The Fast Track to the Big Dream

Sarah Bihn B.A. '21; M.L.I.S. '22 once thought she'd graduate from college, get a nice quiet job in the back room of a library doing cataloging and she'd be set. Instead, she's out front on the floor as the children's librarian doing a variety of tasks, one of the most public being children's story time – including different voices for the characters and even singing. We sat down with her to learn how she took center stage at the Boston Public Library.

CCI: How did you come to the iSchool?

Sarah Bihn:  I have a little bit of a unique case. I started working in libraries when I was 17 as a shelver, and my wonderful mentor, Catie Taylor, from the Medina County District Library, was an alum of the iSchool and had nothing but glowing reviews. I knew I wanted to go for my master's – after I finished my undergrad in communication studies with a minor in history. She was a wonderful mentor to me. And then it just so happened that my first-year experience class was taught by Michelle Baldini. We talked how I wanted to go over to library school, and we met in the Reinberger. So, I became very familiar with that. In my second semester, she was looking for a student worker, and it worked out that I was the first undergraduate student worker, and I started working on the Alma Flor Ada collection, doing inventory.

CCI: You started out wanting to be a cataloger. What was so appealing about that?

Sarah Bihn: I was very shy, growing up, so in my mind I was like cataloging is going to be perfect. I'll never have to speak to anyone. I could still be working in the libraries with books, and it'll be wonderful.

CCI: And how did that lead to children's services?

Sarah Bihn: I had worked with kids in the past before through volunteer opportunities. Then under Michelle Baldini I learned so much, even as an undergrad, and her graduate student Haley was so wonderful with advice about professors and classes. And I had all these wonderful memories of working with Catie in Medina and going to her story times. It sort of all came together, and I decided that maybe cataloging is good, but doing something a little bit more hands-on and working directly with kids and their parents was something I was more interested in. So, then I focused on youth services. There I met so many people who were very influential into my overall program, like Will Hillenbrand, who's a children's illustrator and author. I got to meet Alma Flor Ada, and Isabel Campoy.

CCI: And that lead to where you are now?

Sarah Bihn: Currently, I am the children's librarian for the Adams Street branch of the Boston Public Library. I'm doing programming, weeding. I'm actually not doing cataloging. But I am doing ordering for my collection. I've only been here not even 2 months yet, and Boston was my 10-year plan, the big dream. I didn't think I was going to get here this soon. And now I find myself here, and it's been everything I could have ever hoped for. And having Michelle Baldini in my corner has been so amazing. Everyone from the iSchool was always so supportive.  I did grant work with Kathleen Campana and my master's, and she was my advisor. So, having them as references – I've been told, after I've been hired, that I have some of the strongest references they've ever spoken to. Having that guidance for so long from so many great people, it's definitely paid off for me.

CCI: What kind of experiences did the Reinberger provide that you use now in Boston?

Sarah Bihn: Everything from making connections and growing networking. Michelle really introduced me to so many different things. I ran the Reinberger social media during Covid. I did a lot of "Currently Reading" books and then also crafts that went along with that. Even just learning how to work with Facebook business suite. I use that pretty much every day, now. And then having conversations around books that were once classics, but as we look at them now, these books have some values, morals we may not want to teach our children. So now when I'm doing my story times, I'm always thinking about what is the overall message of this book? Is it something that I want to be promoting? Or is it something that maybe like it's okay to read one-on-one with your kids, but maybe not to a crowd of 30 kids.

CCI: What is something you learned during your time in the iSchool that you use every day now, that's become part of your go-to tools or skillset?

Sarah Bihn:  Mary Anne Nichols taught early childhood literature, a middle grade and then teen literature as well, and in those classes, we had to do so many annotated bibliographies about all these different books, and then we would have to do book talks on them. Having that experience and thinking how to go through a book, so when kids will come up and they'll ask for one book. We might not have it in the collection, but since I have all this great knowledge from that class and books that I did read, I can recommend a book that's similar, and that they might like, and 9 times out of 10 they'll check that book out.

CCI: If you were to talk to somebody who was interested in following this path into library science, what would you tell them?

Sarah Bihn: I would say: make sure that you're passionate about what you're doing. In the children's library, I do two to three story times a week. And there are kids that want to climb all over you. You definitely have to know how to redirect energy and also make sure that you're able to keep high energy for a long time. 

Make sure you're able to multitask and that you're passionate about the work. And with those two things, I think you can succeed. Of course, having an amazing mentor also helps, and I thankfully was able to have several. So, I would recommend, even if you are online, if your professor has virtual hours for their office hours go to them. Even if you don't have questions. You could just ask for advice, especially if they're already in the field that you want to go into. They're going have some great like life experiences.

POSTED: Tuesday, April 2, 2024 04:53 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 28, 2024 01:08 PM