Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why I do what I do

I'm so tired of being down and serious, so I'm going to focus on what inspires me. Right now, for as stressful as it is, what is inspiring me most is my job.

I think anyone who hasn't been living in a bomb shelter or under a rock for the entirity of their lives would agree that life rarely allows you to take the path that you laid out for yourself. Something always twists and veers and leads you not to where you think you are going, but where you are headed (whether you know where that is or not). When I made the decision to go back to college in 2009, it was ostensibly to finish a degree I had started long earlier, with one slight change--I decided that, since years of playing piano through multiple hand injuries had taken their toll, it no longer made any sense for me to pursue a music degree. I changed my major to my second love--history--and in about fifteen months, I had my B.A. I never anticipated falling in love with the history program, but within six months of being in it, I was hooked. I also witnessed the collapse of pretty much any job opportunities I might have had coming out of college at that time (thanks to the housing market and subsequent economic crash), so I decided to stay in school and pursue a Master's of Arts in history. I took the GRE, applied to grad school, found out I was pregnant, was accepted into the MA program, had my son three months into my first semester, and roughly two and a half years later, graduated. From the moment I decided to pursue graduate coursework, the plan was always to either work for the state department as an interpreter, since I'm good at languages, or to work for a museum as a director or curator.

I ended up being hired as a senior level manager in the city's main library. 

Without question, at the time I considered this position to be a stepping stone job. I never intended to stay long--two, maybe three years, get the experience I needed, and move on to a museum job, wherever it might be. It really made sense though, that I ended up in the library, and with kids in particular. My entire professional career had centered around education, direction, management, event coordination, and the arts, so I certainly had the chops to do the practical side of the job. As for the books part, let me assure you that the word "bookworm" doesn't even begin to describe me as a kid. For years, my mom's nephews (by her stepsister), whenever we would see them, couldn't remember my name. They would simply ask, "Where's that girl with the book?" I've always been a particularly voracious reader. Regardless, it took me until I had been at the library for well over a year before I started recognizing that there might be a real career there for me, and that I could make a real difference in this city that holds such a stronghold on my heart.

During my second day on the job, one of my colleagues said, "The public library is the last true bastion of democracy left in the world." I had never really considered that before, but it's so true. Anyone can come in, for any reason, and have access to whatever information they need or want, no matter what. Or as a far more eloquent American that I once said:

I work with kids, so I am constantly searching out ways for them to find the best information for research projects, upcoming books from popular authors, or helping them find something new to read when they've hit a wall (we've all been there, I think). I love working with the public, talking to people, hearing their stories, making personal connections. I love testing the limits of how accepting the community can be--for example, last June I raised a LOT of eyebrows by approving and helping to implement a display for LGBT Pride month. It was a massive success though. Last summer we had a family that found themselves homeless and came to the library every day, from open to close, to escape the intense heat and to scour the internet, looking for employment opportunities. They had a shelter to go to at night, but during the day, they lived in their car. Family of five. After the third week, with the start of school coming and the end of summer reading, and aching from seeing the kids wearing the same clothes they had worn the week before, but inside out, I and a few members of my staff gave the kids some of the prize books from summer reading to put in their donated book bags, and made sure they had plenty of pencils and notebooks so that mom and dad had a few less things to have to provide. They were so happy, and we've seen very little of them since, so I'm hoping that means that the tide has turned a little. What a gift, to be able to help those in need in such a small, but important way.

Kids are the next generation of leaders, whether our current leaders want to admit it or not. The future of our communities, cities, states, countries, and the entire world, is in the hands of those children and what they are learning AT THIS VERY MOMENT. I understand that there are important and pressing problems that need to be addressed right now, that can't wait, but the bottom line is that if those problems are being dealt with at the expense of our children, we--ALL OF US--are screwed. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but in twenty or thirty years these problems will come to a head and we will have an entire generation of leaders who have no idea how to work collectively, how to problem solve, how to search for the right answers, and most importantly, have the proper perspective to know what those right answers are, not just for one segment of the population, but for everyone. Right now we have a generation of children that are being taught how to take tests, not how to learn. The standardization of public education has taken precedence over teaching the next generation how to think critically. I can't change that by myself, as much as I would like to scream it from the mountain tops. What I can do, however, is make sure that I influence every single child that comes into the library in search of information, talk to them, work through problems with them, and try to spark a love for learning and researching in them. I think that's one hell of a career to have, and those kids--and their caregivers, no matter who they are--inspire me every day to work harder for them. They truly are our future. They are worth as much time as I can give them.

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