Retracing My Steps to Librarianhood: The Library Routes Project

There is an old cliché that says in order to know where you are going, you have to know where you have been.  The amazing Library Routes Project created and facilitated by Ned Potter provides each of us an opportunity to reflect and share our story of how we became a librarian.

In looking back at my life, I often marvel that I did not find my way into the world of librarianship much sooner.  As a child who started reading at age three and who had her own personal library, you would think that the career of “librarian” would have appeared on my radar before age thirty.  Throughout my childhood, my reputation for reading voraciously for hours on end preceded me whether I was engrossed in a set of Childcraft encyclopedias family friends donated, Trixie Belden mysteries, Highlights magazine, or Reader’s Digest (yes, I had my own subscription)  I wrote my own stories and even declared I wanted to be an “author” in fourth grade after reading Little Women and Gone with the Wind. Interestingly enough, I also had six volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica for Children (a Christmas gift and we could not afford to purchase the rest of the set at that time) and can distinctly remember reading an article about a machine called a computer that would help you with your homework and that you could use to retrieve information.  At the time, the very notion of such a device seemed very mysterious, mind-boggling, and ultra-cool; I remember wanting one.

My first memory of visiting a library is going to the Alpharetta Public Library on Main Street with my mother; these trips were not for me as I had my own little  collection of children’s books, but this library was where Mama went to get study materials for her GED test.

Joy Mauldin, My Elementary School Librarian

While this memory is somewhat dim, I have vivid memories of my school library at Midway Elementary from the late 70s and early 80s.  The school library seemed like a magical place to me—even now I can hear the soothing undulating tones of Joy Mauldin’s voice mesmerizing me and drawing me into the book she was reading during our weekly storytime visit.  In my mind’s eye, I can see myself and my classmates sitting on the edge of our chairs that were arranged in two semi-circle rows around her rocking chair.  I could draw for you in detail what the library looked like, where the biographies were housed as well as the Bobbsey Twin books in addition to the chapter books my friends and I loved so well.   I did not need Accelerated Reader or any other promises of rewards to lure me into the library on a regular basis—just the loving smile of Ms. Mauldin and her library clerk, Chlorine Orr, and what seemed like an endless supply of books were enough for me.  Of course, the yearly book fair, RIF (Reading is Fundamental) was the highlight of the school year for me—to this day, I still have most of the books I purchased at those book fairs.    I feel most fortunate to have experienced such a warm fuzzy school library as a child that nurtured my love for story and for reading with no restrictions.

Although I don’t remember the names of the librarians at South Forsyth Junior High, I do recall loving the open airy feel of the library and the fact they had great pre-teen romance novels that made me swoon.  I also have fond memories of researching medieval times and feeling welcome there although I have no recollection of actually being taught by the librarians.

High school was a completely different experience.  In 1984, my family moved to Cherokee County, which bordered my native Forsyth County.  The library was tucked away in the bowels of 600 Hall and seemed to be a tiny dark place with only reference books and the classics that were on the required reading lists.  I have three memories of this library:

1.  taking the “Basic Skills Writing Test” in there, which was required of every sophomore in the fall of 1985

2.  a teacher chewing out my 11th grade American Literature class because the majority of the class had not completed some kind of research assignment; thankfully, I was one of the few people who actually came prepared and stayed in the good graces of the teacher, someone whom, in spite of this episode, I respected and continue to do so until this day.

3.  a fight breaking out and a boy being thrown the glass windows at the entrance to the library.

As a junior, I came to hate my high school library because they had very limited AM hours and closed as soon as the school day was open.  In addition, I don’t remember lunch hours being an option, and even if they were, they had very few of the books we needed for our weekly literary criticism writing assignments from Robin Whitaker, my Grammar and Composition III teacher.  Instead, half of the junior class of Cherokee High relied upon the services of the R.T. Jones Memorial Library, which was housed in downtown Canton, about two miles from school, at the time.    Because I did not turn 16 until my senior year, I relied upon Sharene Bidwell, my best friend, for weekly transportation to the public library after school.  I can still see us poring over the American Writers series as well as the Twentieth Century Literary Criticism books to get the information we needed for those weekly lit crit essays; it was not unusual to have to share these revered reference books with our classmates as we worked together to share the resources available.

