Monday, January 28, 2019

the writer & the librarian

In the midst of my quandary over the Ph.D, I came across this article on the dynamics of being a writer and a librarian at the same time. The joke being of course that it's wonderful to have a job where you are surrounded by books.  But also tragic in that you will probably never have time to read even a fraction of what you want.  Depending which area of the library you work in, there are other things to do.  Most of my days are spent lately processing reserve items and interlibrary loans. Much of the rest is planning or plotting with my boss on A of R stuff.  Occasionally there will be some time left at the end of the day for press or writing or art pursuits and this time varies depending on the time of year--the beginning of the semester and busy programming times are a beast, but there are lulls in between.  Since I work evenings, I do have a bit more discretionary time when things are deader for my own stuff (when it's hopping in the afternoon, there is much more running to and fro, even if you're not actually on the circ desk itself.)  That free time did help me in being able to pursue my own work--editing & submitting poems, proofing dgp galleys, designing covers or collages.  That quiet stretch of 7pm-10pm when very little is happening besides the occasional jammed printer.

As I've mentioned, I did not start out with the specific aim of spending the last 20 years in libraries. Sure, I loved libraries--a lot.  Had spent a good amount of my childhood getting really excited about weekly journeys to the tiny school library and plotting what to check out.  Regular trips to the tiny Cherry Valley Public one, at that time, shoved into a storefront, with it's crooked cramped aisles and it's rack of Sweet Valley High's near the front door. If you asked my child and adolescent self what I most enjoyed, library visits would have been in the top 5.  (probably along with choosing horror movies at the video store and building blanket forts--even better getting books to read in blanket forts.)

While I spent many lunch hours browsing in the wood shelved lined junior high library where I first learned to use a card catalog, I never quite warmed to our high school library--a sterile, beige and orange Breakfast Club-like monstrosity with the books locked in a cinder block walled off area to prevent theft (not sure why they thought that was a huge problem.) The library in North Carolina was shiny and huge, and I probably never made it past the first floor that semester, having found the periodical section and the lit magazines, which I would peruse between classes whenever I was in the vicinity between classes.  When I moved back to the midwest, I spent all my time in the RC library when I wasn't in class--reading or studying and occasionally napping in the basement. DePaul's Library was also huge, and while I don't remember spending as much time onsite, I began checking out contemporary work by poets there, and hauled them back to my apartment in my backpack.

By the time I was finishing up my degree, and had decided not to pursue the academic career I'd been plotting, it slowly began to creep into my head that libraries might be a viable career option, but there were actually many things still on the table at that point. Before I decided to move back to Rockford, I interviewed at the Newberry for some sort of digitization job that went to someone with more photo experience, but did get asked back for a page job that would have paid pennies (luckily or unluckily I had already decided to leave Chicago.)  When I arrived there, I tried to get work in all sorts of places --newspapers, museums, bookstores, general temp work.  I landed two jobs over that summer that turned out to be horrible--one selling advertising space in a movie theater brochure and the other as a production assistant at a small local paper.  One I was just plain bad at, the other working for a middle aged tyrant who treated his staff horribly. I quit both rather swiftly.  In the fall, I interviewed with the school district for a library paraprofessional position  and landed at an elementary school, where I spent the next year and a half before coming back to Chicago and starting at Columbia. It was as fulfilling as it was exhausting, paid hardly anything, and I pretty much ran the library with monthly visits from a district librarian. Rather than herding 4-5 classes a day through story time and checkout, CC was a much slower, calmer environment.  I've been there ever since.

As an English major, I always loved the research part--the collecting and amassing the information--I could do the digesting and writing part--and do it well--but it wasn't my favorite part. I would usually do a whole bunch of research and then procrastinate on the the writing--even in grad school, where many an overnight produced reasonably good essays and papers. Creative projects on the other hand, were much more fun.  Over the past two decades I delved in to a number of subjects that produced really fun projects--urban legends and ghost stories, victorian texts, sideshow and circus history, fairy tales...last year it was the Slender Man stabbing and the Ariadne myth. Even now I am working on a couple more research-intensive projects--one on the Murder Castle and one on doomed Hollywood starlets. Like the author of the article says, it's great to be your own reference librarian...

Even outside the library, I appreciate the value working CC has added to my life--not only was I able to get my MFA at half-off, but it surrounds me with a lot of creative like-minded people I'd likely not find elsewhere. And the students are always a sort of inspiration and energy (though sometimes exhausting.) And my visual arts pursuits were sparked wholly here--both in the impetus to create and display work, and endless supply of discarded materials,  and in the ability to take summer workshops at Book & Paper back in the day.  If I am going to be forced to work anywhere for 40 hours a week to actually pay my rent and buy groceries, I would want it to be here more than anywhere else...

And the work in libraries in general, as I mentioned in the last couple of entries, has produced some non-creative library-related writing projects. Not only books/articles on curated learning, but on library artists-in-residence programs and artists experiences within them.  I"m currently working on an article on traditional and non-traditional at exhibits in libraries and hope to finish it soon. I also have notes and plans for some sort of library-related memoir project.

Also, I did once vow to organize a poetry collection via Dewey Decimal and it may yet still happen. 

No comments: