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Joan Keninger

Karen Keninger
the Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress

Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute? (1970)

When my youngest child was four-years old, I decided it was time to go back to work. But to do what exactly? I wasn't sure. The jobs I held up to that point were convenience jobs—jobs that complemented my primary roles of mother and homemaker. I didn't want to go back to those convenience jobs. I wanted a career.

I have always loved to read, and always turned to books to learn new things. So I called my library—the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. This library had served me well since I learned to read braille at the age of seven.

I asked my librarian if they had any books that would help me figure out what direction to take. She recommended What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles. The latest edition was available, so I checked it out. I read it carefully, and then did the exercises in the back. I took this process very seriously. And the answer kept coming back to my love of writing. The exercises helped me focus in a way that validated writing as a legitimate and viable path. As a result, I took my first steps by considering graduate school.

Creative writing was my joy, but alas, getting paid for it was going to be troublesome. So I got a master’s degree in business and technical writing instead. It was a good choice for me. It allowed me to start freelancing, and through my freelance work to obtain a full-time and challenging job.

What Color is Your Parachute didn't plot a straight path. Instead, it launched me on a hilly, winding road with surprises around every corner. That road eventually brought me back to my library as its director, and I made sure our collection of books on career planning and job preparation were readily available to other blind men and women who were searching for their own paths.

Later, that path brought me to Washington, D.C., to serve blind and disabled Americans as Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, a part of the Library of Congress. NLS has a wide array of books in braille and audio formats on career development and job search for people of all ages, interests and abilities. Our patrons use them to discover possibilities, learn techniques, overcome barriers and hone their skills as they embark on their own career journeys.

Karen Keninger is the Director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, U.S. Library of Congress.

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