About 10 years ago, I encountered a high school friend (I won’t say his name, but his initials are Scott Coogan) who told me he was shocked I had studied to be a librarian. Really? Everything about my appearance shouts Marian the Librarian: the white blouse accented by my alabaster cameo, my plaid skirt matched with sensible brown shoes, two pencils holding my very-low-maintenance hair into a bun, and of course my never-ending ability to shush people. Yeah. That’s me all over. Maybe the profession is perceived traditionally as a feminine one? I am not exactly feminine in appearance. I could go on all day like this before I begin the counter-argument.
I wonder sometimes if Scott was the only one surprised by my choice of profession. In hindsight, it seemed the perfect fit. As early as 1993 (before I had even begun my studies at San Jose State University for my Masters Degree) people were reporting to my boss they were happy I had finally found a “calling.” I have a feeling these people had employed me previously; say, in the registrar’s office, where I definitely had no calling whatsoever. Physically I did not fit the stereotype. Mentally, though; ah, that’s where I fit.
Being a librarian requires a mind that automatically looks at a thing and puts it in its box. We all have boxes: we were born with that mental capacity to categorize. We understand hierarchies: that a manx is also a cat is also a mammal. We understand categories: that a frog is an amphibian and a newt is also an amphibian. We also name things, really a most fundamental form of categorizing: for example, think of the term “office supplies”. None of those things you’ve pictured have any relation to one another, except they would all be used in the context of an office. A paper clip has no relation to a sticky note, or a highlighter, except that we’ve made a new home for these guys.
I won’t bore you with a cataloging and classification lecture except to say (1) we all do it on some level, and (2) classifying is how my mind gets its jollies. I do this really, really well. When I picture an object, I generate dozens of possible homes for it. It can be a curse to have a mind that does this. Rigorously logical sciences like math don’t come quite that easily. It can also be a blessing: vague and hesitant disciplines like the social sciences are very appealing, because they leave me lots of chances for me to categorize, discard, and reclassify my thoughts. My mind gets off on that.
I’ve always been eclectic. I never wanted to settle on something, intellectually. When the high school counselor said “Pick a major and stick with it” I truly was confronted with a harsh reality. What? I can’t specialize in generalities? You ought to see my book collection at home. I have a book in virtually every discipline imaginable, from computer science, to history, to theology and mysticism, to literature, to cooking, to ferret training (Daniel never turned it in at the library and now we “own” it). That’s my mind: all over the place.
So I guess I’d tell my friend Scott that, after all these years, my mind did find a resting place. Librarians do this all day: we classify, synthesize, break apart, and recombine information. It’s what we do. And we get to shush people while wearing a frumpy skirt. Really, how can there be a more suitable profession?