I have often wondered why I chose a career in academics. I flirted with the idea of becoming a newspaper journalist because I admired my journalist aunt. I also thought of becoming a lawyer because a lot of bright lights where I went to high school seemed headed in that direction.
But the more I think about it, the more I believe that my choice of academics went back to a kindly librarian. A grade school nun directed me to go to the library, discover something about the “phoenicians,” whoever they were, and write down for her what I found out about them. I had never been to a library before, so I dutifully rode my bike the mile or so straight up my street in Buffalo’s North Park section and made my fearful way into the local library. I was too young to know anything about library research and my teacher had told me nothing about it. So I approached a librarian, looking more manly than I felt because I expected she would find me laughably ignorant. Instead she smiled in an understanding sort of way, asked me what my topic was, and ushered me over to what was then known as the card catalog. I don’t remember where I found my information about the phoenicians (book, magazine, whatever). All I do remember is that the librarian led me to it without finding it for me. So I wrote my new knowledge down and proudly handed it in to my somewhat surprised teacher, who gave me an A for it.
It was common enough at the college where I later taught for over forty years to hear speakers at awards ceremonies say that college teachers would never know how deeply they had influenced their thousands of students over the years. I hope that was true in my case, but I think the librarian who directed my young boy’s research into the phoenicians toward the end of the nineteen forties was more responsible than anyone else in my life for my later choice of an academic career.
The first photo below is of Merion Hall at the Jesuit University in Philadelphia (statue of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, out front) where my English Department office was located before I retired. The second photo is of the library in Ardmore, Pennsylvania where I now get my books with the help of still welcoming librarians.
Next post: About the Phoenicians!