Librarianship, friends, is not cool

Librarianship, friends, is not cool.

We must not say so.

But I will say so. It’s kind of my thing.

Librarianship is not cool.

Librarians are not cool.

Libraries are not cool.

Libraries are for nerds, and dorks, and outcasts, who want to dig deep into a subject and hardly come up for air.

Libraries are where you take your lunch when no one wants you to sit at their table.

Libraries are where you go when you have questions and no one to ask for the answers.

Librarians are people who have no chill, who can’t shut up, who flash and yearn to prove to people that great literature should not bores them, but if it does, then dammit, what do you want to read? We’ll find it for you. This is not cool; it will never be cool. Is it interesting? Valuable? Necessary? Perhaps. I cannot tell you what it is, only what it is not, and it is not cool. At. All. And really, has anything genuinely cool ever been called cool, (except for perhaps Miles Davis)?

Libraries and librarians aren’t beyond critique, but in Maine, we’re the most trusted professionals, second only to nurses.  On a national level, I don’t know if we even rank. But millennials, eaters of avocado toasts and shunners of house buying and payers of student loan debt, they love us. Doesn’t that count for something?

On one hand we are Henry, the other, Mr Bones. On both hands, we are utterly fantastical and boring as buttered toast all at once. No, I won’t explain that further; do your research.

Another thing we are not, and cannot be, is all things to all people, either as employees or institutions. That way madness lies.

And, nerds, sorry to break it to you, but: libraries are about stories. Go ahead and fight me about this. I DARE YOU. (see above, re: NO CHILL.) I’m tired of “libraries are more than books blah blah blah axe body spray chicken fries” because, yeah, sure, whatever, I get it, it’s great, but at the end of the day, whether it’s in a book or at a board meeting, libraries are about stories. And speaking of books:

The act of borrowing printed books is still by far the most popular activity at libraries, even compared with using computers: 64% of library users ages 16 and older checked out a book in the last 12 months, compared with 29% who used a computer at the library in the same time frame. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/09/libraries-2016/

So get over it, nerd. You are, on the whole, a trustworthy, punk ass book jockey with no chill, who is neither sinner nor saint nor good red herring. Your job, your career, has value, but it cannot save the world–but it can make the world a bit more interesting. You’re not cool and will probably never be cool.

And that’s fine.

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Signifying Nothing

or, “ego lost.”

Three years ago I wrote about ego and librarianship, a howl of anguish of sorts, a call to action, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I don’t even recognize that person anymore–who was that woman, so full of words and opinions? Where has she gone?

I remember, faintly, caring a lot about what I did. I remember being a brazen, mouthy jerk, whose reach exceeded her grasp. I remember being ambitious and eager to make my mark, hungry to build connections and have conversations, anxious to do my very best work and do great things for the profession at large, as well as in my own smaller realm.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about this quote from Edward Albee’s (unpublished) play about Federico García Lorca. Lorca is speaking here:

Do you know what it’s like to fall in love with people who don’t want you?
Do you know what it’s like to be completely misunderstood?
To love your family so much the last thing you would ever want to do is to hurt them?
Do you know what it’s like to know you’re not like anyone else in the world in any way?
To want nothing more than to share, and give, and touch?
Do you know what it’s like to know how special and dangerous your talent is?
To live in a society so … so rigid, so set in its ways you don’t dare be yourself …
except deep inside?
Do you know what it’s like to be filled with poetry, to be filled with music, to be filled
with love, and pity, and fear, and anguish, and a deep, deep … terrible dread?
Do you know?
Do you know what it’s like to be me?

I’ve long felt–and have had confirmed by outside sources–that I have valuable talents, skills, and capabilities that are being vastly under utilized–but what do you do? What can you do, if you can’t find anyone who wants to take advantage of all you’re capable of?

I tried a lot of things in 2015 and 2016, and they all failed. I was rejected, a lot, and I’ve been trapped in a holding pattern for way too long. I’m a curious person, always seeking fresh challenges, and when that doesn’t happen I get bored, and when I’m bored I get into trouble.

To illustrate: In high school when I was bored, I decided to collaborate with some friends of mine and throw an anti-prom to protest the terrible theme of the actual prom: Moonlight Diggity. I started the whole project, and soon we had a local band booked to play at the VFW on the night of the prom, and our advertising included a hand drawn poster of a car on fire.

