Librarianship as Vocation

Let’s Play Library

When I was younger, my brother and I “played library”. We had a small collection of books, and after a trip to the local public library and discovering the simple elegance of the Dewey Decimal System, I “cataloged” the books, but rudimentary Dewey numbers on them, created a “shelf list” and set up shop. Armed with the date due stamper I borrowed from my parents, I was the librarian and my brother was the patron and I dutifully stamped the date due in the books and circulated them to my brother. While I don’t remember levying any fines or having to lean on my brother to return his overdue books to our library. This exercise instilled in me a deep connection to libraries and the work of librarianship at an early age.

This was further strengthened and refined upon numerous visits to the Niagara Falls Public Library armed with my own library card and the opportunity to check anything out of the collection. A special treat for me around the age of 10 or 11 was a “behind the scenes” tour of the library courtesy of a friend of my father’s who served as the circulation librarian. I was fascinated by the card catalog, the circulation machines which took a microfilm copy of your library card and the books that culminated in a large thump, and the work of the library. The only place I felt the same type of awe and reverence at anything was in church, and my time in the library as a child was nothing less than transcendental.

Over the next number of years, I pursued a number of vocational and professional goals. My interest in architecture and urban planning sustained me through high school and ultimately is what brought me to the State University of New York at Buffalo. While there, I discovered many different subjects including computer science and information technology, history, and English literature. My love of reading and writing on what I had read culminated in a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, but I had no clue where I wanted to go after that. I applied to business school, law school, and to other programs. I thought a lot on what I wanted to be when I “grew up”.

During the last year or two of my undergraduate degree, I found myself helping friends and others complete the dreaded “library workbook”, a library skills exercise required of all students before graduation. I breezed through the workbook and never had any issues finding information in the library. Library work seemed to come naturally to me, but I never considered a career in librarianship until a good friend of mine suggested that I look into a Masters in Library Science as an option. I did some research, applied to some schools, and ultimately decided to stay at SUNY Buffalo to complete my MLS. This seemed like a perfect fit for me, and I was quite happy as a library school student.

When I graduated, I could not find a job in a traditional library setting and worked for library automation vendors for several years. It was during this period that I began to reconsider my vocation, moving back to architecture, or urban planning, or business, or theology. I wasn’t working as a librarian, per se, so I did not feel the connection to librarianship that I had sought in grad school and earlier, and since I have interests in many areas, I considered them all. My career path eventually brought me back to libraries, and I bounced around to a few academic libraries for a few more years before landing the tenure track position at Penn State.

About the same time as I got the job at Penn State, I had begun to seriously consider the priesthood in the Episcopal Church as my true vocation. I had always had a deep relationship to the church (more about that here), and I felt a strong calling to the priesthood. I knew that I needed to continue in my position at Penn State, so I put my efforts and energies into the promotion and tenure process, which had its fair share of ups and downs. Over the last year, it seemed that I was being drawn more and more to the priesthood, and I entered the discernment and application process to become a priest.

Simultaneously, things began to fall into place in my vocation as a librarian: I was tenured and promoted and awarded the University Libraries Diversity Award for my research and work in diversity. Newer librarians that I had mentored over the past few years were expressing gratitude to me for the advice and guidance I provided. I had articles, and book chapters, and papers published and was building a reputation on diversity in librarianship and higher education. I was becoming a leader in the profession through my work in ALA and other professional organizations. And ultimately, I saw librarianship as my true vocation.

I have ended my pursuit of the priesthood, for the time being at least, to concentrate on librarianship and library and information science. I know this may shock many of my friends and family, especially those I know through the Episcopal Church, but I feel deep in my heart and know deep in my psyche that this is the right path for me to follow at this time. Librarianship is something deeply ingrained in me and my true vocation is to develop and nurture and further this calling in me — to serve others through providing information and connecting them with the resources needed to live a full and productive life. This is my true vocation and I am excited about all the possibilities for me in the future this field.