Settle in, it is time for storytime; this is going to be a long one. There is a library conference taking place right now. I am not attending, but it made me think of the topics you might hear at one. It is very typical that when you attend a professional conference, there may be a panel of people taking about their professional journey and the road that took them to where they are today. I am a librarian, educator, and author. So I thought it might be interesting if I talked about my own journey to how I got where I am today.
When I was in high school, my first job was actually working in a public library. I loved working in the library even if I could have been making more money working in the mall. My favorite section of the library was the 398.2 easy collection…also known as the fairytale picture books. I loved books and I especially loved ones with magic and legends. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but the thought of working in a library didn’t strike me then as something I wanted to do. You have to realize that this was before Google. We still had card catalogs. My library also didn’t seem to have many public programs. So working in a library seemed kind of dull to me at the time, but there were books. So many books.
I have always been very practical, so even though I wanted to be a writer, I knew that writing would not pay the bills by itself. My fall back was that I was going to be a high school English teacher. Again, it was because I loved stories. So I went to college with dreams of being a teacher. I met my husband during my freshman year. I worked at first at bookstore in the mall. I worked full time while also going to school full time. By necessity I became the Senior Bookseller after a year…we had high turnover. This meant I was also a key holder tasked with opening and closing the store, bank deposits, store orders, displays, monthly reports and so much more. I really liked it, but by my third manager, I had actually started to develop a facial tic because I was so stressed. My husband suggested I apply for a front desk position at the hotel he worked at.
I graduated right after 9-11. At the time, I was working in the hotel which was located on the Jersey shore. We had guests checking in that day who had ashes still dusting their shoulders. It was a bad time. Sitting on the stoop of our apartment, you could see the smoke from the towers even though we were hours from NY. My husband was working for a car service and routinely had pickups to and from the airport or the city. But after that, no one was flying. People were being laid off from the company because business was down. We were young and had no children, so my husband offered to quit in lieu of them laying off someone who had mouths to feed. At the time, we thought we would be fine. I applied to teaching positions all over the state. I had interviews, but no offers. Lots of more experienced teachers were moving out of the city and into the suburbs of Jersey. My husband picked up shifts working at restaurants. I subbed in the schools when I could while still working in the hotel at the front desk. Money was getting really tight. We knew that there had to be something better.
My father-in-law had just purchased a house in Florida. He offered to have us move in with him for a year rent free. It was the end of our lease, so we put everything in storage and packed what we could with the dogs in the car and hit the road down I95 towards Florida. My husband had transferred to a Florida location of the restaurant he was working at in Jersey, so he had a job waiting for him. He had lived down there before, but I was walking into the move with nothing. Unsurprisingly, teaching jobs for a subject specific high school position were just as slim as they had been in Jersey. I applied for a job on Monster as a seasonal employee for Hickory Farms. Turned out that interview was for the store manager position. I am very introverted, I didn’t think I would make a good manager. But I survived and I actually liked things like scheduling and interviewing job applicants. That job soon needed though. So I applied for a job working part-time at the reference desk at a library near us. Then my husband hurt his knee and was out of work. I became a floater who would cover at any branch in the county. I worked reference, children’s. If they asked me to work more hours I jumped on it. I also tutored and taught SAT prep in my off hours. When a full-time position opened, I applied and got it.
Working at the library in Florida was so different from what I was familiar with in high school. For one, we taught public computer classes. I taught a class called Beyond Basics which explained navigating the internet as well as a class I developed as an introduction to Microsoft Word. I was one of the youngest people working in the library system (17 branches) which meant I also became a bit of the “poster” of what the library future looked like. Seriously, I spoke at a teacher professional development meeting in our county and the county library director introduced me and one of my colleagues as the young librarians for the county. There was more she said, but it all revolved around our ages. It made me cringe. I was the go to person for any technology issues because I was young as well. So I pushed myself to be known for more than my age.
I took over coordinating the adult public programs at our library and made it my mission to make sure our teens were not forgotten. Eventually, the Head of Youth services position opened at my branch and I applied for it even though I did not have my masters of library science. I got the job with the caveat that I had to complete my degree in two years. I had a problem with my application process that delayed my starting. The program I applied to only admitted students during the Fall and Spring terms. So I had to wait to start. When I finally got admitted to the program, I busted my butt and completed the program in less than the two years. I also became active in the online youth services community for my state library. The coordinator of summer programs liked my ideas and offered me a job as a state trainer for our Summer Reading Program materials.
