Life as a Library Page
I started as a library page on November 1, 1980. It was my first job, and I remember being very nervous. I had just graduated from CSULB about six months earlier with a BA in Liberal Studies but had no idea where to go from there. I thought I would become a teacher, but couldn’t decide if that was really what I wanted, I had taken several courses at CSULB, including Storytelling and Survey of Children’s Literature. So I decided to apply as a library page because I enjoyed spending time in the college library.
At that time the library page was a classified employee, so I took the civil service test and barely passed with a score of 74—70 is passing.
When I started Jean Covall was the head of Circulation. This was a few months before the first online circulation system was implemented and the library clerks were still using microfilm to scan the due date slips and library cards for checking out books. They were also manually typing library cards. A few months later in March 1981, they promoted a library clerk named Helen Enriquez or better known later as Helen Fried, to Page Supervisor. She was my page supervisor for the next two years before taking over as head of Circulation, when Jean Covall retired, and then Laurie Wills was promoted to the position of Page Supervisor.
I had only been a library page for a month, when my supervisor asked me to go to Alamitos Branch to cover for the library clerk while she goes on her lunch break. That meant that I would be alone at the checkout desk for an hour, with the branch librarian watching my every move. I don’t know how I got through that hour, I didn’t have much experience at the circulation desk at Main Library, and I always had other clerks to help me.
I must have done a good job because the branch librarian at Alamitos, Barbara Davis, was pleased with my work habits on that day (this is what my page supervisor later told me). Barbara Davis would eventually become the Department Librarian for Social Science/ Science at Main Library to replace Jim Jackson when he retired. She also was largely responsible for hiring me as a General Librarian to replace Charles Vestal, when he retired in 1988.
I have thought about Jim Jackson several times over the past few years. He was actually one of the first librarians I remember meeting when I started as a page. I wasn’t driving a car and I was taking the LB transit from city of Paramount, where I was living with my parents. Jim was also living in North LB and we would occasionally see each other on the bus, mostly going home, there used to be a bus line that took the 710 freeway to South Street in North LB.
Before I talk about how I became associated with the Government Publications Department, I’ve been thinking about my deep affection for a library clerk that I met in the Social Science Department. We were asked to help at the Rancho Los Cerritos Library, to box the entire reference collection books, so they could be sent to Technical Services to be barcoded and entered into the circulation database. The library clerk’s name was Margaret (Peggy) Ballard, she was a delight to work with. She had a hearing disability, so sometimes we had to make sure we were looking at her, so she could pick up on what I was saying. I miss her, she was gone when I later returned to work as a librarian. Joanne DiMeo, another friend that worked in the same department, said that she was upset about her job duties and felt she was treated unfairly, so she left the library. I tried to locate her but I could not, I still think about her to this day.
The Moment That Changed My Life
The moment that changed my life was when my supervisor, Helen Fried, assigned me to shelve Government Documents and work with the Government Publications librarian Marilyn Brasher. I initially thought I wasn’t doing a good job as a library page upstairs and they were getting rid of me. It was a challenge shelving all the documents as quickly and correctly as possible. If one publication was incorrectly shelved it might become impossible to find, since many of the documents were barely more than a few pages in length. However, it was kind of lonely down in the dungeon away from the public.
My very first day in the Government Publications Department was in April 1981, and very brief. I was introduced to the department staff, given a quick tour of the department and told how the Superintendent of Documents classification system was shelved differently from the Dewey classification system. I had been sent there because another library page assigned to that department was leaving. I wasn’t really happy about it; I was rather quiet and introverted, and thought that perhaps Helen was sending me there because she didn’t like me. I really didn’t have much self-confidence at this time. I had only been a library page for about six months. I was happy upstairs, why was I being transferred?
Consequently, although I was doing a very good job shelving the documents and doing everything I was asked to do, Marilyn Brasher, the Department Librarian was concerned about my being so quiet. Little did she know that this was normal, for me. But, after doing the job for a few months, and because I was able to shelve books upstairs too, I eventually came to like my job duties and all my co-workers. I was given a variety of duties over the years that included helping with checking in documents when the library clerk was on vacation, retrieving documents for the public, using our card catalog to find documents for the public, updating loose-leaf documents, etc. Sometimes I would open the department if the librarian was running late.
I probably learned 90% of what I know about Government Publications and librarianship, in general, from Marilyn Brasher, and the other 10% from library school.
Becoming a Librarian
I decided to attend library school back on the East Coast in July 1982. I was going to go to library school at Queens College in Flushing, New York, partly because my grandfather was living only a couple miles from the college. But it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to Long Beach.
I’m rather ashamed to say that I got severely homesick for my family and my coworkers back in Long Beach. I didn’t make it to my first day of class. I came back to my job as a library page at LBPL until May of 1984, when I entered library school at Southern Connecticut State, in New Haven, Connecticut. I received a goodbye/good luck card from the other pages I worked with, including a relatively new page at that time named Glenda Williams.
Note from Claudine – Michael continues to work at LBPL, there is much more to his story which I hope he will share in the future.