9/11: How Terrorists Turned me into a Librarian

A post to remember 9/11.

I'm a native New Yorker, born and raised on Long Island. On 9/11/01, I was at Emory University, working on a PhD in Political Science. My classmate Keisha came in as we were waiting for Professor Giles' class to start, asking why we weren't watching tv, saying the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane - I thought it was a sick and tasteless joke until we turned on the tv in the classroom in time to watch the second plane hit the tower. All of the phone lines were down - you couldn't reach the city or the Island if you wanted to. I figured my mom and siblings were safe, unless there had been a school trip planned to the city. My father and all of my uncles are union electricians, and IBEW Local #3 is the city local - later, I heard that one of my uncles came out of the subways where he was working covered in the debris from the building fall.

Not too long after that I started asking myself what my priorities were, and how exactly my research as a polisci scholar would help real people on the ground (I was studying the theory of international conflict - game theory and such). When my younger brother joined the Marines, I grew disgusted that none of the work I was doing would actually help him on the ground - it was all theory in broad strokes, and game theoretical which presupposes a rationality that simply doesn't encompass what individuals are willing to do to get their points across. This factored in with a long illness and the realization that I loved the subject but didn't want to write a dissertation on it, and I left Emory.

I moved to Lexington, KY, where most of my friends were, including a couple of guys willing to let me move in with them on no notice (ah, the happy fruits of goign to a teeny college where you become so close to people). I played caretaker the first few months, cooking and cleaning. Tried my hand at teaching high school for a semester. Worked in technology sales while trying to decide where I wanted to go, but I missed academia. I believed - and believe - that colleges and universities are where people truly mold themselves into the characters they will hold for the rest of their lives. it's also the one time when people can ask as many questions as they want, no matter how off-the-wall, and expect to get not just an answer, but answers from varying viewpoints. I had worked in libraries before, and was always impressed by how Marx, Kant, von Clausewitz, Hobbes and Locke could sit beside each other on the shelves with such differing views and simply be equal. Libraries are a house of knowledge, their integrity guarded jealously by librarians.

So I didn't need much of a push when, asking what i should do with myself, the answer came back as "librarian." My own hefty personal library, my beliefs about the importance of learning and the unique crucible of the university and college environment, and my desire to have a real, tangible impact on people coalesced into my plan to become a librarian.

I started my library night supervisor job in August of 2004, started library school in January of 2005, and graduated with the MLS in July of 2006. I love what i do for a living, I think it is important and upholds ideals and principles I can live by, and I've never looked back.

Maybe I was a librarian all along, and just needed a push to get me to question things. 9/11/01 was a hell of a push, and it really threw into sharp relief some things I had believed, but never thought to say aloud, or make a basis of my profession: belief in the freedom of information. My belief in the freedom to believe in whatever you want - so long as you aren't hurting someone else. My belief that with good guidance and support systems, people can become upstanding citizens with a penchant for critical thinking. My conviction that there need to be some front-line guardians and guardiennes to protect the existence of all - even the most unpopular - thoughts and arguments.

9/11 was one of the most immediate experiences of intolerance on a grand scale that I have experienced in my life. I truly believe that my work as a librarian promoting freedom of information, information literacy, research, and critical thinking is important.

We all make a stand in our own way. Some of us donate time and money to causes we believe in. Some, like my brother, don a uniform and fight for it. Some write to create a record of the human experience in all of its facets. I became a librarian and chose to promote the free exchange of ideas and the preservation of ideas as my profession.

A moment to remember 9/11. I don't think any of us has escaped its touch, and while fear-mongering over it is not my preferred way to remember the event and honor its victims, I *do* think it is important to take a moment and think about living in a world where there is no guarantee that you can simply go to work and do your job without the possibility that someone is willing to kill you simply for what you believe and how you live. In the US, we have a relative luxury in that such events happen rarely, but they do happen, and we should remember that. We should value our time and not waste it doing something we don't believe in, or worse, something we hate, for forty-plus hours a week. Think about it: are you where you want to be? If you are not, how free are you, really?


Infosciphi said…
OMG Colleen. This is beautiful and inspiring - as your writing always is. I too drew inspiration for my career move from much of the same reasoning and opinions. I'm proud to know you and call you a good friend.

Ruth said…
Bless you, Colleen. Well said.

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