The Library at Kennesaw State

When I began my undergraduate career at was then known as Kennesaw State College, a small commuter college of 8000 students in 1988, I soon developed a close relationship with the college library.   Not only did I get my first experience in using computers and research databases here (my Encyclopedia Britannica article dream come true!), but I also was introduced to the joys of microfiche. I used the library quite regularly for research in several subject

areas; it was also a frequent meetup place with friends to work on projects.  Because the library was located centrally on campus at that time, it was the ideal spot for casual gatherings as well.    I could frequently be found browsing the stacks and the microfiche reels as I would get lost in a research interest and be shocked to discover hours had passed in the blink of an eye.  One of my happiest memories as a college student was doing an independent study in Geography under the direction of Dr. Reuel Hanks, one of my favorite professors at KSC.   I can see myself now getting lost in the stacks and being overjoyed when we finally had access to ProQuest data CDs—no longer was I confined to the ERIC database or the dreaded microfiche!  The fact that I spent an entire quarter doing hours upon hours of research and actually loving it should have been a signal to me to consider a career as a librarian, but for some reason, it still did not occur to me that you could actually major in such a thing, so  I continued with my trek as an education major, which was somewhat of a detour from my intended major of pre-law or journalism.

In 1992, I began my career as a high school English teacher.  As someone who taught 11th grade, I spent a great deal of time teaching research skills and helping my students hone their research skills in the classroom and in the school library.   Although I enjoyed teaching, I wondered if there was something else I was really meant to do.   My fellow English teacher and cherished friend Vicki Watton suggested becoming a school librarian, but at the time, working on a master’s degree and teaching full time seemed impossible to me, so I brushed that thought aside.  After teaching regular high school English for six years, I began a stint as the English teacher at our district’s alternative school, CrossRoads.  It was here that Jeff Garrett, my former high school Economics teacher and now principal, encouraged my love of technology by making sure that I had my very own classroom computer, school district email account, and printer.  He even got permission for me to take the computer home for the summer, and I delved into the joys of dial-up access to the Internet!  While this sounds trivial, my love for all things technology was kindled, and I quickly discovered over the course of 1998 that I had a real knack for searching the web and using Microsoft Office applications for personal use and with students.  I took several Microsoft Office courses in the evening through my district’s professional development department and soaked in the new skills like a sponge.

Although I loved teaching and was well-respected by my fellow teachers as a “good” teacher, I felt something was missing.  In the summer of 1999, I accepted a position as an Instructional Technology Specialist with my school district.  For two years, I was immersed in the world of edtech, learning everything from network troubleshooting to library software support to break/fix skills.  In addition, I wrote grants for my district and provided training to students and to teachers.  While I enjoyed the learning experiences of this job and getting to know so many people in different schools, I missed being part of a faculty and in one school.  In the spring of 2001 while helping the librarian at Woodstock Middle, it occurred to me that maybe being a librarian was right for me.  I realized that becoming a school librarian would provide me the perfect outlet for my desire to help people while marrying my love of reading and technology.  In the spring of 2001, I  took the GRE and submitted my application to begin a M.Ed. in  Instructional Technology/School Library Media at the University of Georgia.

Me With Mary Ann Fitzgerald, My First Librarian Mentor

August 2001 marked three major milestones in my life.  Not only did I begin my master’s degree in SLM, but I also began my first job as a school librarian at Buffington Elementary with temporary certification credentials.   In addition, I met Dr. Mary Ann Fitzgerald, who was assigned as my advisor and would become (and still is) one of my primary mentors.  Although elementary school was not my teaching background, I felt that my passion for children’s literature and technology would serve me well.  While I did not like the pressure from parents to privilege Accelerated Reader front and center in the school library, I absolutely adored the K-4 children and loved feeling as though I was helping the teachers.  Looking back now, this was a wonderful environment for actually applying the skills I was learning in my first two SLM courses at UGA.  In addition, my principal generously let me leave work a few minutes early one day a week to attend class on campus in Athens; my other courses met at UGA-Gwinnett on Saturdays and online.   During this first semester, I bonded with my classmates in the first official cohort of the SLM program as well as Dr. Fitzgerald.  She earned the respect of me and my classmates immediately, and I very much wanted to emulate the example she set for us.    Although I was nervous about returning to grad school after being out of school for nearly ten years, I took to graduate school like a duck to water and adored my coursework.

