Libraries have always been an integral part of my life. Growing up in London, Ontario, I was fortunate enough to have access to one of over a dozen different library branches strategically placed throughout the city. I can remember getting automated phone calls that a requested item was ready for pick up and begging one of my parents to race over to the Library and get it right now. Books excited and enthralled me. So it wasn’t a surprise to anyone when I announced I wanted to be a librarian.
I like to think I approached this desire with practicality. While doing my bachelor’s degree at Western University, I filled out a volunteer application with London Public Library. I had no idea what kind of volunteer position I wanted – I wrote that I was pretty experienced with computers and most technology, that I was interested in learning more about the world of libraries, and that I was a quick learner who liked to help people. A few days later, I got a phone call from a volunteer coordinator, asking if I would be interested in volunteering for a new program they were trying out in East London, a computer coaching program for seniors. I accepted, and I haven’t left the library world since.
My volunteering gig quickly turned into a paid position where I worked as a page, shelving materials and collecting holds requests twelve hours a week. I got a behind-the-scene’s look at library work and was fascinated by it all; the diverse programming, the clever displays, the challenging but rewarding reference questions. I had found my people.
After I finished my bachelor’s degree, I applied to the Master’s in Library and Information Science program at Western. I got in, and spent a year filling my brain with the information that would (officially) make me a librarian. I learned about cataloguing and bib records, reference interviews and reader’s advisory, databases and licensing, how to write a press release in a crisis and how to build, weed, and assess a collection. I was cajoled into accepting a social media and communications position with student council for a term, while still working as a page with London Public Library and as a student assistant with Western Libraries. I used this very busy period of my life as an example of how well I could multi-task during job interviews.
I started job hunting early, and was willing to move just about anywhere to jumpstart my career as a librarian. I had never left my hometown of London, and was excited by the possibility of a new city or province. After a couple of interviews (during one of which my pant’s inner seam ripped), I had an offer: a sole-charge librarian position at the College of the North Atlantic in Labrador City, Newfoundland. I took it, and ended up spending three wonderful years transforming my campus library, searching out the northern lights, and learning how to talk like a Newfoundlander (yes b’y!).
I enjoyed my time working in an academic library, but my heart yearned to rejoin the public library world. I started job searching again, focusing on public libraries. Within a day of interviewing for the Head of Adult Services position at Grande Prairie Public Library, the Library Director called and offered me the position. I didn’t have to do any research this time – I accepted immediately, driving over 5,000 kilometers to move from Labrador to Alberta. I love my job. I manage a great team of talented individuals, I get to focus on projects that help transform the library and our community, and I even got to go to the Alberta Library Conference last year and meet my reader’s advisory hero, Nancy Pearl. She signed my action figure and we took a selfie together – definitely a highlight of my career.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I feel confident that I’ve found my “soup snake” in public libraries. Everything else is just gravy.
Hailey McCullough is the Head of Adult Services at Grande Prairie Public Library in Grande Prairie, Alberta. She is passionate about transforming lives in the library and community through inclusive services, collections, and conversations.