The money I earned as a state trainer came in very handy because we were soon facing furloughs in the county. They also raised our insurance deductions from our paychecks. My husband worked for the school board and I worked for the county. It was the same insurance program, but we were forced to go on our own individual insurances instead of a family plan because the school board would have charged a premium for me to be on his insurance and the county would have also charged a premium for him to be on mine even though a family plan that would not have cost any extra for one of us to be added with our son. It was actually cheaper to have our son on my plan, and my husband on his own plan than it was for us all to be on one plan. Even with this we were struggling to pay our bills. We calculated it and with the increase in insurance on top of my furlough, we were bring home $400 less a month than when we were the year before. So I picked up a job teaching an online college course for report writing at a midwestern college.
I liked teaching online. It was interesting. My masters degree program had been entirely online, so I was familiar with the how it all worked. I was also involved as a virtual member for the Children and Technology Committee for the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association. In that role, I volunteered to teach a series of webinars for librarians on using technology in our work. My speciality was using the iPad as a tool to help with Storytime. I was not and still am not a singer. So we used to do a lot of science projects as part of storytime instead of singing or finger plays. Being on the Spacecoast of Florida, I also collaborated on library programs with staff from Kennedy Space Center. At the time, I didn’t know it but I was conducting STEM programs.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics. During one of our webinars for ALA, we were having tech programs getting people connected. While we were waiting, we had a discussion in the chat about STEM in libraries. We got back up and running, I continued with the topic everyone had paid to hear and thought nothing more about the conversation. I published an article in our library journal on implementing STEM in libraries. I was also contributing chapters to library anthology publications on various topics related to library programming and marketing. These chapters did not pay anything other than a free copy of the book, but I saw it as exposure. Then I got an interesting email.
One of the library professional development publishers had decided they needed to put a book out that specialized on the topic of STEM in Libraries. One of the editors turned to one of her writers to see if he knew of anyone who might be a good fit to write the book. …you probably know where this is going. He recommended me for the project. We had never crossed paths in person, so the only thing I can attribute it to is my webinars and articles. They didn’t pay much if anything, but they were like I said, exposure.
My book was published in Summer 2015. I have to say that I did not know what I expected. The final book was not the one I envisioned when I put the proposal together after the invitation to take on the project. It was a spec project which means the only money I have made on it was the money from the actual sold copies of the book. There were no checks issued with the offer. When I was thinking about taking on the project, I asked another one of their authors about her experience. She told me she made enough to buy a new laptop. When I finally got that first royalty payment…I made enough to buy a new laptop. The whole process took about three years, maybe a little longer. You see, I moved during this time.
Back in Florida, I had applied for a job as a library director. That is what the title was, but think of it more as being a branch manager. I had a lot of ideas for that job. The previous director had retired and the acting director didn’t want the job. I interviewed and then I got the phone call. The interview panel was very impressed with me but they felt that they had to reward “longevity” because the acting director had in the end applied after being talked into it. I was floored. I did everything they asked. I served on national committees. I had publishers contacting me to be an expect in my field to write a book. However, in the end, I was too young and what they saw as not being experienced enough. We were continuing to struggle paying the bills and I was beginning to feel like all my efforts were for nothing. At least that is what it felt like.
I think that experience was actually a blessing in disguise. I started looking for other jobs. In state, out of state, online. After nine years, I wanted out. I took an interview up in Virginia for a job. I actually made it to the second interview. Walking out of the interview, I saw the next candidate. She worked for that county. I followed her blog. She was a rockstar. I called my husband and told him I didn’t think I got it. He replied that there was always Maryland which was another job I had applied for.
If you have been reading, you know I am located in Maryland. So you can probably figure I got that Maryland job. I love it! I get to create professional development programs for other librarians. If I don’t know it, I find other trainers who can be experts on the topic. Oh, remember that STEM book, well, that also lead to teaching a library science course for the past four years on STEM in Libraries.
So the moral of all of this is that the road to where you are now may not be the one you intended to take, but it may be the one you were meant to take. Every closed path is an opportunity for something better. Bust your butt and do those side-hustles if you need to, but remember that better days will come. I didn’t intend to stay with libraries for over twenty years, but I honestly cannot picture my life being any different.