I have been planning on starting a professional library blog for the past month, but it had taken me until last week to come up with a definitive title for my blog. Snarky Librarian, which would be my dream blog name, is unfortunately taken. I came up with Not So Stern Librarian because I was thinking about the stereotypes of librarians and how whenever I tell people, “I’d like to go into academic librarianship,” they say something along the lines of: “Oh, you don’t look like a librarian,” or “You don’t act like a librarian.” Which led me to thinking about how librarians are commonly perceived as stern, harsh, serious, and majorly off-putting, overseeing their library realm with sharp glares at any squeak of noise and a generally morose attitude about life. Well, I should probably break it to everyone from the get-go that that is most certainly not me. I consider myself a relatively fun individual; I enjoy color, floral print, polka dots, vintage dresses, quilting, knitting, and other crafty things. I rank Stephen Colbert as the man of my dreams. I allow myself the luxury of reading fluff books in between my hard-hitting English major texts. I would rather watch Casablanca or It Happened One Night than any newly released movie on any given day of the week. These are just some quirks, but they’re fun, right? Now, be careful not to start classifying me as a “sexy nerd” librarian. That’s the other end of the stereotype spectrum.
Librarian stereotypes can be funny, sure, but when it comes down to it the profession is dumbed down when people see librarians primarily in terms of the stereotypes of “sexy” librarian or “stern old crone” librarian. Their role as information professionals is somehow diminished. Hence, my blog title: Not So Stern Librarian…just a slight commentary on perceptions of librarianship.
After that indulgent extrapolation on my blog title, I should probably write a bit more about myself. My name is Brianna Marshall and I am a senior at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, majoring in English with a Psychology minor and French studies certificate. As with many important things in life, I stumbled upon librarianship as a potential future career almost by accident. It was the first semester of my freshman year, about a month or two after classes had begun, and I was at my boyfriend’s house researching future careers for English majors. I wasn’t declared yet as an English major, but as my bookworm status has been pretty solid since I first learned how to read I felt like it was kind of inevitable. Still, I am unabashedly practical and I always, always do my research. So it just so happened that I was idly searching online when librarianship came up. Being new to college, my experience with “librarians” had up until that point been the women who checked out my books at Sun Prairie Public Library back home. This new information opened up my eyes to what librarianship could be, the different forms it took. Something inside me just clicked and I haven’t looked back since. That isn’t to say that I haven’t had to consistently reevaluate what I want from a career and see if it matches up, but I did evade the anguished “I have a liberal arts degree and I don’t know what to do with my life!” drama.
I sat with the nebulous ideas of what I wanted to do with my life for my first year and focused on getting through my general education classes. In August, however, I had a chance conversation while training with my supervisor for a job as docent at the Swarthout Museum that changed my focus completely. I was gushing about the mishmash of random objects stored in the basement of the museum: old baby carriages, dresses, paintings, books, toys. I could have spent days wandering around in that space. I was talking about how I wanted to go to graduate school for library science and she said something along the lines of, “Oh, really? You would probably really enjoy Special Collections on campus then.” She had just teamed up with SC to work on a new rotating exhibit for the museum and she passed along a woman at SC’s contact information, saying, “You are going to LOVE her. She is just so nice.”
That woman was Teri Talpe, Special Collections librarian. A week later I stopped by SC to see if there was any chance that I could volunteer there. She was kind enough to train me and take me under her wing, and the for the next semester I spent my Wednesday nights there, learning and falling in love with the atmosphere, the old books, and the archives. Teri became much more than a volunteer supervisor; she is a friend, an ally, and certainly a mentor. She has provided me access to the realities of librarianship; we’ve had discussions about the minutiae of academic and special collections librarianship. We’ve talked about resumes, cover letters, and scholarships. She graduated from UW-Madison’s library program just a few short years ago so she has much wisdom to provide. I could not have gotten any luckier in having her as my mentor. In fact, the idea of starting professional library blogs was an adventure we undertook together. She is in the process of starting hers as well.
I am again volunteering at Special Collections this semester and I could not be happier. Although life is busy with a 12-hour a week job, 16 credits, copyediting for the school paper, and volunteering in SC and the Writing Center, I am truly content. I will be applying for graduate school soon; I know for certain that I will be applying to Indiana University and UW-Madison. More on that later. I have already applied for a scholarship to the Rare Book School in Charlottesville, Virginia. I know it’s a long shot but I couldn’t help but try! Looking at their course listing was simultaneously torturous and titillating; I know that my only chance of getting to VA is through a scholarship so I am hoping hoping hoping at this point. Just giving it up to the universe. I have very little practical experience so far in my college experience and I can only imagine how many qualified people vie for such scholarships, but oh, how I would appreciate the opportunity it would afford.
Well, this post is a little too long and rambling for my liking. More on my grad school choices and current projects in SC next time!