Libraries and Me by Hunter Eckby LCS on 12/15/11
As someone who works for libraries, believes in libraries, and advocates libraries, I decided an appropriate subject for a first blog entry is the impact libraries have had on my life. Because it is impossible to do that subject full justice in a relatively brief blog entry, I present here just a few good memories.
I moved around a lot all of my life, and I had the privilege of enjoying the public library in each place I lived. My fondest memories are of the King County Public Library in the Seattle area, the Richland County Public Library (RCPL) in Columbia, South Carolina, and the Dublin branch of the Oconee Regional Public Library in Georgia. King County has a wonderful collection, and I made extensive use of its vast and varied A/V collection, including compact discs by such artists as Herbie Hancock, James Booker, Thelonious Monk, and Keith Jarrett, as well as the VHS sets "Dr. John Teaches New Orleans Piano" and "How to Play Jazz Piano." I also read "The Hammond Organ: Beauty in the B" for the first time there. It was truly a musician's paradise. I was able to place all of the items on reserve via the Internet; I was then contacted when the items were ready and waiting for me at my local branch. RCPL provided many A/V delights as well, with my personal selections ranging from documentaries on Sweden (home to my ancestors) to a compact disc by the peculiar recording artist Tangerine Dream. And the Oconee Regional Public Library in Dublin, Georgia, brings back memories of giving my first and only piano recital performance, held in one of the conference rooms; checking out every book I could find on movie monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man); and in more recent years, having a very nice place to take my laptop, taking advantage of the high-speed Wi-Fi and wonderful atmosphere to do my work.
Academic libraries have had a major impact on me as well. My first experience with one was with the University of Illinois library system. It was 1986, and the U of I, which I was attending at the time, had the second-largest academic library in the world, which is still true today. It was gigantic and contained almost everything one could ever look for. At that time, I had not yet read the biography "Serpico"; I was walking around then with long, dark hair and a beard, and I was told by numerous people that I looked like Al Pacino in the movie, which piqued my interest in both the movie and the man it portrayed. U of I had at least five copies, all of them with different covers and photographs. Not only did that library have "everything," it had five different editions of "everything." What amazed me just as much was the OPAC. It was 1986, and I had not yet had a real experience with a computer. I found it incredible that I could search that entire, vast collection just by typing in a simple search and then tell the system I wanted a certain item, an item that would then be waiting for me at the circulation desk. For 1986 (or for now, for that matter), it was incredible.
Two other academic libraries, the Russell Library at Georgia College & State University (GCSU) and the Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina, had a great impact on me as well. While working on my bachelor's degree in psychology at GCSU, I became eligible for financial aid through the work-study program. I was excited to find out that there was a work-study opening in the library - not only did I have a love for libraries, but after having spent all of my teenage years working in a lawn mowing business, a paper mill, a carpet mill, and the construction industry, I decided it would be a nice change to work in a building instead of on one.
I never planned to have a professional career in librarianship, but once I started my paraprofessional work, I was hooked. At GCSU, I worked in circulation, interlibrary loan, and technical services. I was amazed at the technology involved in every aspect of my jobs there; once again, it fascinated and captivated me. I could not believe the capabilities. Of course, I decided to pursue an MLIS, which led me to the University of South Carolina and the Thomas Cooper Library. Many a group project was completed in that library, and it was home to us MLIS students.
While working on my MLIS, I worked in technical services at RCPL, which had just built a new main library. It sported a wonderful architectural design and was a true hub and source of pride for the city. It was eventually named "Library of the Year" by Library Journal in 2001. Years later, I returned to RCPL as a reference librarian, allowing me to say that I have worked in every facet of librarianship.
I also remember the beautiful new music library of Columbus State University (CSU), a library that completed construction during my tenure as Head of Cataloging and Periodicals for the CSU library. The music library was CSU's first branch library and had an enormously dedicated colleague as its head. When I began at CSU, there was a massive backlog of A/V materials related to music, a tremendous asset to the music school that was, sadly, sitting dormant and unused. Perhaps my greatest sense of satisfaction there was finding out that these items, which included VHS recordings of performances by music school students and staff, were being widely used as a result of my getting them cataloged and onto the new library's shelves.
What continues to amaze me is all that I was able to find in libraries. If a subject interested me, I could find out all about it with the aid of the library. If a specific item wasn't owned by the library I was in, a dedicated librarian could find a library that did have it, and through interlibrary loan, I could have the item in my hands. In libraries, I found information and support for interests of mine as diverse as Swedish culture; classic boxing; 1970s arts and entertainment; classic horror films; religious studies; nutrition and exercise; and road tests of classic cars.
I have not done this subject justice; this is just a fraction of the influence and impressions libraries have had on me, but I enjoyed every minute of writing about it. Keep in mind that this short blog entry only covers what immediately came off the top of my head - a pretty impressive testament to libraries. School libraries, special libraries, public libraries, academic libraries...they are all enormously important, iconic institutions. I would not be where I am today without them. Writing about them tonight reminded me of just what a privilege it is to serve communities everywhere by working for libraries, for those who use them, and for the wonderful people who work in them. I could go on and on, but it's time to get back to work...working for libraries.