Aisha Washington – From Teacher to Public Librarian

Career Blog

Published: September 1, 2017 by Kate M. Spaulding

As part of my effort to explore the available LIS career paths, I reached out to some SJSU iSchool alumni to learn about their jobs. The second stop on this career tour was 2011 graduate Aisha Washington. She’s a Librarian at San Mateo Public Library, which is how I know her (I’m a Library Assistant there).

For reference, SMPL has one large, main branch and two smaller neighborhood branches. I asked her to talk about public libraries, her work, and her path, and she was gracious enough to agree. I hope you find this as fascinating as I do! Thank you, Aisha!

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, where you work, and what you do?

I work for San Mateo Public Library (SMPL) at the Marina Branch. I’m a generalist, working with both Children’s and Adult Services. I spend most of my week at the branch, and I work at least one day each week at the Main Library.

My regular duties include:

  • providing reference services
  • planning and executing programs for the public
  • meeting with both the Children’s Team and Adult/Teen Services Team to fulfill the library’s work plan goals and objectives
  • maintaining parts of the borrowing collection (400s, 800s, ESL, and Large Type)
  • serving on the Automation Team (discussing library-related technology issues)
  • working as a liaison to one of the library’s cultural advisory committees (African American Library Advisory Committee)
  • attending outreach events; and partnering with schools and other community organizations to promote literacy and library services.

What inspired you to get your MLIS? What drew you to public libraries?

I actually started out as a teacher working in elementary and middle schools in St. Louis, where I’m originally from. I was always interested in libraries, and before I finished college, I knew that I wanted to be a librarian. As a college student, I spent a lot of time in the library – so much that many people assumed that I worked there. I guess I was an unofficial volunteer! I’d get people asking me to help them find things or how to operate some of the equipment, and if it was something I felt comfortable with, I’d help them. If it was over my head, I would tell them to ask the library staff. I talked to the librarian about the requirements for getting into the field, and I figured I would get there one day.

I spent a few years teaching, but then I relocated to the Washington, D.C. area and worked retail for a while. Even then, I still wanted to work in a library, and I kept my eyes open for any library positions.

After a couple of years, I relocated to California, and my interest in libraries never waned. I started working as a Library Assistant at San Mateo Public Library in 2006.

I started the MLIS program at SJSU in 2007, focusing on the Academic Libraries specialization, thinking that I would end up working at a college library. I was still very interested in teaching, and I figured that working in an academic setting would allow me to incorporate a teaching component into my work. Since I was working at a public library at the time, I used my work experience in a lot of my course work. The academic library field was my preference, but I felt that I would enjoy working in a professional capacity at a public library if the opportunity arose. I like engaging with the public, and seeing a variety of success stories from people of all ages and from all walks of life is very rewarding.

How did you get to your position as a Reference Librarian at SMPL?

I worked as a Library Assistant in Circulation for 6 years at SMPL. A few Librarian positions opened in 2012; I applied and was hired as a branch librarian. I was told I would be a good fit due to my experience with working with children, my rapport with the library patrons, and my previous experience working in Circulation Services. Since branch library staff do a little bit of everything, they wanted someone who would be comfortable with that.

Have you been involved in ALA, PLA, or some other professional association at all? If so, how has that helped your career trajectory? If it hasn’t helped, that’s good info, too!

I have investigated several professional associations, but I haven’t joined any yet.  I have attended many workshops and seminars facilitated by ALA and others.

What is the best career advice you’ve gotten and/or what’s your favorite career advice to give?

The best career advice I’ve received was from the people who’ve reminded me that no problem is insurmountable; if you can’t figure out a solution to an issue, there is always someone else (a colleague, a co-worker, a friend, etc.) who has the experience to help you troubleshoot any issue.

My favorite career advice to give is: don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Each mistake is a learning opportunity. I always tell coworkers or library patrons who are nervous about dealing with technology that there will always be updates or other advances that force you to keep learning new skills, so even the experts have something new to learn. I think that can be applied to all sorts of things outside of technology as well.