My principal called me into his office to talk about how I’d gotten caught up with some “bad influences.” I nodded and listened, thinking all the while about how I was so pissed that he was underestimating me– I was the brains behind this project. I was the one in charge here. I was the rebel with a cause. I was having my very own Frankie Landau Banks moment, if you will.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned how to work with this boredom without an outright rebellion, but sometimes even that strategy doesn’t work, and I find myself longing for the mouthy, outspoken person from just a few short years ago who was so eager to do great things. But I don’t know how to get that feeling back, and there’s only so much a person can do without the proper support.

It makes me wonder: how do motivate high achieving, self-motivated employees? How do we recognize talent in the profession and reward it? How do we nurture talent beyond those “emerging” years?

Of course I’m grateful to be working in the field, yet isn’t there always something more to strive for? Shouldn’t we always be trying to improve ourselves, our services, our profession?

If not, then what should we do?

I wish I knew.

Management According to Hamilton: Alexander Hamilton

 

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Alexander Hamilton

Their name is Alexander Hamilton, and don’t you forget it. In fact, you couldn’t, even if you tried. This employee doesn’t usually stay around too long, but when they’re in your organization,  you can’t avoid hearing their name. They work their way into the best projects and onto the most interesting committees, and make their voice heard. If you don’t give your Alexander Hamilton enough challenges and opportunities, you’re going to lose your Alexander Hamilton.

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The Work Style of the Hamilton

The Hamilton doesn’t usually come in early, but they’ll often stay late. They can’t help but overhear conversations and jump in to offer their opinion, as well as three or four observations or solutions that hadn’t been previously considered. When they’re engaged, they’re laser focused and their productivity is off the charts. When they’re bored, they can be cranky and irritable and come across as the worst employee you’ve ever had, when that is not the case at all. Keep your Hamilton engaged with high profile projects and problems that require creative solutions. Have your Hamilton work on teams that need some inspiration and energy injected into their work.

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The Career Path of the Hamilton

The Hamilton moves through the ranks quickly. If they stay at an organization long-term, it’s often because opportunities for growth, challenge, and promotions are available. Hamilton starts out as a page and becomes a manager within five years, if their talent and drive are recognized and nurtured. If you ignore your Hamilton they’ll be gone within two years, if not sooner.

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Managing an Alexander Hamilton

This go-getter thrives on praise, challenge, and variety. Give your Alexander Hamilton ample opportunity to try new things and fail. Let them get out in the community and make a name for themselves. You’ll never have to push your Alexander to work better or harder, you’ll just have to reign them in when their reach gets too far. Make sure your Alexander is on a team that complements them rather than competes with them. Let your Alexander be a leader for a while before giving them formal managerial or supervisory duties–they need time to figure out their style and get their attention seeking behavior out of their system.

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Being Managed by an Alexander Hamilton

If your Hamilmanager has been around for a while and they’ve gained enough personal glory, they can be excellent managers, especially to other Hamiltons. If they’ve been promoted too soon, however, they’re going to compete with their employees rather than nurture them, and you’re going to end up with a dissatisfied, under-producing team. If you’re competing with your Hamilmanager, try to position yourself as a comrade rather than the competition. Ask to take on assignments or tasks that don’t interest your Hamilmanager, and that will put you in their good graces while also allowing you to gain experience.

 

Making A Difference

difference
photo by Matt Perich http://www.flickr.com/photos/mperich/

In college, I had a lot of loser mentality left-over from high school, but I struggled against it and actually made many good friends and a wide circle of acquaintances. Even so, there was always a circle of people I never felt cool enough for. But I repressed my feelings of inferiority and went about doing things that made me happy. I played music, I acted (badly), and spoke to strangers I found interesting, hoping to turn them into friends.

Years later, on facebook, I got a message from a girl who thanked me for inviting her to sit at my table at lunch one time. One time. After that, I only had sporadic contact with her, but apparently that one instance of my kindness, and my ability to be my own person, allowed her to become more confident and forge her own way in turn.

* * *

I left a job in 2008. It was my first full-time, professional position, but it wasn’t a good fit, and it wasn’t a healthy environment, and after securing another job, I had a no-holds barred exit interview wherein I laid everything bare, with the hope that my honesty would make things better for the staff and patrons I was leaving behind.

