Then she asked me the question that always plucks at my heart: “Don’t you want to find some way to use your PhD in Russian in your library job?” Ugh. I wrestle with this question constantly. I feel deep pangs of betrayal, even, about it. Why did I spend decades learning Russian and learning about Russian history, culture, etc., if I am not going to use it now to earn a living? I love Russian. I’m good at it. It’s a shame to have acquired fluency in a highly-inflected language and not use it in some external way.
I was reminded of an incident I observed as part of an assignment for my Reference class this past summer, which I used for a comment on Sue's blog, and reproduce here for my classmates to read:
Shortly after an hourly rotation of staff, three people approached the desk. It became apparent that they were three generations of females from the same family – elderly mother, grown daughter, and flame-red-haired granddaughter. The “middle” woman asked the male-librarian at the desk for help in finding English books in Russian. As the librarian was giving her his full attention, she explained that what she meant was books to help someone learn English, written in Russian, as well as easy-to-read books for adults learning English. The older woman wore a headscarf, and dressed simply in ways that reminded the author of the way people dressed in the USSR in January of 1984. To the surprise, delight and relief of all three patrons, the librarian responded by greeting and conversing with the Russian woman in her native language! This had the immediate effect of dissipating the “library anxiety” clearly present in the faces of the patrons. With a warm smile, the librarian rose from his seat, asked one additional clarifying question, and led the cheerful group away in search of resources. Had those same patrons approached a “para-librarian” who had only a high school diploma and fewer life-experiences to draw upon, the reference transaction probably would not have ended on such a high note.