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Last week I said here that I loved books, libraries, and new experiences. Now, after having spent my day at the Illinois Library Association’s annual conference, add to that list: librarians.

I’ve always valued librarians, especially when I was getting my master’s degree and we had to order and pay for our literature searches. Then, my papers, my thesis, and, it seemed, my life depended on them. By the time I did my doctorate, we could do our own searches and my need for librarians diminished.

But spending a day with librarians opened me up to new insights about similarities between them and nurses. My “aha” started when an academic librarian raised a question during the last morning session and mentioned the nursing students at her university. Naturally, I had to approach her at the break, and this led to her asking me to sit with her at lunch.

Others soon joined us at the Awards Luncheon table.  Male and female librarians from community colleges and public libraries. We introduced ourselves. I said something silly like I was probably the only nurse there but had felt comfortable all morning mingling among the 700-some people in attendance. One of the women replied, “We’re in similar professions. We both are here to serve people.”

That statement came to mind as I reflected on what to write about my day. Other than, of course, that it lasted fourteen hours, jammed back to back with this schedule: ten-minute walk to ‘L’, thirty-six minute ‘L’ ride, three-minute bus ride, ninety-minute opening general session, sixty-minute program session, ninety-minute Awards Luncheon, two sixty-minute program sessions, sixty-minute Illinois Authors’ Cocktail Hour, one-hundred-twenty minute Authors’ Dinner—including an after dinner speaker, ten-minute shuttle ride back to ‘L’, thirty-six  minute ‘L’ ride home, followed by a ten-minute walk to my door.

After getting that breathless schedule down on paper, I was able to get back to the idea that, as a nurse, I’d never thought to compare myself to a librarian.

First, there was that librarian’s comment. Yes, we both are in service professions. We are here solely to meet the needs of the people in our care. They serve patrons; we serve patients.

Second, we both are interested in outcomes. With librarians, it’s not just about providing the content to their patrons, it’s making sure they know how to use it properly.  Especially in this digital age. As one speaker said, they should “equip people to create and communicate in new ways.” To “enable people to live more fulfilled lives.” So this might mean teaching anything electronic for retrieving information, such as computer or e-reader classes. He pointed out that anyone can Google anything, but “not everyone can sort the good from the bad.”

By contrast, with nurses, it’s not just about providing the care to our patients. Our goal is always to promote, maintain, or restore the health of our patients, and if that is no longer possible, we want to support their dying with dignity. To achieve these outcomes, we plan and provide individualized care, including education.

Third, both librarians and nurses reach out to the people we serve. Rather than stay behind their desks, librarians are roving around their libraries, piloting reference services to college dormitories, delivering books to shut-ins, and participating in community events.  And nurses, in addition to hospitals and long-term care settings, have always worked in such places as doctors’ offices, homes, schools, and churches.

Finally, I was struck when one speaker stressed that librarians must “push” what they have to offer to the public. The public doesn’t know “what they do well”.  He added, “You’re either at the table or you’re on the menu.”

An old argument of ours is that the public doesn’t know what we nurses do. Often they think of us as we are portrayed in the media. Dumb or troubled blondes taking orders from dashing doctors or falling in love with them. In my talks on my nursing memoir, Caring Lessons, I often make the point that no doctor has ever lured me into a broom closet for an illicit rendezvous.  We know, as nurses, we constantly have to teach the public about our educational backgrounds and our capabilities.  We also need to “push what we do well”.

By the way, if you read my first piece about attending this conference, I want you to know that the Authors’ Dinner speaker, Michael Cunningham (The Hours), happened to sit at my table. And I also had a face-to-face encounter with Elizabeth Berg, whom, if you’ve read any of her many novels, is just as gracious in person as her tone is in her writing.

I found both Cunningham and Berg to be encouraging to this novice writer. By their actions and words, they modeled that, as a retired-nurse-turned-writer, I can still be of service to others.

A final thank you to Bev Meyer, a high school friend, now a university librarian, for alerting me to this opportunity, and to Elaine Savage and Mary Johnson at Palos Heights Public Library for making it happen by sponsoring me as a featured author at the Illinois Authors’ Dinner.