My life took another turn in the spring of 2002 as I somehow managed to take on five classes, including ELAN 7700 with Dr. Mark Faust, the infamous “Book Club” class at UGA, known more formally as “Creating Literate Communities.”  This course was important in three  ways:  first, I rekindled a love affair with reading and books and consequently decided to change my M.Ed. program of study English Education with a concentration in Children’s Literature.   Secondly, while I loved my life in the little library at Buffington Elementary, I decided I missed being a classroom teacher and decided to return to the high school classroom.    Most importantly, though, this course would lay the groundwork for future graduate study that still influences my thinking to this day.

To make a long story short, I felt a little lost during 2002-2003.  While I was fully immersed in my graduate studies at UGA and making the four and a half hour round trip drive two days a week to take both master’s and doctoral level courses (I was thinking I would go straight on to the Ph.D. program in Language Ed. and was being groomed by the department to do so), I was feeling increasingly frustrated that the testing movement of No Child Left Behind was encroaching on my newfound inquiry based approach to literacy and teaching.  While I adored my students, I did not feel the same affection for floating from classroom to classroom (it’s hard to return to being a floating teacher after you’ve had your own room) and feeling pressure from fellow English teachers to conform to modes of teaching that conflicted with my evolving philosophy of teaching that was being heavily influenced by my study under such great professors as Dr. Bob Fecho, Dr. JoBeth Allen,  and Dr. Bettie St. Pierre.

Buffy Gets Her M.Ed.

Long story short, I did a stint as an EIP (remedial) co-teacher at an elementary with a wonderful first grade teacher, Laura Chan during the spring of 2003.  While I did love the little ones, I finally realized that spring that I was decidedly a high school person and needed to return there if I was to stay in K12 schools.     It was also during this time I had a minor cardiac episode that really made me rethink my priorities and determined to and find what it was I really loved and what I wanted to do with my professional life.  I completed with my M.Ed. in English Education in May of 2003 and took a position as an English teacher at my alma mater, Cherokee High.

During 2003-04, I settled into life as a high school English teacher once again, incorporating all the ideas and teaching pedagogy from UGA  that had shifted my teaching philosophy.   In the winter of 2004, I started my doctoral studies in Language and Literacy Education, but I quickly realized that I could not immerse myself in that level of study without committing to UGA full-time, so I decided to change my degree objective to Ed.S.  During this academic year, I loved working with my fellow faculty and my students.  I honestly had no thoughts of pursuing a library career again until late spring when my principal approached me about taking a position in the library to replace the librarian who was retiring.  He stated that he felt I was someone who could bring my strength as a teacher into the library program and felt those skills would be a real asset to the library program.  At first, I was truly reluctant to consider the offer as I was very happy being a member of the English Department and had a sweet teaching schedule lined up for the upcoming year.  In late April, though, I decided to accept the librarian position and began Maymester studies on Saturdays at UGA to resume my Ed.S. studies, but I changed my degree objective to Instructional Technology/School Library Media after some serious consultation with Dr. Fitzgerald, who welcomed me back to the program with great encouragement and support.  By this time, I had pretty much taken all the SLM courses available, so I was excited about the flexibility I had in my elective offerings for the Ed.S. program.