Two or three years later, my colleague from that library found me at a professional development event and told me how things changed after I left, for the better, and how thankful she was that I had been so honest, and removed some of the fear from the department and the library.

* * *

In the fall of 2012, I left a job again, for a new opportunity I’d be a fool to pass up. This time it was harder; I’d spent over four years with mostly the same team of coworkers, and I’d watched jabbering toddlers turn into self-assured first graders. I had a family at this workplace, but it was time to go. I was, like Chunky Rice in Craig Thompson’s graphic novel of the same name, a flower that had outgrown its pot: I needed to move on in order to keep growing.

Occasionally I’ll meet up with or hear from a coworker who was my best collaborator, and she’ll tell me that certain families still talk about me, and how the work I did there has had a lasting impact on the organization. The conversations make me equal parts proud and sad. I miss those families, those programs, that community…but I’m proud that I had an impact. I’m proud that I made a difference.

* * *

I wrote my Ego post back in January, and it’s still reverberating around the librarian community. It spawned many varied reactions and even a movement (Show me the Awesome, which I unfortunately didn’t participate in because I wasn’t feeling very awesome, but that’s another story for another time). I still think about it. I still despair over how we treat people who work with kids and teens, especially early childhood educators. I despair about how this profession and this country treats women. We still have a long way to go.

Then ALA2013 happened. Now, I love/hate conferences. I’m an extroverted introvert, so four days of extended social activity both excites me and fills me with dread–but I was so excited to present with two of my good friends, and there were so many people I wanted to meet in real life (pretty much the majority of my blogroll, including Mel of Mel’s desk, Marge of Tiny Tips for Library Fun, Sara of Bryce Don’t Play, Anna, Rachel, Angie, Cory, too many to list!). It was as amazing and as terrifying as I’d hoped.

Like many people have already said, Guerrilla Storytime was my favorite part of the conference. I don’t know how I missed the discussion of it on twitter before the conference, but I was happy it came across my radar right before ALA. I culled the origin story from The Show Me Librarian:

Cory Eckert, the idea-genius I just mentioned, is the youth services manager at the Octavia Fellin Public Library in Gallup, New Mexico. Back in March, Eckert took to Twitter with an idea for storytime skills building and advocacy among the larger librarian population. Why not stage pop-up storytimes at a major library conference like ALA Annual? Such an event would allow youth services librarians to share their expertise and learn from their peers, and the fact that other non-YS librarians would be able to see the activity in the public space would foster awareness that storytime is so much more than just reading books to kids.Anna Haase Krueger of Future Librarian Superhero created a Google Group to allow interested librarians to continue the conversation in depth, and shortly after the term “Guerrilla Storytime” was chosen as the name for the project.

I participated twice, on Saturday (was it Saturday?) and Monday afternoon, while sitting on the fake porch stage. It was amazing. A casual, enthusiastic exchange of ideas, out in the open, where everyone could see what we were doing. We didn’t need anyone to recognize us– we were making our presence known and unavoidable. To paraphrase myself from my presentation with Carolyn and Kristi, we were infecting each other with awesome and spreading that contagion throughout the entire conference.

I could wax poetic for hours, but in the interest of brevity, I’m going to stick to my main thesis of making a difference. Even when you don’t think you’re making a difference, you are. The Guerrilla Storytime is a perfect example of this: I’m sure there were dozens of librarians lurking around, who didn’t participate, who have a new found appreciation for how crazy and wonderful children’s librarians are, or children’s librarians who were too shy to speak up but drank in the information provided. Further, it reminds me something that I often forget– that sometimes it takes time for recognition and reaction to occur. It’s like that old saw about how it takes ten years for an overnight sensation to make it big. In terms of librarianship, I am but an egg– I’ve only been in the game since 2006. I think I’ve done some amazing things in my time, but there’s more time, and more things to be done. More differences to make.

You are the same way. You might not think you’re affecting lives, or doing good works. I assure you, you are. Some times you just have to wait– for a new job, for a conference, for an award–for the effects to be seen.

Until then, keep busy doing amazing things that make you happy. The rest will come. I promise.

Some ALA 2013 round-up posts that speak for me, as well: