"What do you think you want to do for a career?" I remember being asked this question numerous times as long ago as my junior year of high school in early 1985. I had no idea at all!
I knew I loved music, but never seriously thought I could make any real money as a musician. During my senior year, my academic counselor encouraged me to take a detailed questionnaire, my answers of which would be fed into a computer program that would suggest career paths I would most likely enjoy and excel at. One of them was as a librarian! My counselor gave a slight chuckle at that result, but the computer program would ultimately be vindicated.
Photo by McElspeth from PixabayAfter graduating in 1986, my immediate family and I decided to leave our home in metro St. Louis and move to Santa Rosa, California. I began college at Sonoma State University, never having traveled west of Springfield, Missouri in my life. Thankfully I was eligible for financial aid, including a work study grant, that covered all of my non-resident tuition and other school costs. But where on campus to use my work study grant? Hmmm...
"You might want to check out the library," a classmate told me. "There are probably a lot of work-study openings there. Good luck to you!" My decision to take that advice turned out to jumpstart an entire adulthood of library work. The university's library had me maintain a regional information card catalog by assigning Library of Congress subject headings to newspaper and magazine articles covering local and regional issues. Later I would work in the microform room, the collection development, interlibrary loan and reference departments as a student assistant before earning my bachelor's degree and getting hired part-time at the Sonoma County Library.
The 28 years I spent as a Sonoma County Library employee consisted of a slow but steady and very rewarding climb up the career ladder. It had three Tech II (similar to an aide or a page) job openings when I applied in 1990. Happily, I got hired for one of them and began shelving, pull list "treasure hunting" and searching for materials on missing and similar lists. After a year, a full-time Tech III circulation desk job opened at the main branch. Wow! A great chance to get promoted! In hindsight, I'm grateful I didn't get the position, as I was offered the consolation prize of becoming a substitute circ desk technician. Though the hours varied from one week to the next, I ultimately got to work at every regional branch throughout the library system, 11 in all.
By August 1994 I worked full-time at the main branch's circulation desk, a position I held for a full decade. As we entered the new millennium, I remember wondering if I would remain a Tech III for the rest of my career, knowing that the library system required a master's degree in library science for one to work as a librarian. Me go back to school? Impossible! The expense! The distance! The time commitment! There was no way...or so I thought.
After attending a library commission meeting one evening in early 2003, a co-worker told me about California's Public Library Staff Education Program (PLSEP), and strongly encouraged me to look further into it as a way of receiving financial aid for graduate school. Very few universities offer a master's degree in library science, including only UCLA and San Jose State University (SJSU) in all of California. I would soon learn that SJSU's program, thanks to the stunning evolution of the Internet by then, already consisted of a great degree of distance education. I wouldn't have to drive the 100 miles to the campus anywhere near as much as I thought I would! I could do the lion's share of my course work online from home! With excitement and a bit of trepidation, I applied at SJSU, got accepted, and began my Master's in Library and Information Science (M.L.I.S.) program in January 2004, while still working full-time at the circulation desk.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
Nine months later, at long last, I was finally able to cross the gigantic employment divide from circulation to reference, getting promoted to Library Associate. Hallelujah! At last I could answer reference questions, whereas before I was required to refer patrons to the reference desk for assistance with anything reference-related. As a Library Associate, I was the equivalent of a nurse practitioner versus a full doctor. My work was divided between the reference desk and the library system's interlibrary loan (ILL) department, the latter of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Our patrons borrowed books and requested newspaper microfilm reels as well as photocopied periodical articles from other library systems in great amounts. The UC Davis Shields Library was a wonderful lender to us; and incredibly, so was Stanford University's Green Library, which didn't charge us lending fees for its books. Our requests included numerous obituary lookups, as both borrowing and lending library.
By November 2010, my 16 years working only at the main library ended when I was asked to transfer to the Petaluma branch. I would work there, then at two more branches before getting promoted to full librarian in January 2016, nearly nine years after earning my M.L.I.S.
While I enjoyed the work very much, especially working with the public and in the ILL Department, my wife (we married in 2005 while I was consumed with work and library school - yipe!) and I were becoming increasingly unhappy with the area we were living in. Santa Rosa has almost as many residents as Bonner and Kootenai Counties combined. With the 7 day a week heavy traffic and the astronomical cost of living especially, she and I could no longer agree with the famous horticulturist Luther Burbank, who in 1875 said of Santa Rosa, "I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth, as far as Nature is concerned."
We had made our first vacation visit to north Idaho in September 2011, and soon found ourselves consumed with an overarching desire to come back again and again and see more. We wanted to move out of California; and while we love Sandpoint, we determined it's a bit too expensive when compared to Wallace and Bonners Ferry. The terrible October 2017 Tubbs wildfire struck the northern part of Santa Rosa, about four miles from our house, and destroyed thousands of residential homes, creating an even more severe housing shortage and hastening my decision to retire and move to north Idaho. But to where exactly?
Photo by Binyamin Mellish from Pexels
For us, Coeur d'Alene was too big, Wallace wonderfully charming but ultimately too small, and Sandpoint also charming but a bit too expensive. That left Bonners Ferry, which has proven to be a "Goldilocks" town for us - just right! My wife got a head start, moving here a year ago in April. I retired and moved at the end of September. But retirement is a two-edged sword. Yes, you suddenly have more freedom and free time, but you can so easily feel too idle, especially if you're only 50 like I am! You don't want to live a purposeless life, and that brings me to a day last March when my wife and I visited the East Bonner Library here in Sandpoint. "Why don't you go ahead and try to volunteer here?" she asked me. So I went to the information desk...right when Annette happened to be within earshot of me!
I feel like I've come full circle in my library work. I can't stay away from a library work environment any more than a duck can stay away from a body of water, and am so happy to have volunteered here for nearly four months now! When I'm not here on Friday mornings, I love to be outdoors, and also participating in the St. Ann's Church choir, the Bonners Ferry Community Orchestra and Community Choir.
Eric Lindenbusch, Volunteer Treasure Hunter (Holds Assistant) and Special Project Assistant
Visiting St. Augustine Light Station - March 2017