There are as many paths to a career in librarianship as there are librarians. This was mine.
I was paid for my best introduction to library research. The pay-off came more in what I learned than in what I earned as a college work-study student in 1969-70. My sophomore year I had the good fortune to work as a research assistant for Joseph M. DeFalco, a professor in the Marquette University English Department. He introduced me to the MLA International Bibliography with all of its quirks. He had me index his large collection of photocopies of critical articles on Edgar Allan Poe. And while helping him complete work compiling Collected Poems of Christopher Pearse Cranch (Gainesville: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1971), I came across a Cranch poem in St. Nicholas magazine for children that, because it was signed in a cryptic way, had not been properly attributed to him. This isn’t on the same level as a graduate student’s 2006 discovery of Robert Frost’s “War Thoughts” poem inscribed in a copy Frost’s North of Boston in the University of Virginia library. But it was heady stuff for a college sophomore!
As a graduate student in English I took a course on bibliography and research methods in literature. Our textbook was Richard Altick and Andrew Wright’s Selective Bibliography for the Study of English and American Literature, a numbered, unannotated list of citations of relevant reference books. Given the idiosyncratic way the course was taught, we quickly discovered the value of Constance Winchell’s Guide to Reference Books. I soon discovered that I had an uncanny knack for recalling the details of these books, the scope of each, and how they related to one another. I also realized that the job market for humanities Ph.D.s in the latter part of the 1970s would be dismal. So I talked with librarians about their work. As a graduate teaching assistant I had enjoyed the one-to-one work with students more than the classroom teaching. I concluded that reference librarianship would be the ideal combination of my strengths in one-to-one interaction and bibliographic knowledge. And so in January 1975 I enrolled in the master’s program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and completed my degree in December of that year.
The job market for anyone in the mid-1970s was bad; it was especially bad for entry-level librarians. I am something of an exception in our profession in that I had no paraprofessional or other library work experience before entering library school. As part of Charles Bunge’s reference course I did a practicum—volunteer Sunday evening reference service at the reference desk at Marquette’s Memorial Library.
I, and it seems every other recent and soon-to-be library school graduate, went to the 1976 ALA Annual Conference and registered at the placement center. I was luckier than some of the others; I had two interviews during the Conference, one with a small college in North Dakota and the other with Murray State University in Kentucky. That led to an on-campus interview at Murray State and a job offer. It had taken more than a year of looking, but I cracked a tough job market and started my career as a reference librarian at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, on September 1, 1976. Since then I have enjoyed many opportunities and have built a rewarding career that, I believe, has contributed to the libraries I have worked for, the users of those libraries, and our profession.