So you wanna be a librarian?

by Nina Gee and Irina Malyugina

If you’ve been at Harker for more than a year, chances are you’ve probably had contact with one or more of the campus librarians. Their skill sets seem endless, from evaluating your interpretation of a literary theory to finding obscure primary documents for that history research essay. They are a significant part of school life, and yet the details of their job go nearly unnoticed here at school. So what do our librarians actually do?

“[A good librarian is] somebody who both loves and can find information expertly, but I think that that’s really only half of it,” PS-12 Library Director Lauri Vaughan said. “You got to be able to somehow hand over part of that skill and not just hand over the information, but also hand over the skill and the enthusiasm for finding good information.”

Like the details of the job itself, the path to becoming a librarian is more complex than meets the eye.

Everybody that’s a professional librarian has to get a Masters degree in Library Science or Information Science,” Sue Smith said. “Often times, I’m in a class and I’ll say something, I’ll make a joke about, ‘Oh, yeah, I really went and got a graduate degree for this’ because I’m doing some menial task, and kids are like, ‘You went to graduate school?’ So I think it’s a misunderstood profession in many ways.”

Sue Smith, the former PS-12 Library Director who retired mid-January, began her journey towards librarianship as almost an accident. After leaving her company job for 23 years, she decided to try working at the Harker Upper School’s library  as a parent volunteer.

“I had always been interested in libraries and research even though that was so different than what I had been doing,” Smith said.

Smith soon discovered that she enjoyed her work as a librarian, and decided to wade a little further into the waters of librarianship by applying to library school at San Jose State, which at the time was the only school nearby with such a program.

After working as an archivist and graduating from library school, Smith was able to work as a full-time librarian at the Harker Upper School and eventually become the next library director.

The newly inducted Upper School Library Director, Meredith Cranston, had her mind set on becoming a librarian from a young age.Growing up, the only thing that changed about her aspirations was the type of librarian she wanted to be, shifting her goal from librarianship in an elementary school to working in a high school. When she entered college, Cranston had decided to pursue a career in Special Collections. Though she was impressed with her university’s archives, Cranston found the work a little empty of the human interaction that was important to her idea of librarianship.

“What I enjoyed about my high school librarian was [the way] my high school librarian was the one who taught me how to answer my own questions, and that’s kind of the gift and the skill that I wanted to pass on to other people,” she said.

That is precisely what Qi Huang, Harker’s electronic resources librarian, loves about her job here at Harker.

“For me, I fell in love with libraries gradually,” Huang said. “I spent a lot of time in the library school to get this knowledge and  [these] skills and [now that] I have a real job as a librarian, I found that it’s really amazing.”

Ms. Vaughan recalls a similar experience of encountering librarianship as a child.

“I remember actually getting a little pink book from my grandmother, when I was like, eight, “someday, you want to be a librarian,” that had this picture of this woman wearing her sensible shoes, carrying her job bag on the cover. But then I kind of went a different direction, but that was kind of always in the back of my brain.”

After years of experience as an English teacher, Vaughan stepped towards librarianship after moving to New Jersey from California. Vaughan always had a desire to be a librarian, so when her husband, who was working at Rutgers University at the time, suggested that she enter the library school there, she jumped at the chance to enter the industry. When her son went into kindergarten, Vaughan started working towards a Masters in Library or Information Science.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Vaughan said. “Because I had been a school teacher, I already had all the credentials for teaching so I sort of added the librarian credential to my teaching degree.”

Although she wasn’t seeking work when she first returned to California, after applying for a job at the Harker School by chance, Vaughan decided to work there.

“When I came and interviewed with Ms. Smith and the previous director Mrs. Davis it was like ‘Oh, my God, I have never wanted a job more in my life than this job at Harker,’” Vaughan said.

The Library Department’s newest hire, Amy Pelman, looks forward to both working at and creating bonds within the school.

“I’m looking forward to learning like developing new relationships and learning more kids’ names and knowing them better and understanding more of the rhythms of the day and the school year, and getting more into advisory and getting to have some fun in that way,” Pelman said.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on February 20, 2019.