By Diana T.
In October 2005, I re-entered the work force after 15 years of being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. I started as a shelver at Northfield Public Library in Northfield, MN, then very quickly morphed over to Outreach Coordinator there, driving the bookmobile to low income neighborhoods, county towns without a library, and day cares.
Story time was so much fun, laughing and learning with the kids who confused me with Booker, the bookmobile. They even quickly took to calling me Booker, or even Booker Bus, as well as Miss Diana. One little fella named Michael told me at the end of story time one day that he was going to marry me! When I replied that I was already married and that I was quite a bit older than he was, he asked, “How old are you?” I countered with, “How old do you think I am?” He stared intently at me for a long time and finally pronounced with emphasis, “105!”
I cried for two days when I left that job, but I had been offered the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to make history in my little corner of
the world by opening a library in my hometown, which had never had a library before. I earned my stripes as Director of Lonsdale Public Library in Lonsdale, MN, where the steep learning curve was more of a vertical ascent. It was a hugely satisfying challenge to turn an empty shell of a space into a library in less than four months.
June 3rd of 2013, I swerved my career again. I loved being the director of a small-town library, but, sadly, it was a part-time gig with no benefits. So, I accepted a new full-time position as a library technician in an academic library at Saint Paul College in St. Paul, MN.
While the move was a step backward in title, it was a step forward in many other ways. Being able to take a paid vacation, along with the fact that I have always been attracted to the atmosphere of intense learning in the academic setting were huge draws for me. I was hoping to help students succeed as they pursued their goals and dreams, and I eagerly anticipated helping them research interesting, wide-ranging subject matter.
Over that first, quiet, summer semester, the questions ranged from helping one young woman locate scholarly articles on the correlation between faith and recovery from illness to teaching a young man how to turn on a computer. I was surprised at the huge range in technical literacy skills, but found the students who had the greatest skills gap were the most hungry to learn.
Once the busier fall semester began a few weeks later, I was startled by how many students came into the library with research anxiety, looking as frightened and confused as I’ve ever seen anyone look. Many of our students are traditional, but quite a few are older folks who are looking to retrain in a different field. Interestingly, both kinds of students often tell me how overwhelmed they feel by all the skill sets they need to acquire before they can even begin to work on their first class assignments. Luckily, they generally know enough to find their way to the library where they ask for and receive all the help we can give.
One fall day, an older student came to the service desk and asked me to show her how to use a computer to complete an assignment. Once I surmised that she needed a word processing program and showed her how to set up the professor’s requisite formatting in Word, I thought she was on her way. At that point she confided in me that she was 46 years old, had just begun college to train for a career and had no idea how to proceed. She asked me if I would please read her first assignment and explain what it was she was supposed to do. I told her I would be happy to do that and also reassured her that she would catch on in no time and that she was going to do just fine.
Now, this woman was clearly quite intelligent. She was organized, she had come looking for help in the right place and she knew what questions to ask. What she really needed from me was some patient reassurance and moral support. She could and would have figured out what the professor was asking for on her own, but fortunately, she didn’t have to. I was right there, ready and willing to help her by giving her the initial leg-up that she needed to overcome the crippling anxiety that was hindering her in her attempt to start a whole new and different chapter of her life.
Once I explained how I thought she should proceed and allayed her fears, this visibly relieved woman asked my name, shook my hand and thanked me sincerely. I smiled and assured her that it was my pleasure and that I was very happy to help. I believe I was as grateful for the opportunity
to help her gain the confidence she needed to overcome her anxiety as she was to have someone who was willing to take some extra time to deconstruct something she had perceived as daunting. Whenever she passes by the library, she waves, smiles and calls out a warm greeting, which I happily return.
Helping and teaching people so they can pursue their objectives and fulfill their ambitions is good for them, but also satisfying for me. Finding meaningful and interesting work isn’t part of the benefit package, but it sure does rock – and though I will always miss, “Miss Diana, did you ever hide behind a dinosaur’s tail when you were a kid? and other questoins from story time, I still have plenty of reasons to smile.