Leaving Library School & Entering the Temple of Apollo [Farewell]

Like so many others before me, I too have now come full circle from aggressively reading this site’s entire archive while deciding whether to send out my library school applications to writing my farewell post as I head into a job. My time as a LibSci student and as an HLS writer seems too short for this to be happening already, and yet already my life before that seems too long ago to remember clearly.

Once again at a point of transition, I find myself combing the site for role models and advice. So many writers have left here (and are leaving here now) with a razor-sharp idea of just where they are going and why, and I envy them for it. They remind me of the people who knew just wanted they wanted to major in at college and just what kind of job they wanted after. I was never one of those people, and I have often regretted all the time I’ve lost for not being like them.

This transition is, like others before it, a paradoxical one for me. I am very fortunate that I do know where I am going in a literal sense, and it is someplace I am very excited to go—the libraries of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where I have been offered a position as a post-degree graduate research assistant. For two years, I will have the opportunity to support leading research in energy science and to participate in the libraries’ own cutting-edge work in information science in an environment that will leverage my technical skills (my MLIS concentration is in information technology) and my language skills (the basement is full of Soviet research journals). Having known from the outset that I really wanted to work in a research library, it is the opportunity of a lifetime, and one which could open doors to just about anywhere.

That is where the paradox comes in. It is a two-year appointment, after which I will be far enough out from my degree to no longer qualify for a “student” position. At that point, I will have two years of solid experience under my belt at a world-class research library, but what will I want to do with it? In asking myself that question I begin to realize how much library school (combined with full-time library work to build a foundation of professional experience) has cost me. Sure, there are the loans (please don’t remind me about the loans…), but there is also the pervasive sense that, having been out of necessity laser-focused on earning my degree and establishing myself in the profession, I have, in some significant ways, forgotten myself.

The Temple of Apollo—that god of reason, learning, and solar powers whom Nietzsche used to exemplify the scientific spirit of modernity—seems a fitting symbol for my new job with the Department of Energy. At the same time, as the last few assignment deadlines begin to pass and the all-consuming purpose of finishing school reaches its fulfillment, I remember the maxim inscribed on the portal of Apollo’s temple—γνῶθι σεαυτόν, or ‘know thyself’—and I become very conscious of how unworthy I have grown to enter.

Between work, school, and parenting, my social calendar has exactly zero engagements. My number of volunteer hours stands at zero. My hobbies are distant memories and the disciplines that once maintained my spiritual fitness are as neglected as my physical workout routine. The journals that I formerly filled with reflection and meditation turned blank months ago, as did the logs that once tracked my submissions of poems and essays to magazines and literary journals. Granted, I’ve published four academic articles so far this year and just completed final edits on a chapter for an upcoming anthology, but I find it is possible to be grateful for those opportunities and proud of having seized them while also hearing their hollowness when knocked upon. I have learned so much in the last eighteen months and (crucial from a professional perspective) I have demonstrated that I know so much, and yet I don’t really know any longer what I believe, or what I care about, or what good I aspire to do in the world.

The story sounds sadder than it really is, though. In part, I know so little now because I have learned so much—because possibilities I had never considered before have become apparent and because old certainties that could not withstand the light of experience have crumbled into dust. This is not a post about how library school has ruined me, but simply about how it has forced me to change and how it has brought me to a place where I have to do a whole new kind of learning. My mind turns to the notebooks of writing I have yet to finish or to share, my fingers trace the spines of volumes of 19th and 20th century drama and philosophy that I haven’t opened in what feels like a lifetime, I take my son to the store to buy ingredients for a Seder I realize I forgot to cook last year, and in every one of these movements I discover a much deeper meaning to the phrase “my nerves are frayed” than I ever appreciated before. Not just my nerves, but my whole life has become a curtain of loose strands, the image they once formed unraveled beyond recovery, and it is left to me now to sort through them, withdrawing those that are faded and frail, so that I can weave a new tapestry from what remains strong and vibrant after the dust is washed out.

What will I do when my two years are up and that very last, ceremonial vestige of library school in the title “graduate research assistant” passes from me? I do not know. It will depend on the picture that emerges as I weave in moments of quiet and rest that I have not had in a long while. It will depend on the words of new friends in a new community in times I’ve marked on the calendar for nothing but hearing their words. It will depend on what spills unbidden onto the pages of old notebooks in a new color of ink. I am very excited for classes to end, for I have so very much now to learn.

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