February 16, 2018

Meet the Pierce Sisters, AKA the Future of Libraries | Not Dead Yet

Ever worry about where our profession is headed? I do—a lot—but then something happens to make me realize there is indeed a bright future for librarianship, and that library work still attracts talented, creative, and interesting people. I recently had the good fortune to meet two such individuals: Ashley and Heather Pierce. They’re sisters who both happen to work at the Harvard Law School Library (HLSL), and they’re both vibrant, motivated young women who enjoy their work immensely and are obviously committed to it.

I met Heather during a local copyright workshop and met Ashley at the second workshop in the series. They both work in the Faculty Research and Information Delivery Assistance (FRIDA) Department at the Law School Library; Ashley as a document delivery and faculty reserves assistant, and Heather as a document delivery assistant. The sisters were kind enough to let me interview them about how they got into library work and what excites them about it.

Heather started working at HLSL when she was 16, and has already been there for 11 years. In 2001 her “man of the moment” had a job there, and told Heather that the library was hiring. At the time, she was working in an after-school program and not enjoying it much, so she applied for, and got, a job in inter-library loan at HLSL.

This wasn’t Heather’s first career shift. She had originally intended to practice art therapy, working with preschoolers and preteens in an urban setting. Once at Lesley University, enrolled in the art therapy BS program, she shifted her focus, proposing to work with sociopaths in maximum security prisons, using art therapy as a means of rehabilitation. She thought she had her life planned out in art therapy, but, to her surprise, the library “grew on her.” She graduated from Lesley, considered going on for a mortuary science degree (incorporating art therapy in the work), but at that point she was appointed to a full-time library assistant position in FRIDA and discovered just how much she enjoyed working with people and doing research.

She “fell in love with information science” because of the people with whom she was working, and because of the work itself. Both her former and current supervisors encouraged her to get an MLS degree and join the American Association of Law Libraries and Law Librarians of New England (LLNE); she’s now on the LLNE’s Executive Board as archivist for the association. Heather’s goal is to one day become head of the Harvard Law School Library—she’s modeling her goals on the work of the current head, Suzanne Wones, and “hopes to be at least half of what Suzanne is.”

Ashley started working in circulation at HLSL at 15, so young that she wasn’t allowed to use the department’s paper cutter. At the outset she didn’t much like libraries and wanted nothing to do with them long term, because “they were so boring.” Instead, she meant to get into music. She too attended Lesley for a time, majoring in English, until she was offered a full-time job in reserves at HLSL, at which point she left Lesley and signed up for a two-year program at the Berklee College of Music, using her vacation days to go to concerts. She did a music internship at a local record label, but left that after two weeks because “they were so disorganized.” By that time she was getting truly interested in her library work: helping others find their research materials was rewarding, and she discovered a talent for, and love of, organizing everything around her. The HLSL job prompted Ashley to learn quickly and mature fast: at 19 she had a full-time job with benefits and responsibilities, and she feels she “found her voice” through working at the library.

Their mother, Momma Pierce, is a regular visitor to the HLSL. She comes by bringing treats and decorating the sisters’ desks festively, adding a family feel to the workplace. Throughout our interview, both sisters emphasized what a close-knit, warm, supportive group of people they work with. They noted that their co-workers gave them enormous emotional support when their father passed away not long ago. They’re thankful to be working with “such an amazing, kind, and brilliant group of people.”

Like many newer librarians, both sisters proudly sport a number of dazzling tattoos, and no story about Heather and Ashley is complete without descriptions of some of their body art. Ashley characterizes hers as being pop culture-themed. They include a “library girl” (made of a stack of books), an image of the Tardis, a portrait of Holmes and Watson, a fabulous likeness of Enid from Ghost World, and a very realistic vampire bite on her neck. Heather’s ink includes four different renderings of Queen Elizabeth II, an image of Mary McDonnell from Battlestar Galactica, a Captain Janeway portrait, song lyrics, and an illustration of a Star Trek communicator. Like each sister, the art work is highly individualized and distinct. The women agree that “body art doesn’t change their work,” it is simply a form of inventive expression.

