We All Start Somewhere

Robert Redford is among the most celebrated and successful actor/directors of his generation. He’s been in many tremendously popular and critically acclaimed films, and he won the Academy Award as the director of Ordinary People – the first movie he ever directed. So why am I telling you about Robert Redford – who clearly has nothing to do with academic librarianship. As far as I know, he’s never been an academic librarian. What I did learn recently is that Redford’s stage career began at an incredibly small and relatively unknown theater far removed from Broadway or Hollywood.

I recently attended a production of the play Barefoot in the Park at the Bucks County Playhouse, located in the small town of New Hope, Pennsylvania (about 40 miles north of the Philadelphia Convention Center where you may have attended ACRL 2011). New Hope is a nice little tourist village on the Delaware River, not far from where George Washington crossed it in 1776 on his way to a surprise attack on British troops in the middle of the winter.

The Playhouse, in a building that was originally a colonial-era mill,  had been closed for many years, but was recently renovated and just re-opened. Before the show the theater director told the audience that  Barefoot was selected as the first production because it played a significant role in the history of the Playhouse. You see, Mike Nichols, the original director, debuted the play at the Bucks County Playhouse in 1963 even before it got to Broadway – and Redford has the lead role of Paul Bratter – and he was a complete unknown at the time.

The play was fun, but afterwards I kept thinking how incredible it was that someone as hugely famous as Redford got his start in show business at this tiny, out-of-the-way theater. It reminded me that we all have to start our careers somewhere in some small capacity before we can move on to bigger and better things – unless you are one of those incredibly lucky or talented folks who can start right at the top – but that’s not most of us.

I know it certainly wasn’t me. I worked in one-person libraries for six years before I even got my first job working in an academic library as a reference librarian. I didn’t even have an office. One of the best things I did to advance my career was to become active in ACRL. I got my foot in the door by volunteering to serve on the Board of my local chapter (Delaware Valley). Thanks to the opportunities with which I was presented, plus access to professional development, networking, and conferences as an ACRL member, I was eventually elected as Chapter president. The rest, as they say, is history. But I could not have done it without support from many colleagues and ACRL mentors.

It also got me thinking about others who I’ve met early on in their careers, and who are now on their way to bigger and better things as ACRL members who have taken advantage of the opportunities presented to them.

Brian Mathews – publishing a widely read and well-received article about social networking in C&RL News.

Kim Leeder – an ACRLog first year blogger who recently was chair of the University Libraries Section and is currently chair of the Publications Coordinating Committee.

Carissa Tomlinson – who presented at an ACRL conference for the first time in 2011 and is now petitioning to start a new discussion group for First Year Experience librarians.

Zach Coble – who I met as an LIS student in 2011 at the University of Missouri, now in his first professional position and serving as a member of the Professional Development Committee.

Who else? Use the comment area to share a story about a colleague you know whose career benefited from their involvement with ACRL – or share your story.

While these colleagues are at different stages in the profession, it’s a great pleasure to see them prospering in their careers and making contributions in one way or another to academic librarianship. Knowing that ACRL has helped them in their careers makes me proud to be a member, and to have the honor of helping to lead this association.

If you are not already an ACRL member, I hope you will give some thought to making it the start point on your path to a successful career as an academic librarian. A little further along in your career? It’s not too late to get engaged with ACRL as a “Giveback Generation Librarian“. The great thing about ACRL is that there is a place for everyone to make a contribution, or get professionally engaged, no matter where you are on your career path.

1 Comment

  1. I’m an early career librarian; I graduated with my MLIS in December 2009 and began my current- and first- full-time position in a library two years ago.

    I benefit greatly from ACRL membership. When I unexpectedly became the liaison to the Department of Anthropology, ANSS connected me with librarians with knowledge and experience in anthropology, sociology and related fields. Serving as an Intern on the ACRL/IS Instruction Technologies Committee allows me to engage professionally while continuing to learn and teach about the impact of technology on instruction. Finally, I recently participated in the ACRL Immersion ’12 Teacher Track Program. In addition to enhancing my own instruction skills, the Immersion experience is enabling me to effect change in my own library and better support my colleagues in their teaching and learning.

    Hi to Steven (we met when you spoke at the Alabama Association of College & Research Libraries annual meeting- chapter affiliation is another opportunity and benefit offered by ACRL!) and many thanks to ACRL for presenting me and other early career librarians with these opportunities.

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