freshman year I changed majors to English, believing I would like to teach. After graduation my wife and I went to Japan to put off careers while we taught English. I returned to America and earned an MA in literature and then my wife and I left for Turkmenistan in the Peace Corps, putting off careers yet again.
The critical juncture in all this took place between Japan and Turkmenistan. While studying for my masters I worked at a public library. I insisted, despite my bosses assurance that they converted many before me, that I wouldn’t be going to library school. Yet, the library grew on me. Call it the books. Call it the great staff or the fascinating and intriguing patrons. When I left for Turkmenistan, I knew that when I returned to the United States that I wanted to be a librarian.
Part of the draw to librarianship was that I provided a service that patrons wanted; I wasn’t selling anything nor trying to get them to buy something. They came to the library with a need and I met that need.
After over a year in school I have a little more understanding on how to meet information needs, how information is organized, and the issues facing libraries in America. I have a much greater appreciation for how libraries are organized and the work put into making it easy for users to find the information they need. I also have more appreciation for the library as an American institution. Libraries in some fashion have been part of American communities since the founding, and they have always been about providing access to information for the sake of education and democracy (and maybe a little light reading).
There is a lot of talk of the relevance of libraries in a digital information age (and a lot of budgets cuts). I think, for the most part, it is misplaced. As a culture, we are a bit enamored with what our information technologies are able to do: search and find the answer to almost anything, read books online, watch movies online. It seems like a miracle that will bring a day of information utopia. However, the Internet is a land of cooperate interest. You pay for the connection and you pay for the content. After that, much of the stuff you think is free is being funneled to you by the highest bidder. The really important information. The stuff that could enlighten, or educate, or improve one’s life; it is hidden or locked up in large databases. This is hardly an information utopia or even close to everyone getting all the information they need. However, guess who knows where to find that information and has a few of the keys? Your library. And hasn’t that always been the role of the library? To get you the information you didn’t know you needed.
I am looking forward to getting back to a library. To answering questions, recommending books, or locating an obscure piece of information. Just a few more classes and a few more papers.