My Life as a Sometimes Librarian

by Amy Dittman

My Life as a Sometimes Librarian

It was time for a change in my life. After some serious soul searching and in-depth research into flourishing careers, I chose to return to school. I received my MLS with school media certification in 2-1/2 years…finishing right before the booming Pennsylvania library budget took a nose dive. All those plentiful jobs were suddenly gone. I was unemployed and not very happy about it. I would have loved to stay at home eating bon-bons and painting my nails, but it just doesn’t suit me. I gain weight too easily and my nails would cause any manicurist many a sleepless night. I also like being busy. I like being around people. I like a challenge. This explains my love of my first library job as a county cataloguer. I will be perfectly honest…I don’t know why they hired me. The end of the interview went like this:

Interviewer: So, Amy, tell me why you would like this job? (said in a delightful Southern drawl)
Me: I’m not sure I do. This seems like a really nice place but, in truth, I am terrified of cataloguing. My husband used to find me head down at the kitchen table, crying, with all the manuals spread out and my homework in a messy pile. I find it so confusing. Although I am very organized, a quick learner, and a hard worker, I am sure there must be others more qualified, more in love with the process.

Interviewer: I know you’ll be great. Can you start on Monday?
I did. I worked that part-time position for a year. My wonderful boss was right. I ended up loving what I did. Every day was a scavenger hunt. I solved puzzles. I poked and prodded until I found the info I needed to correctly catalogue an item. At the end of the year, I was offered a full-time job: half-time cataloguing and half-time children’s services for the county. I was thrilled. It was just what I wanted.

Two weeks later my boss, one of the sweetest people I have ever met, called me into the office. She was truly distraught as she explained that the budget had been drastically cut and, of course, the last person hired is the first person fired. Back to square one.

I went back to teaching. I do love teaching and the time I was away made me ready for the children again. I taught second grade for the next six years. I ran a very organized classroom. Bright. Clean. Always smelled really good (scented candles on a hidden warmer work wonders). Strict but fun. On any given day, I might break into song or tap dance through a lesson. Students knew they had to do their best, had to be responsible and respectful. We worked really hard. My students were tired, really tired, by 2:40PM as we had no “down time”. Each day ended with a poem read as a group (like Elvis, like a goldfish under water, like an opera singer) and a chapter from some wonderful book (complete with different voices for each character and a dramatic “That’s all for today” right at the most exciting point). One parent told me that, over a dinner discussion about me, her son stood up and said, “You never know what that woman is going to do!”

I have considered redoing my resume with just my contact information and that quote.

At the end of six years, my husband had the opportunity to take a new job out-of-state. It wasn’t definite, but it felt like a pretty good bet, so I resigned my teaching position. Don’t take me to Vegas; I obviously am not that good at placing a pretty good bet.

The next school year was going to start without me. I was in a panic. Our daughter was leaving for college. My husband would be back in his college classroom. I would be alone having staring contests with the cat—and she is really good at staring.

Then my husband brought home an ad for the children’s librarian in our town. He didn’t really think I’d apply. I sent my resume on Wednesday, interviewed on Friday, and was offered the job on Monday.

It was perfect. I worked three days per week, twenty-one hours. In those twenty-one hours, I wrote a blog, worked a few hours on the desk, and planned for and implemented 18 story times. Most of my story times were off site. I went to schools, daycares, after-school programs, and the YMCA, seeing about 200 children per week. I did beginning story programs and songs with 2-year-olds. I started by seeing them just once a month for 15 minutes. Imagine my surprise when, on my second visit, several of the toddlers ran to me with books about bears, bears being what we read the first time. I took a bathtub toy I named Mr. Pinkfish (can you guess what he looked like?) when I saw the preschoolers. Mr. Pinkfish often did outrageous things: he flew in on a magic carpet, wore a Santa hat, stayed warm in a mitten, wore a beautiful Dr. Seuss hat he made himself ( he was incredibly creative and mischievous), and even dressed as a carrot (a bunny being too predictable) for Easter. The kids really wanted to see him get married, but I never did find him a suitable mate.

I did booktalks with 5th through 8th graders. Their program was also only supposed to be once a month. After our first program, one rather outspoken girl asked why it would be a whole month until I returned. I honestly told her that the administration did not think they would be interested in seeing me more often. The kids took a vote. I went back every week. The summer reading program was very simple but incredibly fun. We read a lot, ate some wonderful (and not so wonderful) food, made some interesting crafts, and learned poems, rhymes, songs and fingerplays.

Fall arrived and so did the opportunity to move out-of-state (yep, again). So I resigned my job, packed up all our belongings (56 boxes of books from my home library did not make anyone helping us to move very happy), and put everything in storage. Due to a glitch in the seller’s paperwork, my husband and I have been living in a hotel for three weeks (with our very unhappy cat). I have had a lot of time to look for a new job. No luck so far.

My dream job? I would love to work in a college library as a liaison between the library and the education department. I would like to work with young teachers, demonstrating techniques for engaging students in stories. I would love to help them find topical resources and materials to use when they student teach. It combines the best of both worlds for me.

Until I find that job, I will look for the job that will lead me there. In the meantime, I will unpack 56 boxes of books and arrange furniture and unload dishes and decorate two Christmas trees and try to make friends again with my angry feline. Oh, and I will start working again on the blog I started the last time I was unemployed. That should keep me from going stir-crazy for about…two weeks.

Amy will be my January 16th interviewee. In the meantime, Amy Dittman has worked as a teacher in a Montessori school, a Catholic elementary school, a vocational high school, and an alternative education high school. She also had a wonderful time as a children’s librarian in a small rural town. Currently getting settled five hours from her previous home, she is busy trying to find a niche in her new community as well as creating a new home library to house her family’s 5,000+ book collection. For Christmas, she received the next two collections of the 1960s television show Dark Shadows, so she will also be happily updating her blog The Dark Shadows of Unemployment.

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ.com. INALJ has had over 18.5 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 & 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro. She presents whenever she can, most recently thrice at the American Library Association's Annual Conference as well as breakout talk presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa and as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting, at the National Press Club, McGill University, the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has relocated to being nomadic. She runs her husband’s moving labor website, KhanMoving.com, fixes and sells old houses and assists her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food as well. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 

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