During the final days of school, however, I got cold feet about the library job and asked my principal if I could remain in my position as an English teacher.   While he was sympathetic, someone had already been hired in my position, and I was locked into being the second librarian at my alma mater for 2004-05.  Although I was a little hesitant about whether or not I was doing the right thing by going back into the library and pursuing the Ed.S. in SLM, I resolved to give both my very best effort and to have faith I was making the right choices.  During the 2004-05 school year, I quickly and happily settled into life as a high school librarian.   The transition felt seamless as I already knew most of the students and teachers; in many ways, I think it was an advantage to have been a teacher at CHS first before becoming one of their librarians.  Vicki Barbre, my fellow librarian, taught me much about diplomacy and crisis management, setting the example with her calm and even manner.   She, students, and teachers were very appreciative of the emphasis on teaching I brought with me, and I very much enjoyed what we were doing as a team even though we were completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of classes we served on a daily basis with no regular clerk.  I truly felt valued by the students, the teachers, and my co-librarian.  While some days I still felt tied to my “teacher” identity (maybe because I had been a teacher there first?), I was beginning to see myself more as a librarian than as a classroom teacher.

In the spring, I began working on a vision statement for the library program, but unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to present it to my principal.  A series of events took place in May and early June of 2005 that made me feel as though I would never receive the administrative support I needed to make that vision a reality, and in anger and frustration, I accepted a position as department chair and English teacher at my former place of employment, CrossRoads Alternative School.  During this summer, I threw myself into getting ready for the school year and my new position while engaging in independent study on literate communities and Deborah Brandt’s ethnography on “sponsors of literacy” once again under the direction of Dr. Mark Faust.   I also used the summer to take my remaining required SLM courses before embarking on the completion my applied research study in the fall of 2005.

As the school year started in August of 2005, life was a blur.  I was busy with my responsibilities for teaching my 9-12 students, mentoring a rookie teacher,  and being department chair while juggling two research projects that were very important to me on a personal and professional level in my final semester at UGA.    While I loved what I was doing, I still yearned for library life and missed my colleagues at Cherokee High.  During that fall, I began to wonder if I would ever find my life’s calling and figure this whole career thing out.  I wondered if I would ever find the job that was the “right” fit that would meet my needs for creative and professional freedom.  I also missed being in the library and began to think that maybe the librarian identity really was for me.  However, I resolved I would not take another library position unless I felt it was absolutely perfect for me.

In late fall, I was nearing the end of my Ed.S. studies and was working feverishly to complete the write-up of two major research projects that were roughly 60 pages each in length, wishing I had more time to contemplate my research and work.    I was feeling incredibly loose at ends as I was finishing a degree that I wasn’t sure I’d ever fulfill in actual practice when a job announcement for librarian was announced for our new high school that would open in August of 2006.   Not only would this be an opportunity to open a new high school library and build a program from scratch, but the job would begin six months before we moved into the building.   I had already fulfilled the state certification requirements for complete and clear renewable licensing as a school librarian in Georgia, and I was only a few weeks away from graduating with my Ed.S. from UGA—I wondered if the timing was finally right and if all the pieces were coming together.

I prepared an online portfolio in advance of my interview, creating an entire website with my vision of the library program and the program design and evaluation plan to get us there.  I outlined what I would do during the six months we were housed in the middle school to have the library ready for opening day.   I sent the link to the web portfolio to the principal, Dr. Bob Eddy (with whom I had taught nearly fifteen years earlier in my first teaching position at Sequoyah High School), and in mid-December, got an interview.    A week after graduating from UGA with my Ed.S. and a week before the end of the semester, I was giddy to learn that Dr. Eddy was offering me the job and that my current principal, Jeff Garrett, would agree to release me mid-year to begin the position January 1.  I have to give credit not only to Dr. Eddy for having faith in me to take on the challenge of opening the library, but also to Jeff Garrett for letting me go and follow my dream even though to this day he still feels, “You’re too good of a teacher to not be in the regular classroom.”  My response to that is something a fellow teacher, Heather Hooks, once said:  “Sometimes what you’re really good at isn’t your first love.”  I now realize how incredibly lucky I am to do something daily that energizes me and that most days, I feel I’m somewhat good at even though I have those moments in which I feel I am a little clueless.

Opening the First of 8000+ Books, July 2006

I could write an entire blog post about my dream job that I have now,  how much my practice of librarianship has evolved in the last four years, and the directions my work as a librarian are taking flight, but that is another post for another day.   The last four years have been like a dream come true!  Make no mistake there has been a lot of hard work, sweat, and yes, some tears, involved along the way, but to have a vision of a library program and to bring it to life along with the support of your colleagues and students—words cannot express how immensely gratifying that process truly is and continues to be as the journey continues for me.  I feel incredibly humbled and honored to have had this opportunity and to finally discover something that gives me such joy.

