My Midsummer Metamorphosis

Remembering why librarianship beckoned in the first place

July 29, 2011

Summer is an island. The trees around my house come into leaf, a bright and wafting curtain of green between me and the neighborhood. Spring semester has ended, and fall term lies far in the distance, little more than a dot on the horizon. Wavelets ripple and inch near, passing, but not pressing, reminders of the forces at work in the seemingly distant world. Usually I leave this verdant refuge from time to time, often to attend ALA’s Annual Conference, returning amid an influx of mementos—things like advance reader copies, product brochures, photos, and interview notes. Distilling these impressions and texts into a column soon follows.

This year is different. After a number of conference trips that have dazzled with the unexpected—rewarding conversations with authors, sudden reunions with one-time colleagues, and so many things to share with my students and readers— this season marks a new phase in my writing and my professional life. Instead of preparing to relate the goings-on at ALA, I’m beginning different narratives. Instead of continuing this column, I’ll be turning my attention to new book-length projects, one of which arrived unexpected and, like a stray cat that settles on one’s deck and purrs with a contentment that means it has found its new home, became mine the moment I read the editor’s request for a proposal.

Just as my entry into writing for ALA’s flagship magazine was a long time in coming, this latest transition is one to which I gradually, perhaps even hesitantly, committed. Librarianship is the family business, and the relationships with my editors and others I’ve met in the course of writing columns have come to feel like kinship, too.

The first time I saw the Annual Conference Preview issue of American Libraries, I was entranced. The magazine lying on the dining room table was my mother’s, part of her preparations for travel that June, and I, a compulsive reader, happened to scan its pages and become carried away by the enthusiasm and energy thereon. I was teaching Freshman Composition, and highlights of the conference my mother would attend represented a dizzying difference from the post-modern literary criticism and benevolent pedagogical pieces that had prepared me for the work I was doing. Electronic research tools; ways to explain the uses of the library; and an almost unimaginable number of living, breathing authors—oh, my!

That was almost 20 years ago, and eventually, I, too, entered the profession. Not long after starting my first professional position, I became one of American Libraries’ contributors. For some 10 years now, I’ve written for AL, first as a feature author, then as a columnist. Researching, interviewing, and writing about the many and varied aspects of librarianship has extended the feelings of wonder and possibility that enliven my commitment to the field and its daily work of service. It is impossible to understate my gratitude to the librarians, authors, publishers, database developers, and editors whose patience with my occasional tendency to disassociate deadlines with days and dates in the real world (“Oh, today is the 5th? Oh . . . ”), and my habit of coming up with the perfect ending for a column about half an hour after I’ve submitted my copy, is estimable.

So I’ll keep this summer staying at home, reading, writing, and photographing—until it’s time to venture to the shore and dip my toes back into the ocean.

JENNIFER BUREK PIERCE is assistant professor of library and information science at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Contact her at jennifer-burek-pierce[at]



How to Offer More than a Movie

Producing film discussions that are serious cultural events

Government Information in Peril

Librarians need to work now to preserve the GPO Federal Digital System