I came to this country with a degree in library science and eleven years of experience setting up, running, automating, and reorganizing libraries. I had voluntarily left my wonderful job in the Netherlands as the librarian of an awesome archaeology library, to follow my husband to his country, and – as it turned out – to his hometown.
Getting a job as a librarian was hard, due to a lot of misinformation, some bad timing and a general wariness regarding my Dutch degrees. But my husband encouraged me to just go talk to the director of the local public library. I didn’t think there would be any point. In Holland there were fifty applications for one of my first jobs, which had only been posted in the local paper, and I was one of about 250 applicants for my job at the acrchaeological service. There was about the same number of applicants when I needed and assistant librarian there, and when I left, again the same number applied for my job. Needless to say that just walking into a library to see if they had a job for me would have made me seem completely mad.
Nevertheless, at some point I did walk into the local public library, after having called the director to ask if he would have time to see me. He had told me over the phone that he would be delighted to talk to me, but that it was hard for him to make an appointment for any specific time, because all the carpet in the library was being renewed. Things were in chaos and he had no idea what he would be doing at any time during the day. I would just have to walk in and see if he was there. Fair enough, I thought, thinking that maybe they were so short-staffed that the director himself had to lend a hand in laying the carpet.
After squeezing through narrow passages between book stacks which had been temporarily moved aside, and carefully stepping over loose carpet and new electric wires, and bumping into the men who were working at these renovations, I found my way to the third floor, where the behind-the-screens offices were located. The director was not in his office, but a friendly employee who happened to be around went off to look for him, after offering me a chair across from the director’s desk. Or should I say, across from the stacks of paper and books that completely hid his desk?
I had a few minutes to look around, and it seemed that they had been renewing the carpet on the third floor as well, because every surface in the director’s office was covered in enormous piles of books, binders and other paper. Some of the stacks had fallen over, threatening to push over the stacks they were leaning against. Had the men in charge of changing the carpet unthinkingly and hurriedly emptied three other offices out onto the director’s furniture, in order to renew the carpet? No wonder he had said that his days were chaotic right now.
At that moment the man in question came in: the spitting image of Dustin Hoffmann in the role of a rabbi, with the slightly hobbly gait of Dustin Hoffmann in the role of cynical bum in Midnight Cowboy. He apologized for keeping me waiting and immediately started describing the chaotic state of things. I said that I could see how hectic it must be, because apparently a lot of paper had been dumped in his office, and that I hadn’t realized that the carpet was being renewed in the office areas as well as in the public areas. But no, the carpet was not being renewed on the third floor. His office always looked like this. Luckily he thought my mistake was very funny and he went on to explain how people were always putting things on his desk while he was away, although he didn’t understand why, because his assistant-director was perfectly capable of taking care of things. I could see why she would have to be.
He was extremely friendly and we spent close to an hour chatting about almost everything but my education, my experience as a librarian, or my expectations of a job at his library. While flipping through the binder which held my degrees, the letters from the Dutch Ministry of Education and the American Library Association, and the letters of recommendation from my three previous employers, he talked about the fact that his wife did not want him to keep a rifle in the house, about the University of Wisconsin, which he was not allowed to attend because his parents thought it was too liberal, and about his trip to Holland when he was a small child.
Somewhere in between all of this and more, he mentioned the previous assistant librarian at the Children’s Department, who had decided to join a convent, and another opening for reference librarian. He asked me if I was interested in one of these positions. I could choose?! Although I was far more interested in his job – his office could do with some drastic reorganizing – I said I would be very interested in the children’s department job, especially since I was a school librarian by training and this would be the next best thing. I even managed to beam. I had never been anyone’s assistant before and I had never been in the least bit interested in working in public libraries, but circumstances now made me live the saying that beggars can’t be choosers.
While the very busy director of the public library walked me all the way down to the main entrance to the library, he promised for the third time that he would call me as soon as he knew when the positions would be advertised, “because we could certainly use someone like you”. I went home, going over the interview in my mind, wondering what he thought someone like me was, and what he based his apparently positive impression on, since my qualifications were not discussed. Until then, I had written thank you letters to everyone I had spoken to about possible future jobs, commenting on things that had been said during the interviews, but after this interview I changed to thank you cards, since I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything to write that would link our talk to my job search.
And I got the job.