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Color photo of Jessica Tang. She's seated outside on a sunny day, perched on a low wall with trees in the background.
Jessica Tang. Photo:

Q & A: Jessica Tang

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Jessica Tang is a library technician in the Asian Division.

Tell us about your background.

My parents are Chinese American immigrants, and I was born and raised in Fairfax County, Virginia. I went to McLean High School, played clarinet in the marching band and attended Hope Chinese School in Annadale on the weekends.

Afterward, I studied elementary education at James Madison University. At the time, it was one of my dreams to teach children. Another dream, which I viewed as less attainable, was to become a clarinetist in a U.S. Army band. One day, I decided to just go for it and auditioned. The Army accepted me.

What brought you to the Library, and what do you do?

I realized how great it is to work in a library after falling off an obstacle tower in Army basic combat training and breaking my shin in half — three days from graduation.

I begged my drill sergeants and my commander not to chapter me out of the Army, since I’d already won an audition and was so painfully close to attaining my dream. Because of that, the Army put me in a trainee rehabilitation center, where they kept me for another 10 months.

Rehab is a tough place for trainees. We couldn’t leave the building or have family visitors or access to phones or computers. I was cut off from the world.

But, luckily, the rehab center had a library. Its lead librarian sussed me out from day one as a bibliophile and persuaded our drill sergeants to let me work in that oasis.

That’s where I first experienced just how life-changing a library can be. We had trainees who came from tough backgrounds and had never read a book in their lives. I would introduce them to any page-turner that piqued their interest and, within a month or two, they’d be devouring classics.

Inspired by this experience, I started working at public library after rehab. Then, last year, a friend texted me a posting for a job in the Asian Division. It was such an ideal fit for me, so I applied, and now I’m here!

Another factor that pushed me to library work was my own experience as a researcher. I write historical fiction, and much of my world-building research relies on old medical records collected in local libraries. Sometimes, my records requests would turn out to be “not on the shelf,” and each time I would be so disappointed. Often, the staff wouldn’t take a second look for me.

Now that I’m on the other side of the counter, I’m passionate about doing everything possible to hunt down missing items. You never know how much of a researcher’s work depends on them.

What are some of your standout projects?

First, I’m very happy to say that I’m part of a unique team of multilingual technicians in the Asian Division.

Right now, I’m helping to sort and inventory more than 40,000 items in the division’s Pre-1958 Chinese Collection. It is full of records in both Chinese and English with different types of romanization that makes it challenging to navigate. We often receive requests that are difficult to serve because of the confusing records.

And, physically, many of the collection items are old and fragile, so I’m also working on rehousing them. In short, I’m trying to make the collection easier to use for everyone who wants to explore these books.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

On weekends and holidays, I serve as a clarinetist and fifer in the U.S. Army’s 29th Infantry Division Band. I also enjoy letterboxing, which is a treasure-hunting hobby. Basically, you carve rubber stamps that can be inked and pressed in journals, then hide them in cool places for others to find. You also carry a journal of your own to collect stamps that other people have hidden.

What is something your co-workers may not know about you?

I’m into graphology, or handwriting analysis. I can tell you things about your personality based on a sample, like your degree of extroversion, pessimism or self-discipline. Of course, it’s all pseudoscientific, so take my feedback with a hunk of salt!

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Comments (5)

  1. Thank you for sharing your inspiring and fascinating career adventure. Life is definitely like a box of chocolates per Forest Gump. We find delicious treats at unexpected times. Cheers and best wishes!

  2. What an interesting person!

  3. So interesting – I enjoyed this Q&A very much!

  4. What a great Q&A! You never know where life will lead you. Loved reading about her extremely varied interests and job history. Really neat.

  5. Thanks for sharing your journey to libraries! What a story of following your passions!

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