This week I was planning to begin addressing Library and Archive issues, however I changed my mind. There is need for another introduction post. Last week in “And it Begins…” I explained what my plans for this blog were and why I’m qualified to write on these topics. I realized that post lacked why I chose this path. Thus, I’m going to take this week to explain why I chose to study library science, archival science, history, and political science.
As a child, I showed an early interest in both history and librarianship. I just didn’t realize it at the time. When I visited the public library I was drawn to the history books. In fact, there was a series of tall, thin, gray books on the battles of World War II which I read every volume every summer until I outgrew the children’s books. This was the first sign I loved history. When the Dear America juvenile books came out, I also read those with equal fervor. At age eight, I even tried to write a history report on an old Atari computer we had!* Plus, I always enjoyed my dad’s stories about growing up and his military service. While this was going on, I also showed signs that pointed to librarianship (and, to a degree archival science). The children’s books were always out-of-order. My peers just shelved the books where they wanted, which usually was not where they were supposed to be. I have early memories of putting them back into the correct order.
Now let’s examine each aspect in turn. My study of history began in earnest in seventh grade (which was also the first year we had a dedicated history course). I had a wonderful teacher that year who made learning history fun, realized I had a gift for it, and gave me several bits of good advice I still refer to this day. While I had other great history teachers, one of my high school teachers and I shared a deep interest in history. She encouraged me, loaned me her personal history books, and challenged me the most of any history teacher I ever had. Sometimes, we’d even spend hours after school talking history. It was wonderful to find someone to share my interests with and who understood my desire to learn more about our past! All in all, I had this teacher for three history classes, as an advisor for one of my extra-curriculars, and she sponsored me for National History Day. When I arrived at Southeast, I found a history department that shared my desire to learn and that was filled with faculty who were always ready to help and chat history. Most of my classes were with the two European History faculty (there are more now). Both challenged me with their assignments and served as co-sponsors of my senior honors thesis. One even sponsored an independent study for me! Going hand-in-hand with the history, I did study political science at Southeast. In high school, I thought that political science existed only to memorize government branches and departments. One professor at Southeast opened my eyes to the fact it could be much more and I learned to also love this field, especially the political theory. Maybe I always liked it and never realized it because looking back most of my historical papers involved with political history, military history, or a combination of both!
It was my freshman year of high school that I began to realize my full interest in library science. When I arrived at high school, they were building a new addition to which the library would be moved. The librarian gladly allowed me to help him during when I visited during my class downtime (I might add here I think I spent more time in the library than class that year!), including when that move occurred. Later, I spent two years as a library practicum student under this librarian. In this time, I learned how to search the databases; helped others learn to search the databases; preformed circulation duties; shelved; and did some removal of material. I learned so much and helped others so much that on a couple of occasions when he was out, the principal pulled me from class to open the library so another class could come in! If he had not encouraged me to keep learning and teaching me library skills, I may not have desired to continue this path! When I arrived at college, I knew librarianship was the path I wanted, but as it required a master’s degree, I opted to study history as an undergraduate. However, this did not stop me from finding ways to improve my skills, even when I was repeatedly turned down as a student worker in the library! Those ways came during my senior year at Southeast when the Honors House was moving locations. First, I located a forgotten historic book collection in the attic.* I rescued the books, relocated them to the new location, and cleaned them up. The special collections librarian offered to teach me to take care of the book that were in bad shape and taught me how to build enclosures (acid-free paper boxes) for these books and how to handle the documents found within. This was my first taste of special collections and archives and this librarian has been a mentor ever since. Second, I worked with faculty campus-wide to gain donations of books for the new library at the new Honors House location.* After the books were acquired, I did my best to organize them and weed out material that was dated, damaged, or too juvenile. I’m grateful the Jane Stephens Honors Program Director allowed me these opportunities!
The next two years, I worked jointly on my library science degree, as a graduate reference assistant at Mizzou’s Ellis Library, and as manuscript collection volunteer and intern at The State Historical Society of Missouri (SHS). I learned skills I previously did not know and great deal more about the history and theory of library and archival science. Quite a few were searching tricks and various ways to teach information literacy learned from the subject librarians at Ellis (note: Ellis Library’s subject librarians were responsible for all specialized reference, acquisitions, and information literacy instruction for their subject areas in addition to providing generalized reference help). Others were tech-related tricks I learned from my supervisor. I especially enjoyed helping others at the reference desk, organizing and preserving collections at SHS, and creating my research guides. The latter two allowed me to learn more new things and were a puzzle to figure out the best way to organize so researchers (student and professional) could effectively use them. And I love puzzles! Even in history, you have to use the similar skills to create a whole picture from fragments found within primary sources and/or multiple differing secondary sources!
Throughout my life, the concept of service was instilled in me. My parents are both in education and they always encouraged me to help others. Additionally, my dad is a former naval officer and the son of a pastor. He grew up thinking nothing is better than serving others; he’s always helping his students, my grandparents, and great-grandmother with something. I was then and still am a Girl Scout, a member of an organization where service to others is a core idea. In Girl Scouts, we did many service projects, including but not limited to, making crafts and cookies for those at the Veteran’s Home at Christmastime and recording books on tape for a local preschool. My Girl Scout Gold Award project involved creating personalized scrapbook kits for children in hospice care. At school, I assisted my best friend with her school work. She had a learning disability and I often worked with her so she could gain a greater understanding of the material (note: yes, an honors student and someone with a learning disability can be best friends. We still are.). In school activities, I’ve helped work donation drives, blood drives, charity book sales, and sewing items for my grade school’s annual Thanksgiving baskets for the less fortunate. One summer, I even served as a reading aid for my school district’s pull-out reading program and worked with small groups of soon-to-be first through third graders. Then my senior year in high school, I still opted to serve as a cadet teacher even though I had more than enough of the required service hours. Additionally, while in college and grad school, my jobs all involved some aspect of service from hosting, to tutoring, to providing reference service and technical help. This is but a sample. Also, needless to say, being stuffed away in an office all the time is not for me!
Librarianship/archival science are the one field where I could combine my knowledge, organizing skills, researching skills, teaching skills, and desire to help others. Other fields would have only allowed for some of these. And while I do love history too, even if I am not teaching it, the skills learned in studying history can be applied to help others research better and conduct research of my own to find ways to better help patrons and better library services.
And, yes, I deliberately did not give names for these teachers, professors, and librarians. I did not wish to list their names without permission.
*These actions will be returned to in later posts.