Behind the books


Skyy Hinson

QUIET DOWN: Ms. Bell shares a bit about how she became a librarian, her childhood growing up in north Philadelphia in a Catholic household, and the obstacles she went through to finish school without coming from an academic background.

Veteran librarian Margaret Bell has been at Inlet Grove for 14 years in November. She is a certified and legal librarian, specializes in medical and legal research, and could be an English teacher. Ms.Bell also has two Master’s degrees which she received from Villanova University. She always knew what she wanted to be, but it was not always easy.

How was your childhood?

I grew up in north Philadelphia, very close to where Ms. Banks grew up, in fact we were born at the same hospital and she lived within blocks of where my husband grew up. We have that in common, plus there is a certain advantage you have to growing up in the city because we had a diversified group of people. We were Italians, Jewish, Irish, Black, and German, all those backgrounds in certain sections of Philadelphia. We all kind of got along because we were thrown together in jobs and schools and things like that. I grew up in the city, my mother worked for the newspaper, my dad was a Philadelphia policemen. They stressed education because neither one of them had the opportunity to finish school and they really wanted my sister and I to do that. And we did. I went through the Catholic school system my whole life. In elementary through high school I went to a private girls’ convent school on a farm with nuns who were from the Ukraine and Russia. They were women who really were ahead of their time because I met women lawyers and women doctors who were also nuns from the old country, but unlike the sisters of the western world, the sisters of the eastern world drove cars and they were still somewhat cloistered and they were the oldest group of  nuns in the world(sisters of St. Basil the great) and their theme was love and they didn’t believe in yelling at kids or coming at them, they really believed in first love then if a student is comfortable they will be able to learn if they’re comfortable coming to school and they trust the teacher, they will learn so much better.

How did you become a librarian?

I had the opportunity to go to a program at Villanova University, on a work study, and my school district was offering senior career teaching. I had already had my Master’s degree and if I got a second Master’s degree and a second certification, they gave us senior career status. It was the same as being an administrator, so I took the courses because I was offered that work study at Villanova. I had gone there for my Master’s in education and I took it, so I thought that I would be quiet and just push in chairs and keep people quiet, but I found out that the world of a librarian is much more than that. The people that I met there were doing a myriad of things. When I was at school, one of my teachers had a PhD and he was head. He had written books about library science. One of the girls in my class, Joyce Valenza, she’s a person that does critique for technology and she’s done this for more than 15 years [and] she writes for the Library Journal .

Did you face any difficulties in college, if any?

Always, because I didn’t come from an academic background. There were books in my home and education was encouraged, but nobody could help me with philosophy or psychology or anything. I was on my own. My mother used to run away from me when I’d ask her a question and she would say, “I’ll pray for you, go study it again.” Then I’d say, “I don’t even understand this.” She’s say, “Keep studying. I don’t care if you fail, just keep on going.” They encouraged me like that, but they gave me practical things like my mother covered all the keys on the typewriter and told us, “Learn that keyboard. Learn that keyboard.” I learned it at my kitchen table and not at a classroom. She sat with me until my writing looked good.She said don’t have sloppy writing. Make your papers neat.” I’m not a neat person. I get scattered all over and then she would constantly come over in the back of me and say, “Get organized! Get organized!” I think I had that ADHD also, but she’d say, “Sit down and keep still, that’ll teach you how to be still. Go to church and pray a lot.” That was a big thing too. It teaches you how to sit still.

What can you do with a library degree?

With a library degree I’ve done medical research and I have the ability to do law research and to be a legal research, a legal librarian, and a medical librarian, but that’s because you study those things. A lawyer cannot do legal research without a library degree so if you get a law degree but you don’t have a library degree you still can’t perform that legal librarianship.

If there’s anything you could change, what would you change?

I wanted to be a teacher since I was five. I didn’t go to kindergarten, I went to first grade, but my sister went two years before me and she would come home and sit and make me learn just like she was learning. By the time I started school, I knew my numbers, I knew my prayers, I knew my spelling, some of it, not everything. But I knew that I wanted to be good in school because that was expected in my whole family, not just my parents. Nobody would dare get in trouble, of course we did but it was a big thing. Everybody knew, they told everybody. We didn’t want to be the talk of the town.

So you wouldn’t change anything?

Oh no, my goodness. I feel like I was so blessed for the little things. I don’t look for anything big. I said in my life, “Dear God, let me make it. Let me get an education. Let me just have a house and children and a good person to have a marriage with.” And I did have all that.

What is some advice that you would give students that may want to become a librarian or get their degree in education?

What you have to do is, for the library, usually they ask you to take liberal arts first because a librarian has to know a little about a lot of things and as you go through, especially in this school, you learn a lot about a lot of things like every subject. You have to know about every subject. That’s what I love about this job, I am constantly studying. Kids say, “What do you do all day?” I’m trying to keep up with your field; I’m trying to look at what’s in the neighborhood, where the next symposium is in medicine. If you come in and ask me a question about something, “What’s the new drug on the market?” [I can say], “I just read about one that they’re using.” But I have to research and make sure it’s right. There’s a new drug and they’re saying it was discovered by or was made by, Ben Carson. But I don’t know that that’s the right information, I have to research that to make sure that he did do that. Now I have it, it’s called Cognex and it’s for students who get distracted or can’t keep their mind on their work and it’s supposed to improve your grades.