Why I’m Leaving Libraries for the Convent

kathrynabergeron —  August 7, 2015 — 22 Comments
Photo of the author with her sisters from the convent

Sr. Laura, myself, Sr. Tina (back), Sr. Mary, Sr. Rachel, and Sr. Stacy (front) who attended my going away party at the library and met all of my coworkers

A few months ago I wrote a note to my library contacts that went something like this: “Before word went entirely public, I wanted to pass along a message that I am leaving my position as the Associate Director at the library. While leaving a job is not unusual, the reason that I am leaving is. God willing, in August, I will be entering a Catholic religious order (The Servants of God’s Love).”

Most people responded with, “Congratulations?” To which I replied, “Thank you. Yes, that is the right answer.” One editor of this dear blog, though, responded with, “WOW! This sounds great!… Any chance you could write one more blog post about this decision?”

So, here I am, blogging one last time for Library Lost and Found on my last day of work. You see, I contemplated many options for topics:

  • Becoming a Nun: A How-To Guide – That seemed kind of insulting to this library blog and kind of misleading because I’m hoping to become a Sister (not a nun).
  • Decision Making 101: How To Make Big Life Decisions – This idea makes me laugh. For me, mostly, this decision took a deep love of the person of Christ Jesus and the Trinity, a group of amazing women who magnify my prayers and still get over-competitive playing Euchre, and a foolhardy nature that people keep mistaking for “courage”.
  • Beware: There Are Conservatives Among You: I know. It’s a scary thought. In spite of the stereotypes, I have found that the most outspoken librarians tend to be fairly…loose with words. Sometimes they forget that there are librarians that live more conservative lives amongst you. So, maybe edit your tweets before you post them. #notintobookburning #notintoexcessiveswearing

Instead, I wanted to highlight what I really saw about my life as a librarian as I walked through this decision: At its heart, librarianship is service.

What librarians do is not a job: It is an act of love performed for our patrons. It is a moment of kind grace given to a stranger or a friend. It is a moment of hope in a world that often seems hopeless.

I became a librarian because I loved the chase. I worked in ILL in college, and I loved finding ridiculous books in languages that I couldn’t speak (let alone write). That search for hard-to-find information is what motivated me to go to information school. It was a fine motivation. But once I started working as a librarian with the public, I realized that librarianship could be so much more. I interned for a small resource center attached to the U of M Depression Center. I wanted to work on the catalog, but I spent some of my time in the resource center, sometimes with patients, but mostly with friends and family of patients. They’d come to wait during the appointment, and mostly they wanted someone to talk to. I learned how to start every sentence with, “I’m not a mental health professional…” and end every conversation with, “…let me give you a pamphlet.” I don’t think that I ever said anything helpful, but I was there. In a moment of panic and fear, they needed an ear, and I was wearing silver hoops. It was an act of service.

Photo of Kathryn Bergeron holding a microphone at a library event with the character Madeline

Kathryn (right) at a library event

Then I started as an Adult Services Librarian in a public library. While I did a lot of electronic and systems work, I loved working with the public. The older lady who read every thriller book that came out and still, without fail, ran out of books each week. The middle school girls who liked to come and sit at the desk and talk about their days while looking up ridiculous saint names (see St. Ulfrid). The widow who came and interloaned the best mormon fiction books you’ve ever read. The group who gave up their Thursday nights for three months to learn about the Civil Rights movement. No matter how many books I ordered or computers I fixed, those people are what made me excited to come into work in the morning. It was an act of friendship.

When I became Associate Director, it was hard. I didn’t have management ambitions, but I wanted to try. Unfortunately, that meant giving up most of my programming and all of my time on the reference desk. I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. I no longer had the thing that made me most excited to show up to work in the morning.

Then we hired a few new managers. Training them and helping them feel confident about their new jobs. Making small changes to our ILS to ease a little bit of the load from my Circulation staff. Bringing a new perspective to a policy debate. These became my new acts of service. I was no longer directly serving my patrons, but I was helping to make the library better for them. And I was directly serving my staff, particularly my managers. When they needed advice, they got advice. When they needed an ear, I gave them an ear. When they needed a kick in the pants, they got a figurative kick in the pants. Watching them grow and develop is probably one of the things about which I am most proud in my time as a librarian. It was an act of love.

When I look back on my 6.5 years as a certified librarian, I don’t think about the books that I ordered or the meetings that I went to; I look back on the people that I served and that I served with. Any impact that I might have had on them, they had 100x the impact on me. Their patience, their kindness, and their willingness to give me a kick in the pants when I needed it helped me to grow and mature into the (still kind of immature) person that I am today. I could not be here, taking this step in my life, about which I am bananas excited, without all that they did for me.

Librarianship for me, has been an act of service and a labor of love. But, somehow, I feel like I received far more than I ever gave, and I have unending gratitude for those who served me so well.

