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They say every relationship has its ups and downs. As librarians prepare to gather in Philadelphia, March 13–17, for the Public Library Association 2012 meeting, libraries and publishers are in something of a down period.

The questions surrounding library e-book lending have devolved into thornier questions about the future of collection building, and equity of access—fundamental missions for libraries.

In the past few months, as the e-book question heated up, one publisher casually expressed to me a view of libraries as little more than an old-school provider of print books on metal shelves. Another did not know what Readers Advisory was. In this increasingly wired, get-it-all-online world, perhaps some in publishing have lost perspective on the work of libraries, of their benefit, of their importance. Maybe it would be helpful to reconnect.

Earlier this month, I took advantage of a gracious offer from PW contributing editor Nancy Pearl and traveled to Seattle, to meet 11 of Nancy’s students in the Information School at the University of Washington. I wanted to see who is choosing to go into the profession, and why. What are their thoughts on the way the information world—and the publishing industry—is developing?

One of the leading information schools in the nation, the University of Washington’s mission goes beyond what you may think of when you think of libraries and librarians. “We prepare information leaders,” the UW mission statement reads. “We research the problems and opportunities of information. We design solutions to information challenges. We make information work.” Making information work is no small feat. Each year, UW officials say, the world creates more than 161 exabytes of new information—enough to fill 2 billion 80GB iPods.

We’re happy to introduce you to 11 librarians with bright futures, and to share some of their thoughts on the future of the profession.

Meet Our Panel

Amy Mikel: I’m a second-year residential MLIS student, and I’m tracked to graduate in June. I’m from Chicago, originally.
April Martin: I’m from New Orleans, and I graduated last June with my MLIS. I am looking to work in a public library, but am also on the fence about academic libraries. I plan to return to New Orleans this summer.
Cherl Petso: I grew up in Idaho, but I’ve lived in Washington for eight years. I was convinced I wanted to go into special libraries until I started interning at Ballard, a branch library in Seattle. I’ve completely fallen in love with it.
Althea Lazzaro: I graduated last year and work at a community college library. I’m originally from upstate New York, but I moved to Seattle from Portland, Ore., where I worked in a bookstore. I also have a master’s in literature.
Denise Douglas-Baird: I was a legal aid attorney, until I began looking for a better career for raising kids. I don’t think you can be family friendly and be against public library funding. I graduated in June 2011, and I’m looking for a job in a public library.
Tim Cahill: I grew up in Montana, but I’ve been in Seattle since the late 1980s. I have a degree in Arabic. I’m interested in reference and instruction, probably in a community college or a university library.
Grace Chung: I’m originally from the southeast, but I moved to Seattle in 2008. I am enrolled in the both the MLIS and the China studies master’s program, and I’m really interested in special libraries.
Lillian Dabney: I grew up in Pennsylvania, but I’ve lived in many places. I am coming to librarianship as a second career—my first was physical therapy. The public library is where my heart is.
Zach Zelinski: I am from Tucson, Ariz., and I moved to Seattle around 2008 and started working for tech startups. I’m not really sure what I want to do with my MLIS. I’m interested in everything.
Jen Malczewski: I’m from Wisconsin, and I come from an art background. I’d like to work somewhere at that intersection between art and museums and libraries.
Andrew Brink: I’m originally from Wisconsin. I studied creative writing and have worked as a writer and editor. I’m doing an internship in an architecture library, and having so much fun I’m considering work in special libraries.

Why Librarianship?

Amy: For me, the decision was partly selfish, partly noble. I was in a career that made me unhappy, even though I was financially secure. I had the luxury of languishing at a job while I thought about what I really wanted to do, but still, it’s a scary moment when you realize that what you did your undergraduate work in, and the job you’ve had for the past five years isn’t what you want to do. So I bumped into the library as an idea, and I consistently feel I’ve made the right decision. Librarianship brings together everything that I care about. It makes me happy in terms of what I have to offer, what I feel I need to be doing, what I have to give back. It’s really fulfilling.

April: I feel like I’m a bit of an outlier when it comes to why I wanted to be a librarian, because I decided a long time ago that this was what I wanted to do. I’ve always spent a lot of time in libraries. I’ve always enjoyed learning about things. And I’m really nosy—although I’ve been told that you have to call it intellectual curiosity when you’re a professional! My path actually started with my undergraduate degree in history, I would get really excited about finding informational treasures. That progressed to being excited about helping others to get excited about pursuing their interests. And I love to serve my community.

Althea: I didn’t go to libraries a lot when I was a kid, and I never really thought about libraries much as an institution. Then I started working in a bookstore in Portland, Ore., a kind of higher-end academic store, and I loved it. I loved being around books, around people, I loved helping people figure out what they were after. But the books we sold, mostly from academic publishers, were really expensive, often $60 or more, and the customers would always end up facing a crisis. It was so hard, and I didn’t know what to do, because I liked my work a lot, but I was really unhappy with that experience. Working at a community college library is the exact opposite experience. When students realize they can get these resources at no cost, beyond their time and curiosity, this light of happiness breaks over their faces. It is so gratifying.

Andrew: In high school, my adviser was the school librarian, and she was great. But one experience I had with a library really drew me to librarianship. When I was going through the coming-out process, after high school and before college, my family had moved to a new town, and it was Gay Pride Month. I went to the public library and they had a suggested reading guide on display. That reading guide led me to a bunch of books and that allowed me to learn a lot about myself that I couldn’t anywhere else.

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