Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stepping Out of the Online Shell

by AnnMarie Hurtado

As I sit down to write this, I am sharing a cup of coffee with my husband and thinking about the day ahead. I plan to spend time this morning researching the popularity of manga among teens. I will surf the internet for articles about anime conventions and merchandise, and I will put together a list of important websites. After lunch I’m off to the library where I’ll help the teen librarian load projectors and decorations into her car, and then we’ll drive to the Nixon Library for Yorba Linda’s Teen Film Festival. I’ll spend the rest of the evening immersed in the worlds created by the talented teens of our community—and I’ll be getting paid to do it.

I don’t have to look very far back to wonder if this is really my life. Only six months ago I was working full time in a sales office and chipping away at my core classes for SJSU-SLIS. I was tired, stressed, and though enjoying everything I learned, I sometimes felt discouraged about my future. Perhaps getting my hopes up about library work was just another expensive romp through Dreamland—like majoring in Literature had been. I strained myself to read my textbooks in my few remaining hours of the day. Finding six units per semester to be too much for me, I lowered my course load to three. My degree was not getting any closer, and I often wondered: wouldn’t it be easier to resign myself to a life of paper pushing?

In a way, the very thing that had made SJSU-SLIS’s online program so attractive to me—taking classes while keeping my full time job—was really starting to burn me out. The tendency to make my library studies into a private goal that I pursued in my time off was only making me more afraid to take risks and embrace change.

I needed to talk to somebody, and decided it was time I called up a former elementary schoolmate who I heard got her master’s from SJSU and became a public librarian. I felt a lot better after talking to her. She encouraged me to stick with the program and to start browsing library job listings.

There weren’t many jobs available in my area at the time. I eventually found a library assistant position thirty miles away from me, and tested for it, telling my boss I was “sick” and feeling awful about the deception. When I showed up and found hundreds of other applicants competing for the same job, I felt even worse about my prospects.

But it forced me to realize something: there was no fairy godmother who was going to turn me into a librarian overnight. It didn’t matter to the library world what grades I had. I was going to have to do more to show I had something to offer.

Amazingly, once I recognized that I’d have to do more than just school, SJSU was there with open arms, providing numerous opportunities for connecting with librarians!

It started out small: I made it a point to introduce myself to the librarians I met when hunting books for class projects. I told them I was an SJSU student, and most librarians I met were alumni, willing to help me with anything I needed. I began reaching out to my classmates for more than academics; we helped each other search for jobs in our different locations.

Paying more attention to the listserv emails that had flooded my inbox for so long, I heard about the “Banned Books Read-Out” for LISSTEN and volunteered to present Huckleberry Finn. I felt instantly at home there; everybody presented the books with enthusiasm. After I read from Huck Finn we had a lively debate about its controversial language. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was networking, making friends with people who shared my interests. I was connecting with people who could help me translate those passions into possibilities.

Two of the LISSTEN officers I met invited me to volunteer in their library’s children’s department. I started going there on Saturdays to help them collect books for various displays. They were so kind to me, giving me experience doing bibliographies and other creative things. They also offered to be references for me when I applied for jobs.

I heard about an opening for a library assistant in Yorba Linda, close to where I live, and applied for it. Having these references and experiences behind me, I interviewed with newfound confidence. Although the job went to someone with years of experience, the manager asked me to substitute during the evenings whenever another librarian called in sick. Several librarians there had started out as subs, and many later got their degrees from SJSU. Knowing that made me feel I was right where I needed to be.

I came in several nights a week for training, making some of my eight-hour days into twelve-hour days. My coworkers at the office noticed I was dressing differently—more “professionally.” The library didn’t require this change. I just felt excited about life again, and wanted to show my appreciation for what I was doing.

I may actually owe my fairy godmother an apology: my transition to permanent library work was appallingly brief. I was training less than a month before another part-time position opened up and was offered to me.

It’s been four months since I said goodbye to office work, and SJSU was the catalyst that pushed me toward this change. My library schedule gives me the time and practice I need for getting the most out of school. And my school, in turn, continues to open doors for me. This summer, I’m enrolled in 294 for an internship with OCPL, and I’m very excited.
Had I not heard about SJSU’s online program, I might never have aspired to anything but secretarial work. But if I hadn’t discovered the value of participating in groups like LISSTEN, I might have stayed a secretary anyway! This program showed me a path for my life, but it was the people I met who got me there.

AnnMarie Hurtado is a second-year MLIS student emphasizing in public library services for youth. She works as a library assistant at Yorba Linda Public Library, and lives in nearby Brea with her husband.

Photo taken by John Hurtado.

1 comment:

  1. I was searching online, gathering ideas for a new career, and found this informative article! Thank you, AnnMarie. -Jamison Slee.