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Beth Bohstedt

Director, Access Services

As a young child I eagerly awaited the day each month when my teacher would hand out brightly colored book order forms. Dozens of children’s books with intriguing titles and vivid illustrations beckoned to me. Our family coffers were not full -- we didn’t go out to eat or take vacations, but I was always allowed to buy a book when those brochures came home. I still own some of them; it seems I had eclectic tastes even as a child. The titles include historical fiction, mysteries, science fiction, astronomy, mythology, and a book of U.S. presidents (up through Lyndon Johnson). Neither of my parents had a college education; they married young and started a family. However, they placed a high priority on learning, both formal and informal. Besides adding to my library, they read to us, insisted we speak grammatically, expected self-sufficiency, and encouraged us to observe and explore the world around us. I was spurred on by (usually) friendly competition with my brother. He and I would race home to compare scores on report card days, play games involving the dictionary, and take bites of our toast to form shapes of states for the other to guess. We also spent a lot of time outside, playing football and hide-and-seek, developing a town out of a fallen tree in the creek, or turning an errand to the grocery store into a journey of espionage through enemy territory.

These childhood experiences contributed to my success in school. However, when it came time to prepare for college, I was at a loss. Our small Midwest high school had a guidance counselor, but he offered no guidance about higher education or careers. I took my ACT test without any preparation, not realizing its importance. I applied to one institution, the state university known for training teachers. When I arrived there, I didn’t know how to “do” college. I was not prepared for living in a building that housed twice as many people as lived in my hometown; I didn’t understand how to interact in a class with 100 students; I couldn’t write a paper; I didn’t even know how to study. What I did realize, thanks to my family, was that I could learn how to do these things by observing, reading, asking, imagining, experiencing, trying, and trying some more. My childhood had prepared me more than I would have thought.

I graduated and went on to teach school, marry, raise children, manage a family business, and eventually ended up in a college library. My husband and I tried to instill in our offspring the same love for learning that we grew up with. We were more equipped to help them with their higher education experiences – all three have graduated from great liberal arts institutions in the Midwest. When they were in college, I decided to go back to school myself, earning my master’s degree in Library and Information Science. I was more prepared this time, but soon realized that my success in grad school had more to do with my life experiences than with what I “knew” about college. Just as my childhood journey prepared me earlier, my adult undertakings continued to equip me. I had gained valuable skills and knowledge working with others’ children and my own, dealing with dissatisfied customers, managing employees, and handling colleagues and projects.

Whether you are your family’s college trailblazer or following in others’ footsteps, you are probably more prepared than you think. You have explored, read, argued, laughed, examined, failed, climbed, imagined and grown. Like my scared 18-year-old self when I encountered a 12-story dorm, you will discover that your life’s circumstances and encounters have equipped you to learn and succeed.

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