[Editor’s Note: Elsworth is a valued member of the editorial advisory board, a former VOYA columnist and reviewer, and VOYA‘s honorary brother.]
VOYA Is Like My Sister
My decision to become a librarian—or at least to go to library school—did not come from a deep love of public service, a desire to shape the lives of youth through offering the right book at the right time, or even because I love reading. It was, instead, for the same reason I learned how to read in the first place, how to ride a bicycle, and how to knit. It was because my older sister did it first. Amanda (my senior by four years) has always set my benchmarks for me. My older brother is eight years older than I am, which made his skill set nearly unreachable as a child, and my younger sister is four years younger than me, thus making her a baby in my eyes forever. Growing up, Amanda was naturally good at everything in ways I wasn’t. She was clean, and neat, and was apparently born with the ability to draw/paint/glue/cut a straight line with no guide. I was a walking mess tornado, and I distinctly remember my mother voicing her concerns about my inability to “close my o’s” when I printed. In 2004 (many years after I learned how to print correctly), Amanda entered the University of Wisconsin School of Library and Information Studies program, after spending a few years as a teacher. Upon hearing her stories about assignments like “cataloging your kitchen cabinets” and writing papers about children’s books, as well as seeing how much fun library school seemed to be, I decided to leave the theology program I was in and jump on the library school wagon. That was probably the best decision I have ever made.
Library school was awesome. I had the fortune of attending UW-SLIS while Louise Robbins was director and the staff and faculty included Anne Lundin, Madge Klais, and Michele Besant, among other wonderful people. My sister worked part-time at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), so, of course, I got a job there, too. Working in the same space as Kati Horning and her crew truly shaped me as a professional. It was a gift to learn about book discussions, readers’ advisory, intellectual freedom, and writing articulate reviews about books for youth from the CCBC staff. I also had a Graduate Assistantship doing night reference (9:00 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday nights) at College Library, the main undergraduate library on the UW-Madison campus, which didn’t necessarily shape me as a professional, but did help me learn about reference work and dealing with all types of customers.
In addition to classes and jobs, I found other ways to maximize my experience as a library school student. I was the captain of the UW-SLIS kickball team (the library school paid our fees!) and co-chair of the American Library Association Student Chapter (ALASC) on the Madison campus. I was also a very proud member of the “Dewey et al. for My Baby” Bookcart Drill Team, which won the 2005 Demco World Championship in Chicago, IL. Amanda was on both the kickball team and the drill team. She was a Co-Chair of the ALASC for her class, as well. Naturally.
I knew early on that I wanted to be a public librarian, and I knew I wanted to work with teens, so I focused my coursework on that as much as I could. As graduation neared, there were very few full time teen services jobs available. To get the position I wanted, I moved to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, and joined the Ocean County Library System (OCL). OCL was a great place to start my career; the transparent and dedicated administration and devoted front line staff created a work environment that welcomed creativity and encouraged teamwork. I served as a teen services librarian for one year, doing mostly reference desk work, outreach, and programming. It was around this time I started writing reviews of professional materials for VOYA and got involved in ALA, first as a participant in the inaugural year of the ALA Emerging Leaders initiative (which my sister did a few years later) and then as a three year member of YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults Committee (RIP, BBYA). I finished another year at OCL as a teen services senior librarian, which included some supervisory and managerial responsibilities, at which point I left OCL for a position with the District of Columbia Public Library System (DCPL). Around this time, Amanda was making a transition, as well, moving from serving as a school librarian in a small elementary school to a “tween services” public librarian at a large, fairly high profile suburban library.
At DCPL, I increased my supervisory and managerial responsibilities as chief of the young adult services division. In my first year I contributed to the design of a new teen space, facilitated the move into the new space, and built a solid base of programs and events to draw in youth from around the city. Around this time I started writing Man Up! with Rollie Welch of Cleveland Public Library for VOYA, which is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my professional life. I was promoted to the newly created position of chief of children’s and teen services at the beginning of my second year at DCPL, and it was great to gain some experience with children’s services, which I enhanced by serving on ALSC’s Caldecott Committee (just one year after Amanda was on the Newbery Committee).
I’ve enjoyed working at DCPL and learned an incredible amount from my dynamic colleagues here, but am looking forward to starting the next chapter of my career as the manager of teen and adult services for Oak Park Public (OPPL) Library in Oak Park, Illinois, in early September 2011. My visits to OPPL thus far have been amazing, and I am truly eager to join the team.
I have had so much fun building my career thus far, and am glad I have never veered far from my main focus on teen services. One of the main things that has kept me centered and motivated through different positions, besides my sister, is VOYA. I felt welcomed onto the VOYA team from the time I submitted my very first review, and the people behind the journal have been amazingly easy and fun to work with. Throughout everything, up to serving on the editorial board with a bunch of famous YA people I never even thought I’d run into, let alone hang out with, VOYA’s been there with a new deadline for me to try to meet. Kind of like my sister.
Elsworth Rockefeller — September 2011