So, I’m done?! I finished my last class in Children’s and Youth Programming a few weeks ago after presenting my final group project; which was a summer reading program designed two ways, pre and post-Covid. I turned in my practicum log and submitted my answers to a Qualtrics survey on my experience. Grades will be posted December 15th, and my official graduation date is next Saturday, December 12th. What would feel a bit strange in the best of times has felt moreso because the celebration has been understandably a bit muted. No hugs of congratulations from my son and his wife who live over the river and twenty minutes away in New Hampshire. No parties with friends, or the planned trip to South Africa to finally meet my daughter-in-law’s family and see her homeland. As for cap and gown, it remains to be seen as the University of Tennessee School of Information Science celebrates once a year in May and who knows whether it will be safe to travel by then.
And yet, there is much to celebrate, albeit more quietly than what I had originally anticipated. I am fifty-eight years old, and have worked in the libraries at Dartmouth for over thirty years. It was the love of this work that made me want to learn more library science than attending conferences and programs could give me. First in technical services, followed by collections, finally as a library supervisor in Access Services at the Physical Sciences library, recruiting and working with twenty undergraduate students before the pandemic. I had fully intended to pursue my MLS much sooner, but became a caregiver to my elderly mother instead. Hence, the long wait to pursue my dream.
Many have questioned why I didn’t just continue the academic path versus youth librarianship and public libraries. First, I felt it would diversify my resume. I have volunteered at public and school libraries, and also chaired our local library trustees board. I have also found that some of my most meaningful conversations with students, faculty, and colleagues have been about materials that had a major impact on them in their youth. I’ve also heard more than once how many people wished they had found characters as a kid they could relate to, be it one of color, or gender, or ethnicity. I wanted to learn how I could become that public librarian who puts those materials into patrons hands, and I have.
I spent my summer researching and writing a paper based on my own data gathering of local public library collections and comparing their holdings with three years worth of all the major award-winning books from APALA, Coretta Scott King, Stonewall and many more. As I had suspected, many libraries had some books from these lists, but they were the titles that were either super popular or safer than some. I am working on a librarian’s toolkit, and hope to publish or present my work to encourage small rural libraries to strive towards diversifying their collections.
And now I’d like to say a few words of thanks. First and foremost, to my partner Charlie, who has been my champion through this whole crazy journey. He has cleaned, cooked, hugged, and wiped my tears, his calming presence makes all the difference. To my son and his lovely wife, who helped me understand gaming culture and twenty-something life, and are helping me learn to use a Nintendo Switch. My colleagues and my practicum supervisor were instrumental in guiding me, and my librarian friends were my constant cheerleaders. To my adviser Dr. Cindy Welch, who truly kept me grounded and has so much love of libraries and youth that it makes all of her students want to do their very best. To all the faculty and students at UTK who made this program so meaningful for this distant Vermonter. I have become a committed Tennessee Volunteer, and may occasionally say “y’all” now, much to the confusion of my Northeast friends. Finally, to my fellow Hackers. Our experiences, schools and locations are many, yet I believe we all have one thing in common: a love of learning, and a desire to help others in the world find that fact, movie, book or game that will make a difference.
Although this holiday season and year have been the most difficult many of us have experienced in our lifetimes, I am truly grateful. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do know I can now say I am a librarian, and that makes all the difference. Be well and happy.