My senior year of high school, Mom got breast cancer and Daddy lost his job. I only applied to two colleges, both in state. I find it ironic that since they were both engineering schools I never had to write a college entrance essay. I suppose I’ve been making up for it ever since.
After my first semester at Virginia Tech, I ditched all of my engineering courses and changed majors to Communication Studies. My father was very distraught. He was convinced I would serve fries for a living.
I will be the first to admit that Communication Studies is not a particularly hard degree. It’s so simple they require a minor to go along with it. I chose Creative Writing. I always imagine Daddy clutching his chest like Fred Sanford at that news.
Having such a simple major allowed me to work a lot of hours in the library. I had gotten a job at VTIC (Virginia Tech Intellectual ... Corporation? Cooperative? Coalition? I forget.) It was basically the business version of interlibrary loan in the library. They would only give me seven hours a week to work so I needed another job. My bestie Kim got me a job in shelving.
Shelving is a fantastic job, provided your Walkman never runs out of batteries. I could have as many hours as I wanted, my schedule was flexible, I could dress like a homeless person, Irene gave us all great snacks, and I could walk the stacks putting away books or satisfy my OCD by shelf reading or building carts from the book return.
I still worked those seven hours at VTIC, though. I remember they wouldn’t let us students use the OCLC terminal that had Passport installed on it because it was “too complicated” for us. I will never understand university departments who don’t believe young adults taking microbiology can handle that F11 is the how you send a request.
I wanted more money and more hours because I was planning on working that summer full time and staying in Blacksburg. I had worked my way up to a Team Leader position in the shelving department which paid a little better. I was still making basically minimum wage at VTIC to hold down that rolling office chair, answer the phone, and do a few simple filing tasks.
All of a sudden, VTIC said that they would consider letting me work more hours and would pay be 10 cents more an hour. I felt like shelving had maxed out for me. There were no other positions there other than “student assistant” jobs and those were slim pickings. If I wanted to make more money, I needed to switch over to VTIC full time. They even agreed they would train me on how to use Passport. (I know. It makes me laugh too.)
I was working behind the circulation desk and had decided that after my shift, I would tell Bossman that I couldn’t work in shelving anymore because VTIC offered me 20 hours a week at a higher wage. I was sitting on a stool, loading books onto a cart, Walkman blasting in my ears, when Bossman walked up behind me.
A man of few words, he said, “I was wondering if you were interested in a student assistant position. It pays $1 more an hour and you could do that for all of your hours versus shelving.” I stared at him. “Uh. Yes!” “Great. You can start next week.” Then he walked away.
That afternoon changed my life. I worked for Bossman as a student assistant. He taught me how to write code and build a database. I wrote the program that created the new call number labels on all the stacks in the building. I helped write the scheduling system we used in the shelving department, a web-based system in 1995 allowing students to switch shifts on the fly. I became his Girl Friday.
When he moved over to the interlibrary loan department, I followed him. When he left Virginia Tech, I got his job as a programmer for that department. When his company was able to start selling ILLiad across the country, I left my safe state job, took a pay cut, paid COBRA prices for my health insurance, and drove back across the state to work for him.
I still work for Bossman. I’ve only had three bosses in my entire life and I’m not planning on changing that any time soon.
Today is the 20th birthday of ILLiad - the interlibrary loan software system that launched on St. Patrick’s Day at Virginia Tech. I’ve been supporting it in one way or another all that time. I just spent three days with a bunch of librarians who adore me as much as I adore them. We’ve found all kinds of new ways to help them too. Server hosting, workflow analysis, integrations with other vendors, discovery services, site visits.
I love my job. I love librarians. And I still dress like a homeless person at work.