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As the Page Turns

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: I, Robot Librarian

by Jenny Donley on 2021-03-01T08:00:00-05:00 | Comments

The specific themes will change each time, but posts under the heading of "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" will always reflect upon items in the ever-growing book collection of one Heterick librarian.

Growing up I was crazy about books and computers, the perfect foundation for someone destined to become a cataloging librarian. I wouldn’t know for decades, though, that such a career-level blend of my interests existed. I never went anywhere without a book on my person and during elementary school in the mid-80s we got an IBM PC/AT as our first home computer. Over the next couple years I taught myself DOS commands from a book my mom bought and investigated every byte of the computer’s operating system. My mom, a reader who had written computer programs in COBOL for an IBM S/360 at the Pentagon in the 1960s, encouraged my loves of both literature and technology.

When my mom was a programmer in the 60s she never actually saw the computer console or mainframe. She wrote on coding sheets that went to keypunch and came back as cards in a long tray, which were then submitted through a slot like a ticket booth. 

In middle school my two passions began to overlap. I signed up for the computer class elective, and when finished with the day’s programming assignments I would beg to go to the school library. My 8th grade science fair project was a program written in BASIC that told a story piece-by-piece through prompts, similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure series. At the end of 8th grade the school librarian awarded me their first ever Librarian Award simply because of my love of books.

I can’t help but add books about outdated technology to my shelves.

I started college as a Computer Science major, but chose for my first-year seminar a literature class that examined the ethical question, “Have computers done any good?” In that class we read several books, including Asimov’s classic I, Robot and two non-fiction books about the computer industry (pictured below) that fascinated me. Unfortunately and fortunately I earned a C+ in C++ computer programming and changed my major to English.

I’ve recommended these books countless times over the years to friends interested in computing.

Senior year of undergrad I took a science fiction lit class and was introduced to the concept of a virtual reality matrix in two very different books, Neuromancer and Snow Crash. Ten years later I got to step into the matrix again with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

“The Matrix is everywhere.” - Morpheus (The Matrix, 1999)

I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my English degree when I graduated, and it went mostly unused for a couple years until I started looking into a Masters of Library Science. I stumbled on a post about cataloging librarians while reading through forums about different librarian concentrations. Low and behold, I discovered a realm of librarianship that felt like the intersection of computers and literature. 

MARC encoding (right) of bibliographic resources is somewhat reminiscent in structure to the older computer languages such as Logo (left) and BASIC. 

It did not feel like a direct career path while I was on it, but in retrospect it wasn’t all that indirect either. I don’t get to read books at my desk as part of my job (sadly, that stereotype is all legend and no substance) but I do get to maintain Heterick Library’s vast catalog of print and electronic resources, and I literally touch each new print acquisition before it hits our shelves.

Whether direct or indirect, always keep your eyes open to the paths that life presents.

For some, the path to career happiness is apparent to them at an early age. For others, career happiness means having time to pursue interests, passions, and hobbies when work is done for the day. In my case it’s a little bit of both; helping others find books and ensuring that our library catalog is complete is what I do at work, which leaves time for consuming books and collecting robots (in honor of Asimov) when I’m not.

I, Robot Librarian, love robots.

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