The Pierce sisters believe their library jobs found them. They both reflected that the work has become more a part of them than they realized; listening to peers outside libraries talking disparagingly about non-library work, the Pierces realized how much they love their library jobs and enjoy organizing their worlds. They express great loyalty to HLSL and to their incredibly supportive co-workers. Their workplace, they say, is one in which folks rise above politics and help each other out. They’re rightfully jazzed at having helped gather material for lawyers who were going before the Supreme Court. They consistently speak of their work as teamwork: “every accomplishment is a team accomplishment,” and “it’s always ‘we’ and not ‘I’” when the work gets described and reported.

Heather is going to the iSchool at Drexel; Ashley is getting her undergraduate degree through the Harvard Extension School while working full time in FRIDA. Will she go on for a library degree? She’s not sure yet, but it’s an option she may pursue—that’s a big change from initially “wanting nothing to do with libraries.” The Pierce sisters consider themselves librarians, and they are treated as professionals by their co-workers. As far as I’m concerned, they both already talk the talk AND walk the walk, and I’m grateful to have them as colleagues. They—and many of their contemporaries—give me high hopes for the future of our profession. And frankly, just talking with them gave me a renewed sense of excitement and energy about the work we do.

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Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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  1. Linda Pierce-Geehan says:

    Hi my name is Linda Pierce-Geehan mother of the two world’s best daughters that a mother could ever ask for!!!! Your article was wonderful and u understood how Heather and Ashley feels about their job and the wonderful people that they work with..Their bosses are the “Best”..Sometimes I get so jealous of their job and where they work at…lol lol lol Ok I will be honest with you, I really love their parties …… lol lol Actually I love my job working with children at the Kennedy School in Somerville.. It will be 19 years of service and I love every minute of it!!! While I was reading your story it brought tears to my eyes and I thank my lucky stars for my wonderful and beautiful daughters. Thank you so much for the way that you wrote about them in their jobs. Harvard Law Library are very lucky to have you to do their stories..You sound so nice and enjoy your job too!!!! Maybe I will have the pleasure in meeting you….

    Yours truly,

    Linda Pierce-Geehan
    One Very Lucky Mom!!

    • Dear Momma Pierce-Geehan (if I may),
      Thank you so much for writing — I can see from where your daughters inherited their enthusiasm and vitality! Since this article was posted I’ve heard from others of our colleagues that your daughters are often referred to as “the fabuolous Pierce Sisters,” and I’ve certainly found them to be that, and more. It’s lovely to see a family have such positive impact on a Library, and during my interview with them, it quickly became apparent that your daughters thank THEIR lucky stars for such a wonderful and beautiful Mother.
      BTW, this article was published in Library Journal, “the oldest and most respected publication covering the library field. Considered to be the “bible” of the library world, LJ is read by over 100,000 library directors, administrators, and staff in public, academic, and special libraries..” [LJ masthead] So librarians all over the library world are reading about your wonderful daughters.
      Best wishes for your continuing work with children, and thanks again for writing!

  2. Dear Cheryl,

    A most inspiring article! As a retired librarian and teacher, it’s great to know that the younger generation of librarians have positive, idealistic feelings toward the profession. Yesterday I read an article in GalleyCat mentioning that a study has found 94% of parents believe in the importance of libraries for their children. I have always loved libraries of all types; in fact, the heroine of my mystery series, Kim Reynolds, is a librarian. Libraries remain a valuable asset to society.

    • Dear Jacqueline,
      Thanks for writing, and thanks, especially, for the info. from GalleyCat about parents appreciating libraries for their children. Speaking of appreciating libraries — I’ve just checked our library catalog, HOLLIS, and find that we own all three of your Kim Reynolds’ books. Guess what I’ll be reading this weekend?
      Thanks again for writing, and for supporting libraries and librarians!
      Best wishes,

  3. Cynthia Robbins says:

    I found this story so inspiring as I am a 57 year-old MLS student and I couldn’t be happier. I wish these two young women all the best and happiness in their chosen careers.

    • I’m happy to hear the Pierce sisters gladdened your heart, too, Cynthia, and I wish you all the best and great happiness in your library career!
      Thanks so much for writing,