Catalogers, curators, learners, teachers

A range of experiences led Susan Augustine and Shirley Volk to find their place as U-High librarians


Michelle Husain

HELPING STUDY. Librarian Susan Augustine helps junior Annie Billings with an assignment of hers. The librarians are often available to help students with their work, including conducting research for classes about what books are needed for certain projects.

Amanda Cassel, Assistant Editor

Despite spending their days among books and computers, Susan Augustine and Shirley Volk did not expect to become librarians when they were kids. Ms. Augustine expected to pursue art or math, Ms. Volk business. But looking back, neither can think of any job they would be happier doing.

Ms. Augustine and Ms. Volk take their jack-of-all-trades experiences and apply it to their jobs as librarians.

Ms. Volk grew up in Chicago. Her parents owned a restaurant, and she would help out, doing dishes, cleaning and helping with cooking. She and her parents worked almost constantly. Their weekends and evenings would be filled with the on-goings of the restaurant. Ms. Volk said she felt like they didn’t have much time to just relax.

“After seeing how hard my parents worked, I just wanted a job where I could go on vacation and be with my family,” Ms. Volk said.

She turned away from small businesses, despite her parents’ encouragement to pursue business or marketing. She studied marketing in college and graduate school but ended up leaving the corporate world because she disliked sitting at a desk all day and got tired of the work she was doing.

Instead, she pursued education. She eventually ended up taking a part-time job as a paraprofessional at a Chicago public library. This meant she could work in the library without being fully licensed.

“That job made me know I wanted to be a full-time librarian,” Ms. Volk said, “so I went back to graduate school to get my library degree.”

Working as a paraprofessional was the turning point for Ms. Volk. It would bring her to the U-High where she has been working for 17 years.

“I just immediately fell in love with it,” Ms. Volk said, “I loved the library as a kid, but I didn’t think I would end up there.”

Ms. Augustine felt similarly growing up in a family with five siblings in a small Michigan town. She attended  Western Michigan University wanting to study math or art and graduated a public history major.

“I really was passionate about art and math,” Ms. Augustine said. “I mean, I was good at those two, and I figured I should follow my heart.”

Ms. Augustine did not know she would find the same amount of passion as a librarian and would be able to apply both of those skills. During college, she took a summer internship at the Museum of Science and Industry and worked in a café. She fell in love with the city of Chicago and decided it was where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

After college, she moved back to Chicago without a clue of where she wanted to work and just waited to see where life took her. Still in Chicago, she loves her job as a librarian at U-High and couldn’t be happier in the city.

Today, Ms. Augustine and Ms. Volk spend their days at U-High and do much more than just sit behind the reference desk. The librarians research to add to school materials and sort for teacher’s book carts. They also sort new books and give them call numbers. Additionally, Ms. Augustine and Ms. Volk help teachers deal with research projects for their student and independent studies. Most of all, they spend lots of time sampling and reading.

“My favorite part of my job is working with students and helping them find what they need to do their very best,” Ms. Augustine said. “It’s just so satisfying to help someone find exactly what they need.”