From the time I was a boy, I always wanted to be a teacher. I’m sure there was a period where I wanted to be a fireman, or a soldier, maybe a police officer, a forest ranger. I know I harbored the delusion of being a professional athlete (a dream which took longer than it should have to fade), and being a rock star often seemed like a really fun thing to do, but in the rational part of my head, teaching was always the goal.
At first, I wanted to teach high school. I could be like Mrs. Jenkins, my 10th grade English teacher. She inspired me to do better. She was always relaxed and composed, rarely ruffled by the insanity teenagers can produce. I wanted to help create thinkers, especially out of students who didn’t think they were capable of it.
Then I met Howard Shorthill. He was an adjunct professor at the community college, 28 years old, intelligent and quit witted. He challenged me in ways I hated at first. I flunked the first course I took from him (I foolishly thought that would hurt him more than it did me). After re-evaluating my educational goal, I wanted to prove to Howard that I was better than the E I earned in his course. I took his literature classes, all four of them, as well as his writing courses. He still challenged me, but this time, I accepted. I listened. I paid attention. I learned how to think, how to question, how to evaluate evidence. I wanted to teach like Howard. I wanted to help guide struggling college students, like me.
During my time at the University of Utah, my exposure to academia (professors trying to publish and seeking tenure) killed that desire. The thought of pursuing a graduate degree in literature or writing no longer appealed to me. In my opinion, many academics see teaching as a burden. Many prefer scholarship to educating others.
I still wanted a Master’s degree, and decided to apply to graduate programs in creative writing. It seemed exciting, and it would provide the graduate degree I needed to teach junior college, which was, as always, the goal.
While awaiting my inevitable rejection letters, the library reared up and sucked me in.
I needed a part time job, something to do while waiting for schools to decide my fate. My wife suggested trying the library. I was offered a job in the circulation department and started working in August of 2000.
It took less than three months before I knew I’d stumbled into the career of my dreams. Librarianship combined many the things I loved, wrapped in a clever little package.
Again, I listened. I paid attention. I watched Librarians at work. When I felt ready, I applied to a graduate program and earned a Master’s degree in Library Science.
Being a Librarian was/is amazing. I was finally a teacher, but instead of being limited to one discipline, I was able to help people find information on and learn about thousands of different topics. Working a reference desk, on any given day, I would be asked questions about UFO’s, then witchcraft, followed by someone who wanted to build a deck, or get grant information for a business start up. Every day was different, and while I had my fair share of “where’s the bathroom” moments, I was challenged by my work, and inspired to learn better ways of serving patrons.
After several years at the main library, I transferred to a branch library in a low income community. Many of the patrons did not have internet access at home, couldn’t afford to buy books or movies, and used the library as their primary information source. It was a hard place to work. At times, I despised going, but if I’m honest, it was infinitely rewarding.
Teaching people not only how to find information, but evaluate its content, became my passion. I thought I had found the vocation I would do until I couldn’t do anything anymore. I made connections with patrons, other Librarians, and library employees that developed into intimate friendships. Librarians are some of the funniest, smartest, best looking people on the planet. If you get a chance to attend an event full of Librarians, I suggest you go. It will be one of the best nights in your memory. I dare say, it will change your life.
Leaving the library was among the hardest choices of my life. I knew I needed to be at home with my boys, and they needed me more than I needed the library. Sometimes, I ponder returning, but I have come to terms with the fact that the library portion of my life is over. I am different, and need different things. I will always hold the memories close and advocate for libraries whenever I can. They are places of absolute integrity, not about money or profit, and strive to benefit and serve everyone in their community. There are few places, few careers that can boast something like that.
Here are few snaps of the Salt Lake City Public Library
An image from an average day at the Riverside Library, where I spent four of my ten years working for the library.