Over the past few months so much that has defined us as librarians has changed: we’re away from our beloved libraries and schools; we’ve been placed in awkward digital spaces with our students and faculty or we’ve struggled to even find a place in the academic life of our schools; we won’t be able to have all those small conversations with our seniors to wish them well as they graduate and move on. These are just a few of the changes—large and small—in our professional lives. Lately, I’ve been spending time thinking about what makes a librarian a librarian and what exactly is at the heart of librarianship. I’m not sure I would be where I am right now, trying to make the best of my professional life in the midst of a global pandemic, without the support of my fellow librarians. The blog posts, the tweets, the advice and support on the Listserv, the shared documents, shared links, shared resources—they have all made a difference. Each and every day I find something that I’m grateful for as my AISL friends and other librarians think deeply about our profession and so willingly share their thoughts.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m feeling quite emotional and sentimental these days. I find myself thinking about mentors that I’ve had over the years that I want to reach out to and thank—not just for the practical skills I learned from them, but to let them know how important it was to me that they believed in me, and nurtured me, and inspired my own passion for the field of librarianship. In his acceptance speech for the 1997 Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award, Fred Rogers shared “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.” These days I find myself thinking that we have all had those special people in our professional lives who have mentored us into being as librarians and for them, I am grateful.
In the first year of my MLS program at Southern Connecticut State University, Dr. Mary Brown and Debbie Herman, MLS were those people. In the mostly online program at Southern, Mary showed great compassion toward all of us and was one of the few faculty who took the time to make sure we understood program requirements. She stepped in as our de facto advisor—she just cared about us—and to say it made a difference would be an understatement. Many people in the program were able to walk at graduation because she posted deadlines on the Listserv reminding us to file paperwork and order our regalia. Even though we were all adults nearing graduation, I’m thankful someone more experienced was looking out for us, offering guidance, and making sure we made it to the finish line.
Mary did many small things that had a big impact on me as I juggled classes, a full-time job, and a family that included a college student and two high schoolers. She was an exacting professor who encouraged me to think about the courses in my plan of study, and when a paid internship to work with VOICES of 9/11 opened up, encouraged me to apply. She saw my interest in digital archiving and mentored me into positions that allowed me to grow personally and professionally. Most importantly, when an adjunct faculty position opened up to teach the Cultural Memorials and Digital Archives course, she was right there with a recommendation.
When I was looking for an independent study placement the first summer I was in the program, Debbie Herman, Head of Electronic Resources and Information Systems (ERIS) at Central Connecticut State University, took me onboard even though her work space was being renovated. The department offices were in various stages of reconstruction, but she made a space for me when she could just as easily have said no. She put me to work on the Veterans History Project, then encouraged me to pick a special project to work on. That project, digitizing CCSU’s earliest yearbooks, was the beginning of their archival yearbook collection and my passion for making archives accessible.
Debbie had the vision to see something in me and mentored me in experiences that nurtured those interests. She trusted me enough that over the course of the next year, I was able to work with Wit Meesangnil (currently Digital Services Manager at Fordham University and one of the architects of LibWizard v2!) redesigning and conducting usability testing on CCSU’s library website. I mention these projects not to draw attention to myself, but to stress how willing Mary and Debbie were to mentor me, to make space for me to work on real-life projects and to grow into the profession. I think back to how insecure I was around people who did their jobs with ease, about my own ability to do any of these jobs well, and how crucial their belief in me was to my development as a librarian: they mentored me into being the librarian I am today and I am thankful to them both.
So as this wild ride of a school year comes to a close, I hope we all take a few minutes to think of and perhaps reach out to those who have mentored us into being as librarians and to continue the wonderful work we all do as AISL librarians mentoring others.