(When I imagine telling my library origin story I’m in a bar; a disaster of some nature has happened and not only am I a librarian, I’m a hard drinking freedom fighter with scars and leather pants, meeting slightly dangerous men (in that classic romance novel sense), to carry out some covert task that would probably get me shot if I was ever caught. Yeah okay so I’ve probably over dramatized it but it’s my origin story okay?)
It happened a bit like this.
I’m not sure how I ended up as a freedom fighter, I mean it isn’t the job I dreamed of doing when I was younger. In fact, sometimes I’m still amazed that I am a librarian, given the twisty path I took to get here.
I actually wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. When I was eight, I wrote a story called Peter and Jane go off on an adventure or some such, my teacher thought it was great and ever since then I wanted to write and tell stories.
I wanted to go to Deakin and study their professional writing course but there was an interview component and at 17 I thought, who’d want me in their course anyway? How I came to think like that, is well, another story.
I also grew up in an era where you did sensible things – science was sensible, arts was a one-way trip to the unemployment queue. So, I ended up at Monash studying science, travelling daily from the other side of Melbourne for 8am lectures. I had heaps of fun but it obviously never really my thing. I realised halfway through my third year that I was probably on the wrong path.
When you are 20, you think there’s no way back from the terrible mistake of choosing the wrong career. At 40 you know that nothing is ever really wasted… (Well somethings are but this is not the time or place). I wanted to use my very expensive education and combine it with the thing I loved – writing. Apparently, science journalism was the answer.
Given what’s happened to journalism in Australia, it’s probably a good thing that I would have made a terrible journalist (also there were/are very few jobs). I would have been eaten alive in newsrooms and at the age of 25 was way too scared of my own shadow to do the tough work that journos do every day.
There’s an irony in all this for me, in that I’m renowned for asking tough questions; saying the thing that everyone else is thinking but no one wants to say. A great skill for a journalist but 15 or so years too late.
But I needed to work and doing anything was better than the sheer boredom of being unemployed. Seriously, this was the late 90s, there was only so much Oprah and Days of our Lives a girl could cope with. I ended up in admin at RMIT first with engineering and then the journalism department. The work was dull but the people were awesome. Many of my very very best friends come from those years.
It should come as a surprise to no one that administration was not my life’s purpose. And because we live in an era where finding your life’s purpose is a thing, for much of my time in admin I did wonder if life really was just pointless. It was kind of a hollow feeling in my chest and vague disappointment that this was the best I could achieve or hope for.
One day a friend asked me if you could do any job in the world you wanted what would it be… I said books without even thinking about it.
If I have a true love it would be books, a sustaining force in my life which made my sometimes difficult world easier. When reading I could be Danielle, the heroine, Danielle the adventurer, not Danielle who does admin and who was never quite brave enough to go for it.
I’m a classic “I became a librarian because I love books and reading” person. Yeah, I know, right? Worst reason in the world to become a librarian. But there you go…
I’m pretty much convinced that someone invented public libraries to torture all the book loving librarians. I mean the shelves are stocked with books, sitting there with their alluring shiny covers, just waiting to be picked up and read. And then… Someone asks you to help them print.
We often bemoan those book lovers who want to be librarians. Despite our focus on literacy, public libraries are not about books and reading (except they also kind of are). If we were to dig deeper, the love of reading isn’t the issue, it’s the lack of diversity within our industry, it’s the stereotype of who our industry attracts that is the problem. (I might write something on this one day).
As an industry, we can probably do a fair bit to counteract this, we need to be open about the realities of library work. We need to make it clear that shy and retiring isn’t really going to cut it. This is something I learnt with the help of mentors along the way, it’s changed me – probably for the better.
It’s like when I chose this career, a switch turned on in my brain and I kind of grew into myself, if that makes any sense. I’m way more confident than I used to be, I’m bolder. I actually like people (in moderation, let’s not be crazy).
In this career, I’ve found something that I love doing. Early on, I remember saying to someone that I felt that being a librarian was my calling. Yeah that’s totally romanticised but there’s something special in getting to be of service to others. We get a unique insight; a lot of the time it’s run of the mill, sometimes it’s memorable, and sometimes it makes for great laughs over a wine at the end of the day.
I can still honestly say I don’t exactly know how I ended up here, I just kind of did. And I’m very happy I did.
After all what other career would let me combine things I’m good at and are mentally stimulating, with doing something useful for the world? And what other career would give you opportunities to paint yourself as a freedom fighting heroine in your own boring origin story…
So as I sit here downing my shot of vodka with my now enamoured slightly dangerous contact and finish my story.
“It’s kind of a natural progression from librarian to freedom fighter, I mean our profession is all about equality and making information accessible to all and when people try to take that away, well, we fight back because we are a lot of things but we are not neutral.”
He passes me the documents, which I tuck into my Keep Calm I’m a librarian satchel and I walk out into the cold starless night.