Laboring Under Misconceptions

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.

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8 thoughts on “Laboring Under Misconceptions

  1. Your a better man than me – I’m NOT cleaning up puke from anyone but myself (and that’s hard enough)!

  2. Sigh, just watch, now that I have said that, some delightful child will spew all over the children’s room this week.

  3. Well, I’m no good for cleaning up puke myself. Other people vomiting engages my own gag relfex something fierce. But regardless, I don’t consider the work beneath me. More like I’m beneath the work, embarrassed by my own weakness around vomit.

  4. I did choose a career in (biomedical) libraries as opposed to some other health-related field partly because of the reduced chances for having to pick up the substances that issue forth from peoples’ bodies. My first related contribution in my current job was introducing our furniture buyer to “healthcare vinyl” for some of our high-use seating – looks like fabric, cleans like plastic. Learned about that working in hospitals. Seriously, this is an excellent rant – thank you. I’ve been lucky to work with a series of directors who had no tolerance for primadonna behavior.

  5. Bravo!! Well said.

  6. The things you mentioned are what my coworkers and I call “other duties as assigned” . Sure, those things aren’t in an official job description, but I’m sure there are parts of the job that are enjoyable (or more enjoyable) that aren’t in there too!

  7. Nice post Neffsta. It has a lot to do with just being a considerate human being. I remember my first week as a director when the toilet overflowed and I realized that the person who had to clean it up was me. Strangely liberating to roll up the sleeves, grab a plunger, and clear the obstruction.

  8. After a decade or so of working in a library as a library assistant, I understand the gripes and complaints from the Librarians with MLS/MLISs who speak out about this.

    I think the point, though, is that no one prepared them for it. No one in their library schools or colleges told them or trained them how to handle the regular, mundane situations that arise in libraries (especially public and school libraries).

    The problem with a lot of library schools is that they teach the theory and Master’s level work (which I could debate whether this should be masters level or not, but that is another issue altogether), but few (at least from what I hear and have seen at different schools) instruct the would-be librarians in the arts and sciences of day-to-day library operations.

    Of course, if we really showed people what librarians deal with every day, there might be a lot less librarians! lol

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