Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Letter of recommendation

My boss at the agriculture library passed this along to me last week:

My undergrad is in art history. I've been working in the engineering library for about a year and a half, and added in some hours at the agriculture library about a year ago. I endured about a week of panic at the beginning. Every time someone came to the desk, I was overwhelmed by the realization that I had no idea what they were talking about. Eventually I remembered that I had other skills to fall back on and got really good at asking questions. In the mean time, I developed a great poker face. I don't even chuckle when someone asks for the journal Poultry World.

I still remember my first question at the agriculture library. Someone wanted to know about gable top milk cartons. I'd never heard someone describe a milk carton that way (though it makes sense, if you think about it), let alone considered that someone would be interested in studying such things at university. But I managed to figure out that she was interested in the sterilization of food packaging, and I found her some books on the topic.

Working in a library doesn't just mean that you have to stay on top of the newest Internet gizmo, sometimes it means becoming familiar with entirely new bodies of knowledge. Which is scary at first, but eventually, you'll get the hang of it. Last week someone asked me for a book about PVC and I caught myself saying, "Oh, you mean polyvinyl chloride? We've got a great three-volume encyclopedia right over here..." Going to library school is like learning to use a compass. Once you've got down the basic principles, you should be able to find your way around just about anywhere, even if you've never been there before.


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