Wed | Sep 26, 2018

Humanities in action | A lifelong career in library science

Published:Sunday | October 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMCheryl Peltier-Davis

At the age of 12, when prompted by my primary school teacher to write about what I wanted to do when I left school, I wrote a two-page essay on what my dream job was: a flight attendant.

Fast-forward 39 years later and that essay would read quite differently if I were to write it, describing my life as a librarian. A far cry from the world of a flight attendant, librarianship has been every bit as exciting and rewarding as what seemed then to be a fabulous career criss-crossing the globe.

My path towards librarianship started in the 1980s when I enrolled for the undergraduate degree in the Faculty of Humanities and Education at The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago. It became more focused when I commenced my postgraduate degree in Library and Information Studies in 1993, again in the Faculty of Humanities and Education (FHE), this time at UWI Mona, Jamaica.

This training blossomed into a passion for my profession that has led to appointments in the United States and the Caribbean.

In brief, my career as a librarian has been fulfilling and exciting and has allowed me to make a valuable contribution to the development of the region in a sector that is key to its growth. In today's modern, technologically driven societies, libraries no longer function as brick and mortar storehouses of information but are perceived as innovative, dynamic organisations that facilitate discovery of print and electronic resources, preserve and provide access to our rich Caribbean heritage collections, and support a plethora of technology driven services to all segments of our society.

Like many careers defined by passion and commitment, this path has not been an easy one. At UWI, St Augustine, it is a gruelling routine for four successive years, but I managed to achieve it. I embarked on this demanding journey in pursuit of an undergraduate degree in History to fulfil an inner craving to explore the intricacies of Caribbean political, economic, and social structures.




I chose to take a minor in social sciences and explored subject areas politics, sociology and anthropology. It was in one of my courses in the humanities that award-winning Trinidadian novelist Earl Lovelace read and critiqued my first fledgling attempts at creative writing.

Under his tutelage, my poorly crafted short stories were honed to perfection, which resulted in my receiving the faculty award for creative writing.

The writing skills I acquired in that creative writing class and the confidence afforded by the winning of the faculty prize jump-started an award-winning career as an author and supported the mandated scholarly activities as academic librarian.

To date, I have maintained a successful track record of original research and publishing, presenting my research in books, book chapters, journal articles, conference presentations, and blogs. Among those are an edited work on Caribbean libraries in the 21st century and a two-volume guide on social media tools and mobile apps in libraries.

After attaining my undergraduate degree with upper second-class honours, I decided to get on-the job experience as a library assistant. I came to UWI Mona to do a master's degree in library and information studies. This degree, required for a professional career in librarianship, had at its core courses designed to help students move seamlessly and with alacrity as generalists or specialists into their chosen library type, whether public, academic, or specialist library.

As diligent as I was in my studies, university life was not only about academic work. At St Augustine, I participated in the debate club and cataloguing the library collection of a history professor. On Thursday afternoons, there was 'liming' Trini style in the undercroft, and on Friday nights, eating areas were magically transformed into live discotheques, blasting music of all genres with added entertainment in the form of karaoke and dance competitions. At Mona, as a residential student, I was able to partake fully and enjoy all that campus life offered.

At the culmination of my postgraduate studies, the Department of Library and Information Studies at Mona awarded me the Dorothy Collings award for outstanding postgraduate work. In 2012, the department presented me with the Librarian of the Decades award.

These honours from my alma mater affirmed that I had chosen the right career path. I have worked in university libraries in Bellingham, Washington, Fort Lauderdale, and at The University of the West Indies, Mona and St Augustine.

In an ever-changing world where modes of education are constantly evolving and presenting new opportunities and challenges, I am of the firm opinion that my career successes are closely aligned with my academic choices as an undergraduate and postgraduate student in the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the UWI.

These academic choices laid the professional foundation required to gain entry into the real world of work and engage in a lifelong career spanning over twenty-two years in librarianship.

n This article, courtesy of the Faculty of Humanities and Education, The University of the West Indies, is one in a series that seeks to promote and highlight the impact of the arts and humanities on the individual's personal development and career path. Cheryl Peltier-Davis is a librarian at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus Library.