My first memory of a library is pretty sweet. I must have been a little girl – six years old, perhaps – when I followed my kindergarten class into a wonderful room packed with books. Our school librarian came out from behind her desk and gave everybody an old wooden ruler. “What’s this for?” we asked with widening eyes. The librarian smiled. “You’ll need these to mark a book’s home on the shelf,” she said. “If you get confused, I’ll help you.”
From elementary school all the way through college, my young, six-year-old impression of the library stuck with me. If you’d asked me what a library was for, I’d say to find books. If you’d asked what librarians do, I’d say they help you find books. The mystery behind the work of the library turned out not to be so mysterious after all. I thought I had it all figured out.
And then I interned in a library.
Did you ever know academic libraries, school libraries, and public libraries are all different? The librarians in each don’t just help people find books, but they also order books they think their readers will enjoy or need; they pull old books from the shelves and give them away or sell them; they spend hours going through rows of spines to find that one title someone accidentally put in the wrong place; they learn the Dewey-Decimal System and the Alpha-Numeric System and have to decide how to label materials and where to put them; they manage information in electronic databases for thousands of items people can check out; the list goes on and on. Oh, and libraries don’t just deal with books. They are also full of magazines, newspapers, journals, film, and special online resources, too. If you visit the Curriculum Materials Center here at Centennial Library, you’ll find there are even trinkets such as puppets, board games, Spanish moss, and human teeth!
Even though books have an important place in the library, I’ve learned there’s so much more we should come to appreciate. Libraries are here to help us learn. Sure, anyone can go online and Google a question to find an answer these days. But if we’re really going to take research seriously, we probably need to find some writers who have more experience and credentials than a Wikipedia enthusiast or a mommy blog extraordinaire.
For my internship this semester, I’ve participated in computer lab learning sessions with librarians to see why the sources we use in research are important. In fact, the other two interns and I will each create a research guide for a course offered at Cedarville to help students in that course find good research materials. (Research guides can be found here: http://0-libguides.cedarville.edu.library.cedarville.edu/.) The more I see how students (myself included) are tempted to do assignments only to please professors, the more I remind myself that challenges are really what college is supposed to be about. Perhaps we should stop doing things the easiest way and start doing them in a way that will challenge how we think.
I’ve really enjoyed the relational side of this internship. Talking with librarians about what it means to grow intellectually, interviewing Mr. Lynn Brock, the Dean of Library Services, and speaking with Lori Myers in the MediaPlex has shown me that sometimes we really learn the most by simply having conversations. When we research, can we converse with the Internet? I think there is something about interaction with other humans that God meant for our good. This is why I enjoyed stepping behind the Circulation Desk this semester to talk with the ladies who check out our books to us. Getting to know them and learning new information through them made a difference in how much I actually cared about what I was learning. I found I was more excited and invested when I had someone to share my discoveries with.
I also stepped behind the scenes to personally meet Luann Nicholas and learn how Centennial Library is connected to libraries all across Ohio and even across the United States! Our library shares materials with outside libraries, mailing books, magazines, and DVDs all across the country. The library is much more community-centered than I ever before realized. Again, this realization has helped me discover that learning is truly a community activity. I have absolutely adored hearing Luann’s stories about helping students and professors find resources they need. When we had gone through the nitty gritty of Luann’s job, we sat down together and simply enjoyed a cup of her (magnificent!) Chai tea.
I think the biggest thing I’m learning from my time in Centennial Library this semester is that libraries and learning are really all about community. The more I know and love the people I’m learning with, the more I care about what I am learning. There are tons of little things that go on behind the scenes of a library to make the library work, too. But at the end of the day, librarians are here to love learning with you. Maybe someday I’ll be able to inspire learning as a librarian myself.
Centennial Library intern Laura Ullom is a junior English/Spanish double major from Jane Lew, West Virginia. She is a Writing Center tutor and uses her investigative journalism skills to learn more about libraries and librarians.