For me, being the librarian at The Unquiet Library is not just a job, but it is a fervent passion, a living dream that I hope will somehow touch the lives of those I serve in a positive way.  Every day, I get to think, to question, to teach, to share, to learn, to reflect—this kind of activity and freedom feeds my soul and mind.  Some days I just pause, look around, and feel so happy at the humming activity in the library and to feel excitement about the future dreams I have for this library and those I serve.  If those I try to help can remember me half as fondly as I do Ms. Mauldin, my very first librarian, then I think I can say I have accomplished something wonderfully profound in my life.

Not only has my life as The Unquiet Librarian brought me in contact with so many terrific students and teachers, but this work has brought me together with so many other amazing librarians whom I respect and cherish.   For those of you in my circle of the librarianhood—you will never know how much your wisdom, wit, and spark have inspired and graced me personally and professionally.

Librarian: Badge of Honor

I am looking forward to continuing my evolving journey as a librarian, a title I embrace with open arms and tremendous pride.  Librarian is a badge of honor I happily flaunt!

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12 thoughts on “Retracing My Steps to Librarianhood: The Library Routes Project

  1. Buffy – So great to hear about your background and what challenges and changes you have experienced along the journey. I grew up with no memories of a library at school and no real love for reading. I only remember 2 times I got to order from book orders in elementary school. It wasn’t until I was in college that I experienced the love for reading. I am now working on licensure and running a K-12 library and loving the adventure of it. I love sharing with students and seeing them get excited about reading. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I was inspired to write my own, and I plan to go to the stories of others as well. What a great project – it’s so interesting to see the path that others have taken into their libraries!

    libraryramblings.wordpress.com

  3. It’s great fun to read about your journey! I have been thinking about my own all week – perhaps I’ll write it down too. There’s something about being a librarian–I think that it is often a much intentional choice than many other professions (which would explain why we all love our jobs so much)!

    Gretchen
    @libraryms

  4. Thanks for your story, Buffy. I have similar memories of great library experiences as a child, but like you, found that somewhere between junior high and high school the library became a place reserved only for quiet, school sanctioned research projects. Having taught English and language arts in both middle and high school, and now returning to education and pursuing my LMS certification, it’s exciting to see how the spirit and practice of inquiry and real life learning is coming to the fore. Your story is a real life example to share with students about how important is is to value life-long learning and pursue one’s interests and passions.

  5. Pingback: HotStuff 2.0 » Blog Archive » Word of the Day: “forsyth”

    • Unfortunately, the server that hosted it is now gone—I do have it archived, though. If I can republish it in some format, I’d be glad to share! We lost our webtech server when our district left FrontPage for Sharepoint.

  6. After reading your story I thought about all the wonderful experiences I have had during my life visiting libraries, browsing the shelves and picking out books I was very excited to read. As a librarian I hope I am always making good memories for the students I work with, helping them, and encouraging them. I always want to make any library I work in a welcoming, enjoyable space filled with good books, magazines and technology. One of the saddest experiences of my teaching career happened when I brought my 7th and 8th grade class to our school library to look around and saw a smallish room with no librarian and shelves filled with old, dusty, out-of-date books. I wanted to cry for myself and my students who were denied the opportunity to have a good school library.

  7. This was a great read! Libraries have been part of my entire life and I know I’ll always love libraries no matter what shape or form they come in. Being a librarian has suited me to a “T”.

  8. What a great read! I also wonder how I did not discover my true calling much sooner. I have been dissatisfied with my current position for a year and a half now, and did just like you – looked back so I could move forward. A career as a librarian has been there all my life, I just never realized it! I hope I can land a job at a library this year, and start working towards my degree in 2011!

  9. Thanks for sharing your journey. I’ve been exploring and following your web presence over the past year gaining insight and inspiration. You have become a mentor to me this year as I began a new journey in my librarian career. I am planning to reflect and write my own journey in the upcoming month. Thanks again for your inspiration!

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