I recently spoke with UNT graduate Debbie Cox, a full time reference librarian at Lone Star College - Montgomery. In a personal interview, we sat down together in her office and had a very interesting and informative conversation.
Debbie Cox has been a Reference Librarian with LSC-Montgomery for the past 14 years. Debbie’s previous career was as a college English teacher. She has two master’s degrees - one in Library and Information Science from the University of North Texas, and one in British and American Literature from Southwest Missouri State University. Debbie is passionate about her profession, and she serves as the library liaison for English, Art, Speech, Communication, Drama, Education, Human Development, Human Services, Psychology, Sociology, and Religion. You’ll see her running around the library and hear her cheerful laughter in every corner!
What is your educational/professional background?
Before I became a reference librarian, I taught English at a private college for several years. After that, I taught English at Austin Community College. In 1994, I earned my MLIS from University of North Texas, and became a full time librarian at Lone Star College – Montgomery, where I have also served as an Adjunct Instructor of English. In 2009, I won the Faculty Excellence Award at our college - the first time a librarian at our campus had won it! I was very excited! It was quite an honor.
When you graduated college/graduate school, what were your career goals? Have they changed?
I wanted to be a full time community college teacher by the time I was 30. I had earned my first MA, been a full-time faculty member, published a novel, and owned/operated my own small bookstore. With all of that behind me, I needed a new goal. I decided I wanted to be a reference librarian.
When and how did you decide the LIS career path was for you?
In 1989, while I was running a small bookstore, I decided to shift gears toward an LIS career. I truly enjoyed my small bookstore, and I loved providing books and information to my customers. My reluctance to charge customers for the information they sought, however, inspired me to begin a career where I could give people information instead of charging them for it!
What does a typical work day look like for you?
My days are varied, and I would like to lay to rest the rumor that librarians do the same thing every day. I spend the first hour or so of my day answering emails and voicemails from students and faculty. A two-hour shift on the Reference Desk has me answering questions from students and faculty in person, on the phone, or through the college’s instant online messaging system (PhP). The next hour includes lunch and office time, which I often spend catching up with emails/voicemails and serving as faculty liaison. Another hour and a half at the Reference Desk has me focusing on patron questions, with the down time between questions spent on continuing library projects. The last few hours of my day are split between communication updates, more faculty liaison, collection development, and cooperative projects with my fellow librarians. I also teach an average of three Bibliographic Instruction classes per week in any subject discipline that comes my way.
What is your favorite/least favorite thing about your job?
While my favorite aspect of the job is collection development (I could happily do this all day!), my least favorite activity is trouble-shooting copier/printer problems.
What can students interested in working in your type of LIS profession look to make as far as salary (starting out or over time)?
A low starting salary could begin around 29K (it shouldn't be any lower!), and established academic librarians who pursue all available venues may reach into the area of 80K.
How did you think your education prepared you/didn’t prepare you for your current career?
I definitely wished that technology had been more of a focus when I went through the program. It also concerned me that no courses during my educational career taught the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal system; librarians were “expected” to learn those on their own.
Additionally, my graduate degree in literature has been as helpful in serving students as my MLIS.
What advice do you have for current/graduating library and information science students?
Don't settle in a job that you don't want. While your first job may not be your ideal, continue to work toward your dream. Don’t give up!
What changes do you foresee for the field of Library and Information Science in the next five to ten years?
A heavy emphasis on technology will continue to dominate our field, with an increased dependence on library databases rather than physical books. New MLIS graduates will have an edge in the field as they bring energy and advanced technology skills to the profession. The future is bright for all of us in this career field! I actually envy new graduates. The future of our field is going to be exciting!
Interviewed by Angela Colmenares