• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online

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Librarians: Do Any Look Like Me?

One GradHacker reflects on her path to becoming a librarian.

March 29, 2017
 
 

Regina Sierra Carter received her Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She currently works as a Teaching and Learning Librarian at the University of Virginia.

 

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If you ask a group of children what they would like to become, you will receive an array of answers. For example, you may hear…

 

Architect

Banker

Chef

Doctor

 

...and the list continues.

 

However, few may say that they aspire to become librarians. Truth be told, I did not initially aspire to become one either. It was simply meant to be.

 

I am a Black female scholar, researcher, educator, and librarian. My intellectual pursuits span the fields of higher education and library and information science. I earned two master’s degrees: one in education and the other in library science. My doctoral degree is in educational policy studies. As I was nearing the end of my doctoral studies, I was faced with a seemingly insurmountable question: what was I going to do with my life? I am sure many of you have asked the very same question...at the start of your graduate program, in the middle, and even at the end. This is a weighty question that requires considerable reflection. I thought about this question. Agonized over this question. Prayed about it. Sought advice from faculty, family, peers, and mentors. I even contemplated relying on chance or at least the “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” song to gauge which career choice would be best. However, I understood that the decision was ultimately mine.         

 

As weeks turned to months and job announcements appeared and disappeared, I had to decide. I had to be incredibly honest with myself about how I would like to begin my career. In order to do so, I made a list of necessities. I decided that if a job description did not align with my core needs (and beliefs), I would not apply. This was a tough pill to swallow. Here I was, a first-generation graduate student, about to enter the world of work for the first time professionally. I felt petrified yet powerful because I was walking in faith with a purpose. I had a plan. I had already decided that I would not be willy-nilly in my job search. Instead, I would be strategic.

 

Here are the top five things I searched for in position descriptions:

 

  1. Full-time employment (I’m not about living the graduate school life post-graduation.)
  2. Generous benefits, stellar healthcare facilities, and insurance (Beyonce was not joking about those bills, bills, bills.)
  3. Solid support system especially for people of color and new professionals
  4. Opportunities to engage in outreach and make a meaningful, lasting impact (e.g. serving first-generation/low-income students, racial/ethnic/gender minorities, etc.)
  5. Collegial working environment (No toxicity, please.)

 

Notice I did not say anything about money. It matters… believe me. However, I did not want to go blindly running after financial gain and lose my soul in the process of chasing pennies in exchange for my peace. It should also be noted that salaries are not always listed in job announcements and may simply state “salary is commensurate with experience.”

 

Please understand that I am here simply to share my thought processes for making the leap from graduate student to a full-time professional position that aligned nicely my beliefs and needs.

 

Disclaimer: I do not profess to possess special knowledge about hacking the job search or negotiations. Instead, my aim is ignite your intellect while simultaneously challenging you to deeply consider (and ultimately embrace) career prospects that will enable you to do work that you are uniquely gifted (due to life experiences, professional training, education, etc.) to perform.

 

Here is a snippet from my life story about how and why I chose to become a librarian.

 

~~~

 

My family ardently believes that sound, rigorous formal and informal education pave the way to emancipation, empowerment, and enlightenment. Not only does education help to improve one’s personal and professional conditions but, individual by individual, it can function to improve one’s community, country, and countless livelihoods across the globe.

 

My affinity for libraries stem from my childhood. While growing up in a rural community in South Carolina, a bookmobile stopped outside my home every other Saturday. The lady who usually drove the bookmobile was a nice White woman who wore her silver hair pulled back in a bun. (In case you want to call me on perpetuating a stereotype, please understand that the White woman I reference was kind and actually did wear her hair in a bun.) This woman would set aside newly acquired books just for me because she knew I treasured reading. Through this seemingly simple yet generous gesture, she unknowingly helped develop within me a deep love for literature. She also helped make reading and the library more accessible than it had ever been.

 

Without her and the bookmobile service, I would not have had access to many reading materials. My rural community was and still is 30 minutes removed from the nearest public library. Traveling to and from that library would have inflicted a considerable hardship upon my family and me.

 

Seeing the nice White lady every other Saturday was one of my favorite pastimes. I kept watch for the big blue-and-white bookmobile. If for some reason or another, I missed the bookmobile, my mother would hop in her grey Buick and chase it down to ensure my sister and I had fresh reading materials.

 

One faithful day the nice White lady did not show up. In her place was this Black lady. In my child’s mind, I was like… Who are you!? She explained that she (like the White lady) was a librarian. I stared at her in shock. Did she actually expect me to buy that hype? Never in my life had I ever seen a Black librarian.

 

To top that off, the Black lady told me her name was Mrs. Carter. That was my mother’s name. I thought this lady must be lying. She expects me to believe that she is a legit librarian who shares my mamma’s namesake… please!

 

Everybody knows that Black folks are not librarians. At least this is what I thought at the time. Keep in mind that I had a very limited worldview. Most of the Black people in my small, rural community worked in factories. Other folks who were not in working in factories worked in the educational system as teachers, teacher assistants, and bus drivers. The librarians at the elementary/middle and high school were all White. Perhaps you can understand why I had a difficult time buying the Black lady librarian story.

 

After the Black lady kept showing up faithfully every other Saturday (just like the White lady), I began to believe her story. I reasoned that she might be telling the truth. I finally believed what I thought was a big ole lie after I went to the Marion County Public Library and saw her physically working there. Mrs. Carter was a legit librarian!

 

Mrs. Carter was the very first Black librarian that I had ever encountered. The peculiarity of seeing so few librarians of color (especially Black librarians) intrigued me. This made a lasting impression on my life, my studies, and my career aspirations. That said, as you complete your graduate studies, please be mindful of the seemingly minute details of life because they can lead to the monumental. Pay attention to the people, places, and pastimes that energize you because those could be the very things that propel you into your ideal profession.  

 

I previously shared that I only applied for positions that were full-time, offered generous benefits, provided opportunities to serve the underserved, and offered a solid (non-toxic) support system for new professionals of color. Moreover, I sought work that would enable me to draw upon my unique strengths, past experiences, and academic training to make a meaningful, lasting impact within my profession. None of this would have been possible if it had not been for the grace of God and a chance encounter.

 

After meeting Mrs. Carter, I (a little, Black girl from the rural South) began to believe that I could do and become anything… an architect, a banker, a chef, a doctor… or even an unapologetic, gifted, Black librarian. I did.

 

What do you hope to do? Are your professional pursuits linked to your purpose, passions, a paycheck, etc…? Do tell.

[Image provided by Flickr user bandita and used under a Creative Commons license]

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