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Ali Birnbach '05
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The prairie on fire during the annual Green Oaks Prairie Burn.

Alix Birnbach '05

Concord, California

Major in English

Alix is a community library manager with the Contra Costa County Library system in California.

Ali Birnbach '05

Alix Birnbach ’05 majored in English at Knox and earned her master’s in library and information science (MLIS) from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons University. She worked as a public reference librarian for 13 years and is currently a community library manager with the Contra Costa County Library system in California

Why did you choose this career?

I loved going to the Berkeley Public Library while I was growing up. I volunteered for several years at my neighborhood branch and really enjoyed it. During high school, I made great friends through my library’s after-school teen playreading group. My mentor was the teen librarian, Debbie Carton, who is a stellar human being and a marvelous librarian. I kept in contact with her throughout college and, when I majored in English, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. It was Debbie who suggested library school, which sounded like a great opportunity to combine my love of libraries with my desire to help people and work with information. 

How did a Knox education prepare you for this career?

Knox helped me hone my analytical thinking skills. My writing greatly improved, as did my ability for interpretation and critical analysis. As a true liberal arts college, Knox encourages students to explore many different areas of interest; I ended up majoring in English lit and minoring in environmental studies. The classes were excellent, and my professors were inspiring. I was impressed with their passion and their willingness to engage with and be available to their students. They’re brilliant people and they do incredible work. 

Knox was also responsible for one of the best experiences of my life—a term spent studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. I lived in an international dorm and was immersed in a new culture. I met wonderful people and made lifelong friends. That experience fundamentally changed me and helped me to expand my world. 

What makes you excited about your job?

I love helping people. As a public library manager, I’m in charge of daily branch operations, which include helping patrons at the public service desk, offering computer assistance and tutorials on our digital resources, coaching and mentoring my staff, developing library programs, and communicating the library’s services, goals, and vision to community partners. I’m interested in evolving outreach and connecting with members of our community to figure out how the library can better serve and support them. 

What advice do you have for someone considering library science as a career?

The world of information and library science is huge and constantly evolving. You can go in many different directions with your MLIS degree (public, private, legal or academic librarianship, archives, content creation, information organization, database development, etc.) so volunteer, get a part-time job, or check out an online course in areas you might be interested in. Also, librarians love to share, so don’t hesitate to ask! It’s a great field if you like people, collaboration, and learning.

Obviously you love books. Do you have any book recommendations?

Check out The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern—beautiful writing and an intriguing plot, and excellent characters. Also, I suggest the compassionate, haunting, gorgeous short stories in What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah; and anything by Jesmyn Ward from her luminous, heartbreaking fictional Salvage the Bones to her devastating, moving non-fiction, Men We Reaped.

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Printed on Friday, February 23, 2024