The long and winding road…how I got into libraries

Beth Tribe tagged me for the “how I became a librarian” meme. It’s funny I’ve been debating since August whether or not to write this post, but I’m a firm believer that we learn from each other. So here goes.

Since I was in about 6th grade I wanted to be a college professor–of Astronomy. I excelled in elementary and middle school. High school on the other hand did not challenge me, and as a result I was not interested in learning. Given all that upon graduating high school I had two scholarships–a 3-year ROTC scholarship to FSU and a cosmetology scholarship to our local vocational school.

My parents encouraged me to get a “good job” as a secretary.

I spent that first summer out of high school working as a summer camp counselor for the YMCA. That was one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. It was there that a coworker encouraged me to apply for EMT training. I was accepted and had my scholarship transferred from the cosmetology program to the EMT program.

From the first night of class I knew that this was the place for me. I loved the practical education. I loved the clinical rotations in the hospital and fire station. I became known as the “trauma queen.” Whenever I arrived for an all-nighter at the fire station the fire fighters knew they would get no sleep. I think I set a record for the number of trauma calls during one semester.

During the course of my training and years as an EMT and firefighter I’ve held a human heart in my hand as it stopped beating, recovered bodies from a plane crash, crawled under a car to administer first aid to a trapped patient, seen the results of not wearing a motorcycle helmet, been shot at, and cried with a patient as he died from cancer. I’ve also been called on to “assist a citizen” who had a duck in her yard.

One of the other things I learned about myself was that I loved training. I became certified to teach CPR, first aid, and EMT classes. I think I was one of the youngest trainers in the area.

As you can imagine being an EMT and a firefighter is intensely physical labor. A few years of this took a toll on my body and I transitioned to a job as an emergency dispatcher. Now I was like a fish in water. I loved the fast pace, multitasking, planning, and technology. A fellow dispatcher and I became friends and she told me I “had” to meet her brother. To make a long story a little bit shorter. Her brother (now my husband) and I wrote letters (yes snail mail) for a few years until we finally met. About two months after meeting in person I left my job and the career I had established and moved from Florida to North Carolina with no job in sight. It was a leap of faith (and love).

I decided I wanted a change in careers. I had a few jobs here and there (bank teller, waitress, receptionist, computer trainer) and eventually landed a job working for Microsoft. As a support engineer for Microsoft Access I provided support to customers around the world. It was a great environment to work in, but the thing most people don’t realize about a company like this is that they hire only the best of the best. Previously I’d always been the star. Working at Microsoft is like being the valedictorian of your high school then going to an elite university where everyone else was was valedictorian too. Keeping up with the techies was a struggle, but the awesome thing about Microsoft is that their culture is not hung up on degrees. In fact, Bill Gates dropped out of college to found the company. Although I had taken college courses here and there, this was reassurance that I could put off completing my degree even longer.

In the Spring of 1999 I began having symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. I saw doctor after doctor and had test after test. Technicians thought the nerve conduction machine was broken because there was no response no matter how high they turned it up. When they brought in a class of medical students I knew something was really wrong.

Eventually I was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy called charcot-marie-tooth disease (CMT) just a few months before my wedding. I was told that the disease would slowly progress and that I may lose most of the use of my hands and eventually need a wheelchair. The diagnosis came as a huge blow to me. I had never suspected that I had any health problems. After all, I had been a firefighter. I had raised money for Jerry’s kids. Now I was one of Jerry’s kids?

Within two weeks I was laid off from Microsoft.

I applied and was interviewed for job after job in IT and training. The interviews went great. Until I disclosed my newly diagnosed disability and accommodations that I would need–such as voice recognition software to reduce the amount of keyboarding, handicapped parking, etc. By law I did not have to disclose my condition until after being hired, but I wanted to make sure that I went to work for a supportive organization. Besides who wants to start a job under false pretenses?

I remember seeing the job posted for an Automation Support Coordinator for PLCMC and thinking to myself. This is it. This is the job for me. I had always loved libraries and this job had computers, training, working with the public all in one. It seemed like the perfect job at the perfect time. I remember my interview like it was yesterday. It went well until the last question. “Can you perform the duties of this job with or without accommodations?” My heart sunk as I disclosed my condition. Elaine Novak reassured me that this would not effect the library’s decision and that there were other employees with disabilities. I left with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Weeks went by without hearing anything. A month after my interview I received the job offer.

Nine years, a husband, and two kids later I have a job and career that I love in libraries. I’ve worked my way up to coordinating training for the library system. I’m getting started in consulting. My health is mostly good, and my condition has actually improved over the years. I can’t imagine working anyplace other than in a library. Next year I will graduate with my BS in Communication and then go on to graduate school. It is often a struggle to work full-time, have two kids, and go to school. But the experiences I’ve had are ones that have shaped the life I have now. Now seriously…can you imagine how different my life would be if I’d become a cosmetologist?

Since this is the meme that won’t go away, I’m tagging Marianne Lennox, Stephanie Zimmerman, Tony Tallent, and Helene Blowers. How did you get started in libraries?

About Lori Reed

Lori Reed, coauthor of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Non-Profit Trainers, is a learning and communication strategist with more than twenty years experience in learning and development. A 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2010 "One to Watch" for paralibrarians, Lori graduated cum laude from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Lori is a certified Synchronous Learning Expert and a North Carolina Master Trainer and has traveled across North America speaking about libraries and training.


  1. what a moving story Lori. I had no idea what your background was, than you so much for sharing. I wish you were going to be at IL so we could finally meet face to face.

  2. What a story Lori! Thanks for sharing it with us. Yeah, somehow I just can’t picture you putting on makeup for weddings LOL. I’ve been tagged 3 times now, and it’s on my list of things to do – so be on the lookout for my saga…

  3. What a remarkable story! I’m so glad you decided to share it with us.

  4. You are remarkable, Lori, and I’m so proud to call you my friend. But you tag me after that? Gee, thanks. 😉

  5. Wow. I heart you even more! Reminded me to ask if you have done anymore with the meme video clips we talked about at ALA…”Hi, I’m Lori and I’m a librarian”…to build awareness of all the great library work being done by non-MLIS librarians.

  6. Wow, what a story. All I can say is, I am in awe!


  1. […] And, like Sarah, she faces challenges—in Lori’s case, a diagnosis of “a form of muscular dystrophy called charcot-marie-tooth disease,” which she disclosed in a blog posting in October 2008. […]

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