How did I get here? My Journey to Library School

What do you want to be?

When I was younger, and people asked the age-old question “What do you want to be when you grow up,” my answer changed every few years. First, it was “horse trainer,” but I was allergic to hay. Then it was “veterinarian,” but I didn’t want to see animals in pain. Then it was “archaeologist” for a while, but my interest in Egyptian mythology faded with time. Soon after, it became “microbiologist,” because of the cool science channel documentaries. By the time I got to middle school, I had no real clue what I wanted to do, so whenever anyone asked, I just said “a secret agent,” or “a spy,” because I was really into the Spy Kids movies at that time. 

Now, for some context, I grew up in a military family and moved around a lot. 8 different houses, 7 different schools, finally settling down just before middle school. The school I went to from 6th grade through high school graduation was a tiny K-12 school in northern NY, with a total school population of 350 students on average per year. There were 38 kids in my class when I eventually graduated. It was at this school that the pressure was put on. We kept getting asked that same question every year. “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I was still settled on “spy,” and I kept it that way until the last year of middle school. “Spy” was no longer a proper answer in 9th grade. 

I vividly remember sitting down in the tiny school library and taking what they were calling a “find your career path’’ test. It was the start of 9th grade, and it was at this time they decided all the students needed a proper answer to that question. Around me, all the other students were finishing their tests and learning what they should be based on their interests. When I finished the test, however, I saw an empty page with a small line of text. “Could not provide results based on answers.”

How about a woman in STEM

We were supposed to pick one of the options then, then make a PowerPoint about that career, but with no options, I fell back onto Microbiologist, unsure what else to do. Now, back when I transferred to this school, something changed. I can’t quite place what or how, but at the end of 6th grade, something changed. This tiny school had an award ceremony at the end of each year that gave an award to the two students with the highest GPA in the grade. I’d never really considered myself a smart student, but when my name was called for that award for the first time, I was shocked. It was at this moment that I realized that I was smart and that if I applied myself, I could do whatever I wanted. Unfortunately, this is probably also what set me down the wrong path. I continued to get that award every year, and with it came the comments of “she’s so smart,” and the general conversation of me potentially being a “woman in STEM” when I grew up. 

See, I enjoyed science a lot. Watching National Geographic, the Science Channel, Animal Planet, you name it. My two favorite TV shows were River Monsters and How it’s Made. And when I did well in school, particularly in science class, I just assumed “well, I’m smart, so that must mean I have to go into a science field!”

So when that job quiz came, and when the guidance counselor kept asking me what I wanted to do, I just assumed science was the correct answer. My interest in Microbiology was still there, and I was interested, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Around that time, a remake of the show Cosmos was released, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I was fascinated. Space, black holes, the stars. I had found a new answer to that question. “Astrophysicist.” I hadn’t yet taken a physics class at that point, but I was good at math and the other sciences, so the guidance counselor was satisfied with my new answer. 

Visit to NASA (Florida) in 2018

As I progressed through the remainder of high school, I was confident in my new answer. I was happy that I’d figured out what I wanted to do. I became president of several student clubs, like the Library Club, which I helped to create. I applied to colleges for Astrophysics and began the wait. As 11th grade ended, and the summer began, I couldn’t find a job, so I reached out to the small town library and asked about volunteering. The library director let me volunteer as a library page, reshelving books and helping at all the summer events. 

When the semester started back up, I began receiving responses to those college applications. I got a no from my number one choice, and nos from several more. There were, of course, many yes’ as well. The library director created a student representative position for me at the library, so I could continue volunteering and have it relate to the Library club. I visited my top two choices in college and decided on the University at Rochester.

During senior year, the school had a “job shadow” day, where you went to observe a professional in the field that you planned to go into. Being in northern NY, there weren’t any Astrophysicists within a reasonable distance, so I went to shadow a Physics professor at a local community college. He handed me a textbook, and I pretty much just did the assignments he gave his students all day long. When it came time for the second job shadow, I didn’t want to go back, so I opted to switch shadow locations, and went to hang out at the library with the director instead. I don’t remember how I justified it, but I think it had something to do with the student representative position. 

High school graduation came and went, and I delivered a speech full of random book quotes that no one but my friends noticed. Then, we moved again. My dad had retired from the Army, and he got a new job a little closer to central NY. We lived closer to my college, which was nice, but I was sad to leave behind the local library. We spent so much of that summer getting moved over, getting ready for college and then moving to college that I never had the time to explore my new local library. 

