We've all heard it before, at dinner parties, from relatives, from our therapists: "Oh, you write. Does that mean you'll be a teacher?" Fine, fine. We can't make enough money to "eat" or "live" from our poetry. Every MFA graduate knows the horrible feeling that settles into her stomach as graduation approaches. You finished a whole book!, you keep telling people. And still, no prospective employers come a-calling. Here at HFR, we know how you feel. We thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at some jobs we writers and lovers of books might enjoy. Or do enjoy. Or have tried, and regret. This regular post, A Cup of Ambition, will talk to those in-the-know about what the working world is really like.
Meet our second guest...
Melanie Edens, Adult Services Librarian, Readers Services specialist, Glendale Public Library, Main branch Glendale, Arizona
I’m a reference librarian at the library, spending about half of my time working with the public answering questions about everything from the latest book from a bestselling author to the one I got this morning- “what’s a pawpaw?” (a fruit that grows in the Ozarks that looks very much like a mango but tastes more like a banana). Officially, I plan, organize and supervise literary/reading related activities within the library system. I order books for the collection, as well as DVDs and other materials. We also provide email reference at the Glendale Public Library (now those questions can get really strange…).
How did you get to be a librarian?
I have a BFA and an MA in Dance. After realizing that I needed a career that would pay the bills, I applied to the library science program at UCLA and got my MLS in 1990. I have always loved reading and worked in bookstores for years, so it was a great choice. I actually wrote my MLS thesis on researching dance at the UCLA libraries.
The Good Stuff
My favorite thing I do is lead book discussion groups. I have a monthly fiction group and a quarterly non-fiction group. The fiction group has been meeting for 12 years and has grown from 6 members to a whopping 22 (very civilized group, otherwise not everyone would get a chance to talk!). The non-fiction group was created two years ago by popular demand from the fiction group members. I guess the most exciting part of my job is talking about books with other people; connecting people with just the right book and having them return later for another book because I was able to suggest something they really liked. It’s a real thrill to send a teenager home with Ray Bradbury when he thinks reading means Ethan Frome.
The Bad Stuff
The library is a big, free, public place, which is a wonderful thing and also a not so wonderful thing. I dislike demanding or rude people that don’t respect the library or books or reading and just come in for the free internet access. But just when I want to scream I see Emily (NAU student who spends the summer here) and I know that she will have several new authors that we can talk about and I can share a few new ones with her. Ahhhhh…. Happiness.
Librarians, especially at public libraries, have kind of an accidental celebrity status in the community. I was in Safeway the other day and a couple that comes in every week was so excited to see “their” librarian in the grocery store. They asked me which salsa I preferred (really) then told the checker that I could find ANY book or ANY bit of information, just ask me. It’s nice to know that we affect lives in a good way. And, librarians don’t “shush”.
Spin a Yarn
I’ve been helping a guy named Charles for several months. He’s got terminal cancer and he’s in his early 30s. He really wants to go back to college and I’ve been assisting him with research on schools, grants, etc. Every time he comes in we learn more about each other; he loves art, he used to travel, he knows that I was a dancer before I became a librarian. His family thinks he’s nuts for going back to school (he wants to be a therapist for cancer patients) but he has told me that he’s not ready to give up. I love his energy and enthusiasm, and that in some small way I have been able to help him follow a dream or increase his quality of life.
Who makes a good librarian?
Librarians need to be “people” people. You need to be able to communicate well and be willing to help all types of people with every imaginable question or problem (at least in the public library). Loving books is essential. And it helps if you see yourself as a kind of sleuth when it comes to answering the most difficult or bizarre questions.
How Do I Become You?
I think it’s important to volunteer in libraries or work in a paraprofessional capacity to get a sense of what goes on in libraries. For schooling, almost any undergraduate degree will work (even dance!), and then a Masters in Library Science is essential. And there are so many types of libraries,it’s a really flexible degree. I love being a public librarian, but there’s academic, special, law, music, medical, corporate, etc. Even NPR has librarians!
Writers in the Library World
I think librarianship would be a great career for writers. You have the love of words, books, communication. Librarians write a lot on the job; everything from bibliographies and book discussion questions to grants and blogs!