2018 – What Is and What “Should” Be

As I do many years, I got to the middle of January and thought “I think I have a blog floating around… somewhere. I should probably update it so that people will see that I am a Serious Librarian who does Serious Things.” The joke’s on me, however; I am very seldom a Serious Librarian (nor, as I’ll get into later, am I a librarian at all these days) and I would rank most of my day-to-day work as only moderately serious. I do think a lot about accountability these days, though—accountability to myself and to my cobbled-together little peer groups—and so I will give blogging yet another Girl Scout try.

Why do anything online in the name of accountability? Twitter has no need to verify what I or any librarian did in a year or a month or a day. Facebook isn’t thanking me for logging on once every month or so to lock down my privacy settings again and post admonishments to my college friends about keeping a skeptical mind when reading the news. These kinds of blogs and social media posts and letters to the editor, etc. can, in the aggregate, improve our profession, because by being transparent about what we do and how and why we do it, whenever we can, we can ideally help ourselves, our peers, and our future peers be the best for and to each other.

That’s a long-winded and sort of pompous way to get to the point, which is: as of July 2018, I no longer have “librarian” in my title, and I no longer have a job as part of a library staff (though I am still within the same organization and do eventually report up to a senior manager who happens to be a librarian). I am 85% super cool with this, 10% ambivalent, and about 3% existential angst to the tune of “but I went to library school to be a librarian!” (The other 2% is inescapable workplace nonsense—the cafeteria doesn’t have my favorite kind of ginger ale, people don’t change the water in the tea kettle, etc. etc.)

I am 85% cool with it because my job is really cool. I was at a conference earlier this year put on by some of my awesome departmental colleagues for the community of instructors who (primarily) teach economics in the college/university classroom. The woman next to me had come in a few minutes late and I handed her my program, handouts, etc., knowing I could always run out and get more. When the session we were in ended, we introduced ourselves. When I explained that no, I wasn’t an economics professor, but a librarian who worked with our online resources, particularly our economic history library, she exclaimed “That is the coolest job!” I basked in that for weeks; if a non-librarian thought my job was cool, it might actually be cool! (Whether or not you think an economics professor is capable of recognizing cool is another matter.)

In my new job, I get to think about a lot of very librarian-y topics and to use knowledge of a lot of the things I enjoyed studying most in library school: metadata, human-information behavior, scholarly communication, web design. (Cool stuff!) To account for that 10% of meh, I also get to (have to?) deal with topics that I mostly learned in my pre-library school days and which I would happily avoid if possible: privacy and copyright, reputation management, branding, workplace politics.

What I don’t get to do a lot of is the stuff I suspect many librarian folks dream of (at least those who dream of library school as a path to specialized reference work at a venerable research university, anyway): original research, student instruction, and rich, in-depth reference work. (I sometimes get the sense that the dream librarian job is somewhere between Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and Rachel Weisz in The Mummy. To be fair, a job that was both of those things would indeed be a very cool job.) I get to do some of those Serious Academic Librarian tasks sometimes, and I enjoy the work immensely. The mismatch between what I dreamed of doing, however—being the kind of only-in-the-movies brilliant and effortlessly tweed-chic academic librarian—and what I actually do in a job that more than pays the bills is what causes that 3% existential angst.

In the era of endemic burnout, is 3% angst worth it? Almost certainly. Maybe reducing the 3% to a friendlier 2% is an achievable goal. How much is the dream that I’m not quite realizing my dream, and how much is societally imposed? How much is my fear of missing out or sense that I’m not doing “enough” caused by someone else’s image of what a librarian does, what an educated person should do, or what would make my grandparents proud? Would shedding those assumptions about work “success” make me happier?

Maybe instead I should be aiming to turn my 85% to a 90% EVERYTHING IS AWESOME quotient. Or maybe I should break the 85% cool into something more nuanced: 40% awesome because I’m using skills I worked hard to get, 30% exciting because I’m learning new and interesting things, 15% satisfying because I’m becoming a better version of myself. Though I don’t know what the path forward is, I do know I want to be more thoughtful and deliberate about understanding what I do and how I feel about it.

This blog might help me do that. It might not. To be accountable to myself in an honest and authentic way, I’ll post if it helps, and not if it doesn’t. Wish me luck, friends; let’s start as we mean to go on.


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