I’m sure I have been guilty on occasion of complaining, “I didn’t go to library school to do this!” I know I’ve heard coworkers say something similar. This being something that at the time seemed trivial and simple, nothing like what we studied in grad school: clearing printer jams, unclogging toilets, sorting donated books, cleaning up vomit, chasing horny teenagers out of secluded bookstacks, and so on and so on. I went to library school and studied reference materials, collection management, cataloging, theories of information. I got a Master’s degree, for crying out loud! Surely such tasks as these are beneath me, right?
Well, here’s the thing. I went to library school to make libraries my career. And sometimes library work is clearing printer jams, unclogging toilets, sorting books, cleaning up vomit and harrassing horny teenagers. That work isn’t beneath me, it’s all part of the job, regardless of how much student loan debt I’ve racked up, regardless of what letters I have after my name. The abstract ideals and ethics of librarianship are all well and good, but if printers are jammed, toilets are overflowing and there’s puke on the floor, nobody gives a good goddamn about successful reference transactions.
And this is beyond libraries. Whatever job you have, whatever amount of schooling you have, work sometimes involves crawling around in dust and grime, cleaning up other people’s messes, doing repetitive and boring work, doing work that, in all honesty, a trained chimp could do. It’s all important. None of it is trivial. And if you think some work is really beneath you…well, I’d say you need your diaper changed and a new bottle of warm milk, because you’re clearing not mature enough to handle adult labor. You’re insulting the good people who regularly do such work. To riff off of Oscar Wilde, some of us are looking at the stars, but we are all in the gutter. And we all need to do our part to keep the gutter clean.