22 responses to Why I’m Leaving Libraries for the Convent

  1. 

    This is fantastic. I wish you nothing but continued happiness in your life! My wife and I recently purchased an old church and parsonage. We are living in the parsonage and are renovating the church into a community center where events, weddings, and more can take place. At the same time, I just entered my first Library Director job. I am very happy in both places of my life right now but I do see something like this for me way down the line….”Why I’m Leaving Libraries for My Renovated Church.” Your story is very inspiring.

  2. 

    I’m still selfishly missing you.

  3. 
    librarianjocelyn August 7, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    I’m still just selfishly missing you. The sisters are so lucky to have you.

  4. 

    Thank you for this! I feel strange when I think to myself that being a librarian is my ministry. I am helping people, but it’s not like I can tell them about my faith our anything. But it is what God has given me to do. And I know there are delicate situations – both with patrons and with staff – that would be totally botched if it weren’t for His grace. From the man quietly asking for books on AA to the woman sheepishly asking for books on stress management to the staff member who just needs someone to *listen.*

  5. 

    Congratulations! Forgive my ignorance, but after scanning over the link you provided about the difference between nuns and sisters, it sounds like being a sister means still serving “in the world.” Could you still volunteer at a library? Best wishes for your future.

  6. 

    Reblogged this on bibliotecari non bibliofili! and commented:
    Questo mi sembra un pezzo molto bello. In particolare per chi è non cattolico, non conservatore, ma sa che – alla fine dei conti – lavorare in biblioteca è questo.

  7. 

    I left public librarianship to be ordained a priest. My regional manager was one of my presenters at my diaconal ordination and some of my fellow library staff came to my ordination as a priest. For a while after ordination I worked half time in libraries and half time as a campus minister and assistant in a parish. (My library colleagues gave me any reference question relating to religion. )My library colleagues understood the similarities; my church friends had to be educated a bit about the true nature of library work and how much a ministry it is.

  8. 

    When I was thinking about becoming a librarian, the Dean of the Library School at LSU was a religious sister, Sister Marie Cairns. Since then, I’ve known many women and men religious who have connections to librarians. Blessings to you on this new chapter in life.

  9. 

    Thank you for this post. I am an Orthodox Christian and my main motivation for becoming a librarian is to serve others with their informational, educational, and/or recreational needs. I am glad there is someone out there who views librarianship as a form of public service that hopefully helps others.

  10. 

    Over the past 30 years whilst working as an NHS GP adopting “modern ” methods of treatment and patient care has meant that the GP has been left with little or often no time to talk with patients and carers about the issues and problems they face in their lives and in their communities. This is why I have become so keenly interested in the “libraries and health” developments. In time I feel sure that all our religious communities will cotton on to the way in which you have been sharing “acts of service and labours of love” and find ways and means to work alongside GP practices maybe in converted shops on the high street near to or next to the pharmacy – all this could be achieved if we start to consider what “prescriptions for information” might mean and the role that future libraries might play ? Thank you Kathryna for sharing your thoughts as you continue your journey .

  11. 

    Thank you to everyone for your kind comments! You’re great! Convent life is great! And, never fear librarians of the world, I’ve already gotten my new library card #aadl – Sr. Kate

  12. 

    Vero! questo è il lavoro del bibliotecario, un atto d’amore. si riceve molto più di quello che si dà

  13. 

    Saw your post via Think Tank… many, many blessings to you, from one Catholic to another! So glad that you are one of the many from our generation who have said ‘yes’. 🙂 Heard of NET? I served from ’99-’00. We should talk! (‘El Jay’). All the best!

  14. 

    Lovely. Every happiness. I remember when I was taking vocational tests in high school two of the job options that came up for me were librarian and clergy. I didn’t understand the connection back then, but it’s so clear now. I wish you the very best.

  15. 

    I consider being a librarian my ministry, my calling. Especially when I was a librarian in a prison. I get it completely. All the best to you.

  16. 

    Wow,

    Amazing, when you hear the call you have to listen. Catholicism (which boils down to doing good works facilitated by the gift of Grace) meshes so well with librarianship. I hope to join the diaconate myself when my daughter is older. You are an inspiration.

  17. 

    “When I look back on my 6.5 years as a certified librarian, I don’t think about the books that I ordered or the meetings that I went to; I look back on the people that I served and that I served with.”

    This excerpt resonates a lot with me. No matter what our industry, we can all do God’s work on a daily basis when we focus on how we can serve those around us. 🙂

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Write Your Own Story « Library Lost & Found - September 6, 2016

    […] I left the convent and returned to working in libraries, I’ve been reading a lot of fascinatingly trashy […]

  2. Speak the Truth in Love « Library Lost & Found - February 22, 2017

    […] short of one year ago, I wrote a post for this blog called “Why I’m Leaving Libraries for the Convent“. You can read it. It’s pretty good. You don’t need to read that to […]

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