First, a brief background, since I’m new here. I finished my undergrad in 2003, and in the ensuing 12 years, went about as far outside of the academic realm as was possible. I volunteered for political campaigns, traveled hippie-style, studied permaculture design, worked on various farms, moved to a rural town, and had children. Graduate school was far from my mind.
But those children need to be educated. My distrust of the public school system here in Hawai’i led me to assume that naturally, I must be the one to educate my own children. I was surrounded by others doing the same. My approach was simple; let them follow their own interests, teach them to read and write, and experiment constantly in nature. I am not a trained teacher, but I felt well qualified to answer their many burning questions.
Thus, the first lesson I learned from homeschooling turns out to apply fabulously well to library school: how to find resources and answer mysterious queries. I realized over time that, not only did my children ask me random questions (and expect immediate answers), but so did other friends and family. Somehow I naturally became a question answerer. (I even thought I was really good at it until this woman came along … thank you, Dr. Irvin! Now I really AM good at it!) Reference skills translate easily from homeschool to library school.
I learned something else as a homeschooling parent, a valuable lesson courtesy of The Teenage Liberation Handbook. It turns out there’s a name for a person who has always hated the idea of specialization, one I can wear with pride: a “glorious generalist.” It describes the kind of person who delights in knowing a bit about everything, and who revels in the ability to always learn more. Any time I feel a bit of imposter syndrome, I think about the endlessly diverse skill set of the generalist. This is an idea I embrace thoroughly, and can strengthen every day in my future career as a public librarian.
Lifelong learning is a symptom of a life built around “glorious generalism,” and is also a necessary component of success in public libraries. Recently, my soon-to-be intern supervisor asked me what area of the library’s collection I would be interested in helping maintain. I looked around for a minute, then honestly had to say I had no idea, because I select reading materials from nearly every shelf in our small-town library. Everything is interesting; even if it might not have naturally been, another person’s individual fascination with it can often make it so. I believe this is the essence of public library service: to get interested in the varied interests of our service community. Anything community members want to learn, I can help them learn it.
I also learned about the essential importance of creating space for humans within the library (and maybe without….St. Louis library community gardens). Of course, I took my children to the library at least once a week during our homeschool years. Some libraries are more welcoming than others. Thankfully, we were never deterred from loving the library all those times we were shushed and scolded for damaging the books, but many people are. It’s rare to find any place in our society where young children feel really welcome, and a good library is one of those special places you can just sit and enjoy, without feeling like you need to buy something in order to be welcome there. A library that is really welcoming to people of all ages can feel like home, only somehow better, in the sense that it is shared by the whole community. The library can feel like a communal safe space for enjoyment, learning, and gathering.
The homeschool journey had to end sometime. With the help of a Hawaiian-focused charter school, I finally was ready to send them on their own educational path, apart from me. And the homeschool journey led me here, to a new career I never imagined, but that I now can see was right all along. Homeschooling my children really did prepare me for library school, in an organic process, without my knowing the end result. Just what I planned for my children, only it worked for me too.