Being surrounded by books teaches you a host of life lessons.
As many of you may know, I worked as an Information Assistant at my college’s library. My experience working at the library is one that I hold in the highest regard. I enjoyed so much helping others find books and recommending my favorite reads to students. I also found it fascinating to witness our library’s transition from majority print resources to shifting towards more digital resources. Our world is changing at such a rapid pace that it becomes increasingly important to prioritize asking why these changes are occurring, what our future will look like, and how we fit into this new normal. It was such a great pleasure to speak with Patrick O’Hanlon, who works in the Library Sciences, to hear about his unique career journey as well as his take on the future of print.
Patrick! Please share a little bit about yourself!
What was your major in college and how did your academic experience guide your professional endeavors?
During undergrad studies, my major was Speech Communication with a minor in Media Production. It’s a very broad major, but I supplemented it with internships and a variety of jobs. I was a jack-of-all trades after receiving my bachelor’s degree, and just after graduation, I bounced around more than I’d expected. The biggest change happened after I lived abroad for a year and then returned to find a media job in academia. That position helped me form my personal life and gave me stability.
Did you always know that you wanted to work in library access services or have a career trajectory towards library and information science?
Working in library sciences was something that I was drawn to as a career change. My personal life had the chance to grow because of the steady job I found at Suffolk University. The reliability of the workplace was comfortable, and while I did pursue other projects outside of work, it became clear that my existing skills weren’t going to afford me any new opportunities to advance my career in the visible future.
While discussing it with Lynn, my wife, my propensity for organization kept resurfacing, and I applied for the Masters of Library Science program at Simmons College, which has since become a university. Once I was accepted as a part-time student, it took four years to finish the program. Taking graduate classes – even one at a time – with a full-time job, doesn’t afford the same kind of tight-knit experience that undergrad does. You make connections and collaborate with great people, but you’re all quickly pulled in different directions with life’s other obligations being based almost entirely off campus.
How did you ultimately end up working for Babson?
After graduation, it took about nine months of searching after finishing my Masters before I made my way to Babson. Simmons is one of the best library science schools in the country and offers its graduates great resources for job placement. It was finding my way through my own personal boundaries that became the real challenge. My family is mostly in the Boston area and Lynn also has a very serious career here, so picking up and moving somewhere new simply to apply my new degree was not in the cards.
I had been to Babson’s Wellesley campus on an occasion or two in the past, and as a visitor, it had just seemed like a picturesque college. Returning with the possibility of working in the library opened up the highlights of the business community for me, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the community is inspiring. The students want to not only do well for themselves, but also to build the future. Entrepreneurship is the long lever that they have found that really can move the world. This was a place I was intrigued to be a part of, and it’s fantastic to contribute to an constantly evolving institution.
What about your job is most engaging to you?
It’s the academic setting of the Horn Library that is one of the appealing things about working at Babson. It is a community of people who believe in changing the world for the better. The students and teachers here are the stars. My role as a librarian and a manager is a supporting one. The technical aspects of working in a library can be picked up rather quickly, and it is absolutely about making the library serve the community,
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The ongoing, but welcoming, challenge is managing people. Oh, and scheduling. (My god, the scheduling!) The student employees are more often the day-to-day face of the library and report to me. As a manager of people who are in one of the first jobs early in their work life, it’s about encouraging them to trust their problem solving abilities and then recognizing the teachable moments when difficulties occur that will help them navigate as professionals in careers well beyond library customer service.
Do you have a favorite book or author?
One of the books that made an impression on me just after college was the memoir “A Pirate Looks at Fifty” by Jimmy Buffett, the musician. (Two things to be noted are that his personal worth is currently estimated to be around $600 million and that he has no relation to Warren Buffett the investor.) Here is someone who took a very basic skill that he learned in college during his spare time – playing four chords on a guitar – and parlayed it over decades into one of the best-known entertainment careers of the Baby Boomers’ generation. His public journey was far from certain and even a performer’s career comes with unexpected indignities in tow. His music isn’t complex and hasn’t won many awards in spite of the widespread popularity of its heyday, but he measures his success in the reception he and his bandmates receive from fans when they perform. The reflections he has in the book show that even with the adventures he’s been afforded, no job compensation or perk is worth the effort if you can’t give yourself fully over the day-to-day of what you do or if you don’t love who you share your private time with once the crowd goes home. (His pro tip for future parents: hone your pancake-making skills.)
How is the field of information and the way that libraries function changing and what do you see the future of libraries looking like?
Libraries are undoubtedly leaping towards a more digital future, but they won’t be entirely digital. Digital resources are the supercar of knowledge. They can get you where you want to go faster than anything that has come before, but you still need people to drive it. Storing and encouraging knowledge is what libraries are here to do. Librarians are never themselves going to be omniscient repositories, but they can be the sherpa guides who know the territory to get you where you want to go. Libraries will be where the digital and human worlds of education meet.
Will print ever die?
The question of whether or not print will ever die is a perennially relevant question. The short answer is no, even as we’ve come to rely on digital exponentially more during the pandemic. Is it changing? Absolutely. People freaked out that oral tradition was going to die and intelligence would dim with the written word becoming more common back in Socrates’ day. The Gutenberg Printing Press made books more accessible than any time before and there was concern that people would devalue the skill of reading. Now we’re well into racing along another iteration of how people disseminate and consume information, and any rapid, systemic change is unsettling. Paper is certainly less efficient for rapid delivery and is becoming less day-to-day, but it will still be an important part of how we consume and store information long term. Studies have shown that, as individuals, we retain information better when we read analog print, and there isn’t yet a digital tablet that has the battery life or storage medium to outlast paper and ink.
What about the future personally excites you?
Today’s students are approaching the world with an eye toward making the whole work better for everyone. It’s a spirit of leadership that will take advantage of some of the best technologies we’ve ever had to solve problems. I look forward to seeing the inventiveness of the classes of students I’ve watched pass through campus come into their own and show just how much they can do.