This interview is over 1 year old and may no longer be up to date or reflect the interviewee/interviewees’ positions
by Joy Rodriguez, Head Editor, INALJ Delaware
Changing Library Career Tracks After Graduation, Britt Foster . . . Solo Librarian
When she graduated from library school in 2011, Britt Foster planned on working as a children’s librarian in a public library. Instead, her career took a different turn and she ended up landing a position that she loves, as a solo librarian in a special library located on the campus of Fresno State University in Fresno, California.
Joy: Tell us about your background and how you came to work at the V.E. Petrucci Library?
Britt: I grew up in Kerman, California, which is a small agricultural town west of Fresno in California’s Central Valley. After graduating from San Francisco State University as a double major in English Literature and Creative Writing, I attended UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies for my Masters of Library and Information Science. My focus was on youth services and public librarianship and after working part-time for Los Angeles Public Library, I returned to the Central Valley in search of a full-time position. When the position of librarian opened at the V.E. Petrucci Library, several friends forwarded me the posting. Even though it wasn’t a position in youth services, I was really intrigued by the outreach and extension component of the job. I started part-time, and went full-time several months later. I’ve been with the library for a little over a year now.
Joy: How does this library differ from a public library or a large academic library?
Britt: The V.E. Petrucci Library is a really unique institution. We are funded by the Viticulture and Enology Alumni Association, and we are the only stand-alone viticulture and enology library in the United States. Viticulture, or the science of growing grapevines, and enology, or the science of winemaking, are very important disciplines in this part of the United States: Fresno is at the heart of the grape industry, and Fresno State has one of the few Departments of Viticulture and Enology in the world. In line with this, the V.E. Petrucci Library serves the students, faculty, and researchers within the Department of Viticulture and Enology, as well as the grape, raisin, and wine industry, and the general public.
We’re a small library– I’m the only librarian– but we get reference questions from all over the world, as well as from our neighbors. This component of my job looks like public librarianship. I also do a lot of the things academic librarians do, like information literacy instruction for our students and research assistance for faculty. There is a third component to my position that I think could best be described as embedded librarianship. I join project teams that are looking at different issues, like digital learning initiatives or development, and use my skills as a librarian to support the implementation of the project. Sometimes this means using multimedia tools to design and disseminate research conducted in the department– I once stood in the bottom of a six foot hole in a vineyard with an iPad to create a lesson plan on soil analysis. Other times it can look like designing information management tools to bring the components of a project together in an efficient way.
Joy: How did you transition from children’s librarianship in a public library to your current position?
Britt: One of the great things about preparing to be a children’s librarian is the opportunity to touch on all aspects of librarianship– collection development and management, programming, technology, reference. Having that educational background was great for stepping into a position as a solo librarian. I manage the collection, teach ILI, design and manage the library’s website, make decisions about information technology, plan development campaigns, and my work desk is the reference desk. I don’t get to do much with felt boards, anymore, though, which is unfortunate.
I also benefitted from a great community of librarians who, true to our profession, were excellent resources and open to all of my (many!) questions. Micah Vandegrift at Florida State University was awesome– I emailed him in a panic about scholarly communications right after being hired and he gave me a crash course with resources I still use today. The librarians at our campus library, Henry Madden Library, have also been incredibly generous with their time and advice. Great colleagues have been key.
To be honest, the transition was challenging, but I think a librarian’s heart is a librarian’s heart. I became a librarian because I’m in love with service, I’m in love with teaching and with elevating the pursuit of knowledge. Connecting, 2 or 22 or 62 patrons with resources and honoring their information needs just makes my heart pound. Seriously– isn’t our profession the best?
Joy: What do you like about being a solo librarian? What are the challenges?
Britt: The hardest thing about being a solo librarian for me is not working with other librarians. I love librarians! I think we are such a diverse and fascinating community. When I get to work with the librarians at Henry Madden Library, it’s amazing. I’m like an eager sponge, if sponges can be eager.
On the flip side, I also really enjoy working with professionals in disciplines outside of librarianship. Working with scientists in particular has been great– there are really interesting things happening in science communication and scholarship right now, and I love to discuss this with my colleagues.
Joy: Which courses, internships, or previous positions gave you the skill set to thrive in your current job?
Britt: I can’t emphasize enough the value of my courses in the psychology of learning, or my youth services courses that touched on pedagogy, instructional design, and developmental psychology. Rebecca Halpern posted this excellent piece on ACRLog on how essentially all librarians are educators, and I couldn’t agree more. I think a firm grounding in educational theory gives you a great tool box to design innovative and engaging lessons and resources. In the same vein, I was an enrichment and special education instructor before becoming a librarian, and these positions really taught me to be aware of and honor everyone’s learning process. I draw on lessons those students taught me all the time in thinking about how to best serve my patrons.
In grad school, I also interned with the Santa Monica Public Library and the Los Angeles Public Library– busy, busy reference desks, high traffic. These internships were excellent training for how to provide great reference with great customer service to a diversity of patrons.
Joy: Favorite website/blog?
Britt: Well, I think Hack Library School and In the Library with the Lead Pipe are doing fascinating things for the conversations we have about LIS. I love ACRLog, Academic Librarian (Wayne Bivens-Tatum), Librarian Squared (Elizabeth Jardine), and The ‘M’ Word- Marketing Libraries for keeping me thoughtful and imaginative with the ways I do my job. I also enjoy Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education for being tuned in to trends and innovations in higher education.
Joy: Favorite thing about libraries/library technologies?
Britt: I love that libraries are empowering. Libraries empower their patrons, they empower their communities. Knowledge is so beautiful, but it can seem remote: privileged and inaccessible. Libraries have this wonderful mission of taking it off the pedestal, giving it to the people, and letting everyone hack and chip away at it, making knowledge and learning very real and organic.
Joy: Best piece of job hunting/career advice?
Britt: This may sound corny, but be you! Be honest and open. I think there is a lot of pressure to be an expert– a lot of it self-inflicted– and that’s such an unrealistic expectation. I have found that in admitting “I don’t know,” instead of being judged I’m given tools and resources to figure it out.