First visit to UofR

When I got to the University of Rochester, I was ready to start my journey to becoming an Astrophysicist. I registered for classes, and I went to classes, and… I struggled with classes. The downside to that tiny high school is that I never was able to take a math class higher than Pre-Calculus, so when I sat down in my Intro Astronomy class on the first day and the instructor drew an integral on the board, I was completely lost. Until that day, I’d never seen an integral, never mind knowing what it did. So I got lost, confused, and didn’t do well my first semester. I did get an A in my history of Orwell class though. After that first semester, I was distraught. What had happened to that potential woman in STEM? Astrophysics looked like it wasn’t an option anymore, so in the spring, I started focusing on computer science. Still STEM, but less math. There was still math. 

A slight change

That semester I decided to take a course on Victorian Literature because we needed to take courses in different disciplines as a requirement for graduation. It was a great course. It was my favorite course that semester, my favorite course I’d taken at that college. I got to write essays on books, something I enjoyed doing! As the end of the spring semester came, I made a life-changing decision. Who is really going to care if there’s one less woman in STEM? I changed my major to English: Creative Writing.

As the summer approached, I reached out to the public library near my house. I saw they had an internship opportunities page, and soon enough I was interning in their communications and marketing department. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at this point, but I knew I loved being in the library. A week or so after starting the internship, a desk position opened up, so I worked the desk on the days I wasn’t interning. I went back to college that fall with a new perspective, joined a special interest housing group, and made new friends. I actually enjoyed my classes.

As Fall 2019 ended, I saw a posting for an Internship program in the campus library. Career Exploration in Librarianship and Mentoring (CEILAM). It’s a program particularly aimed at bringing diverse student voices into the library and showing the opportunities that lie in that field. As I enjoyed my summer at the library so much, I applied. I got accepted into the program a few weeks later, and eagerly awaited the start of the internship the next semester. 

Spring 2020. What a semester. The internship was great, I tried out some art classes, and I was having a fantastic time. I got to think about accessible technology and explore how it might be useful in the campus library. Then covid happened. The semester got thrown for a loop, and everything went online. Including the internship. I’m grateful it continued despite the lockdown, even if it was only in a virtual format. I no longer was able to examine the technology hands-on, which was unfortunate, but my mentor was amazing and sent me pictures of everything I needed to see. The semester ended, and I gave a presentation on my research. After the presentation, all the CEILAM students were introduced to three admissions representatives from three library schools in NY. Library school? They talked about what their master’s programs had to offer, and how to apply. Everything clicked. This is what I’m going to do. 

Why didn’t I see this sooner?

I contacted one of the people in that zoom call, a librarian at the college. She was in the process of doing her own Master’s in Information and Library Science at the University at Buffalo, and I asked her about further internship opportunities on campus. She said there wasn’t anything advertised at the moment, but she would be able to get me in contact with a library director. This is where I contacted the director of the Medieval Library on campus. I corresponded with her over email and was able to set up an internship for the Fall 2020 semester. We weren’t sure how it would work with covid still ongoing, but we made it work. I could go into the library once a week to work with the materials in person, and I spent my other time researching from my dorm room on campus. I produced a LibGuide on a relatively new Arthuriana collection by the end of the semester.

During one of my searches for internships for the next semester, I saw a posting for a humanities library fellow to intern at a yet-to-be-opened Extended Reality (XR) library space on campus. I had just purchased a VR headset that fall and jumped at the opportunity to learn more. After a series of interviews, I got accepted into the program. 

This was my introduction to Studio X, and the world of Digital Scholarship in libraries. I started the fellowship in the spring of 2021 and continued until I graduated in the spring of 2022. During that year, I had the opportunity to research the humanities and XR, develop and teach an Intro to XR workshop, and research XR and accessibility. I presented my research at 2 conferences. I met some amazing people who inspired me to follow my dreams (and advised me not to get burnt out too quickly). My time at Studio X was one of the most valuable library experiences I’ve had, and I couldn’t be more thankful to all the people who helped me get there and make that experience possible. 

Photo of me receiving the Dean’s Student Library Service Award

I applied to the University at Buffalo’s Masters of Science in Information and Library Science program in Fall 2021 and was accepted a few weeks later. I was, and still am sad not to be at Studio X anymore, but my time there taught me a lot about myself and my career goals. Right before graduation, I got an email from a professor at the University at Buffalo. I hadn’t reached out to anyone yet, and class registration was coming up. That email showed me that my hard work had paid off. She offered me an interview for a graduate research assistantship that would have me join her team in researching the retention of BIPOC librarians. A week later, I got an official offer letter. 

Now, I’m in the process of reviving the University at Buffalo’s Information Science student organization as Acting President. It’s been a long journey thus far, but I’m so thankful that things have worked out for me in this way. I really wish I’d realized 4-5 years sooner, but I wound up where I’m meant to be anyway. And hey, I’m working towards a master of science so maybe I am still going to turn out to be a woman in STEM. 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for reading about my personal journey to discovering my career path! I really appreciate your time.

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