My interview with success story, Amy
Naomi: How did you find your current job?
Amy: It was posted to my university, San Jose State’s, listserv. The application call mentioned library innovation in an urban setting, both things I’m drawn to, so it definitely caught my eye.
Naomi: Favorite library you have been to?
Amy: Central Library, in downtown Los Angeles, is a beautiful behemoth of a library. It was originally built in 1926, and I love the ancient Egyptian influences. The north staircase is guarded by two large sphinxes carved out of black Belgian marble that represent the mysteries of knowledge. After an arson in 1986 the library was renovated, and some of the new additions are really neat – for instance, the elevators are wallpapered in cards from old card-catalog files.
I also love the eclectic special collections it’s accumulated over the years. The Literature and Fiction department has a card catalog with former librarians’ defenses for not purchasing titles that I browse whenever I get a chance. The defenses can get incendiary – in one I recall a librarian arguing that a book was intellectually vapid, poorly written, and otherwise a shame to have on the shelf. And so on, for three paragraphs, in library hand. They’re absolutely delightful.
Naomi: Favorite book?
Amy: Oh, my. So many. Recently I read Hector Tobar’s The Barbarian Nurseries, which I really enjoyed. It looks at the lives of women from different sides of a social divide – an underpaid housemaid from Mexico City, and the Orange County mother of three she works for. They have so much in common, yet know virtually nothing of each other. Their ignorance and misunderstandings ignite one weekend in a way that alters both of their lives forever.
Naomi: Favorite thing about libraries/ library technology?
Amy: I love R. David Lankes’ idea that as librarians our task is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in our communities. As a librarian I see myself as an educator, and believe the work we do extends far beyond the format we store information in to what’s happening inside of the people we connect it with. That transformation can happen through art, through books, through music or technology—anything. I just finished a project with Latino tween boys that incorporated social media and poetry, and it was very rewarding for me to help them find their voices and offer the library as a platform in which they could explore them.
Naomi: Any websites or feeds or blogs we should be following?
Amy: Any serious library researcher should definitely be following Library Problems.
Lately I’ve found myself at the Library as Incubator Project and Teen Librarian’s Toolbox.
Naomi: Best piece of job hunting advice?
Amy: There’s a lot written about librarians being neutral professionals, and while I never subscribed to that myself it somehow always translated into stripping myself of personality as I wrote cover letters or interviewed. This job sounded like a dream to me, and I never in a million years thought I’d be hired for it. That freed me enough to say, “What the hell. I’ll just tell them what I really think.”
The application required an essay about why you would be a good fit for the job. I didn’t give my life story, but I did speak about growing up poor in Los Angeles, the huge part public libraries have played in my life, and how passionate I am about libraries being community centers. I also spoke about my vision for what libraries can be in our communities, and how my interest and expertise in the arts and humanities can contribute to that.
I’m convinced this played a huge part in landing me the job. So my best piece of advice is, be confident and be yourself. Organizations are looking to hire people that will be part of their workplaces, and they want to get a glimpse of your personality. Share your interests, share what you’re passionate about, and back that up with whatever experience you have. Capitalize on the positive.
“I grew up in a gateway city just outside of Los Angeles. Like many families in our community, mine struggled with poverty. But I was fortunate enough to live around the block from a public library, and to be raised by two women who loved to read. The first thing my grandmother did in the morning was read her Bible, and my mother was always buried in the tomes of Anne McCaffrey or Jane Auel. I loved fiction early on, and as I grew older I continued to read in order to understand myself and those around me. Literature allowed me to escape a sometimes difficult upbringing, and fueled my imagination and hope for the future.”