The Road Taken, So Far

I have a confession to make. It’s been bubbling beneath the surface for at least a year or two. I’ve talked to close friends and family about it. It’s probably been in the subtext of this blog (and Twitter and other places on the internet) for a while, but I haven’t come right out and said it. Now I’m going to come right out and say it:

I’m not really interested in libraries anymore.

I’m not saying I don’t like my job. On the contrary, it’s good, solid work that’s frequently fun. And I work with a whole lot of really amazing people who brighten my life. The job is very, very good.

I’m also not saying I don’t like libraries as institutions anymore. I love being in libraries and I think libraries are a crucial part of a free, civilized society.

But I’ve lost all of my interest in thinking about and discussing large library issues. I don’t want to blog about libraries or read articles about libraries or present at professional conferences about libraries. I’m bored with all of that. I want to go to work, do my job, then leave and think about other things. I like my library job, but…

…but I don’t really feel like a librarian anymore. I really like my job, but it doesn’t feel like a career to me. It isn’t who I am.

I went to grad school to get my MLIS because at the time, I didn’t think there was any other way for me to have a career. I was tired of working retail, which is what I mostly did before I got into libraries. I didn’t think there was any way I’d be able to make money by writing or otherwise being a geek. Libraries seemed like the best bet.

Has that changed? In a sense, no. I haven’t really made any money any other way, so I don’t know that there’s any way besides libraries to support myself. But I do know that I’ve got more faith in myself now. I believe that I can work hard and get my writing (prose, poetry, reviews, etc) out there. And I think it may be possible for me to even make a living at it. Basically, librarianship was my fallback, because trusting myself and actually working hard to be what I dreamed of being was too hard. It’s getting easier now. But as it gets easier, as I learn to trust myself and believe in myself, I find myself getting more and more disinterested in librarianship.

Professionally, this may not be the best thing to post. But I want to be honest with myself and the people around me. I feel like I’m at a crossroads right now, and the path I want to take moves me away from librarianship. I still value all of the friends I’ve made in Libraryland and I’m not going to be quitting my job any time soon. But in a certain sense, I’m moving on.

Advertisements

Special

“Because women don’t have special powers. Let’s dispense with that theory right now. They don’t have intuition, they don’t have a sixth sense.”
–Jeremy Goodwin (Joshua Malina), Sports Night

I’ve been reading library-centric blogs since 2003 and doing my best to participate in library-related discussions for about as long. I’ve noticed something that’s really starting to stick in my craw.

Librarians love to talk about how special we all are.

This basically comes in two different flavors: librarians are awesome because we have special values, amazing skills and we touch people’s lives in crucial, near-mythic ways; or librarians are pathetic because we as a whole are insecure, passive-aggressive, socially awkward, fashion-challenged and nerdy.

I’m coming to realize I think both of these ideas are complete and total bullshit.

Librarian are not inherently dysfunctional, neurotic or emotionally stunted. I say this with a great amount of affection for the human race, but the fact is a lot of adults are dysfunctional, neurotic and emotionally stunted. It’s not particular to libraries, nor is it more prevalent in libraries. Let’s stop putting ourselves and each other down as a profession, because it’s simply not true.

And while I’m proud to be a librarian and think libraries are very important to human society, librarians themselves are not cleverer, more insightful or special than other working people. Yes, we have certain professional skills that we (hopefully) get better at the more we exercise them. The same is true of doctors, painters, automotive mechanics, farmers and strippers. Let’s take pride in our work, but let’s not put ourselves on a pedestal. Let’s just recognize that we, like other working people in our society, have a job to do.

Librarians are not special snowflakes. We’re not divine and we’re not demonic. We’re just people, for better and for worse. That’s all.

This is How It’s Done

My friend Royce Kitts is the director of the Tonganoxie Public Library in nearby Tonganoxie, KS. The library has redone its website, and it looks fantastic! Check it out!

The site has a definite look to it, but it’s not overdone. It’s comfortable and appealing. It’s easy to find things. I love the picture of the old card catalog at the catalog search box. I absolutely adore the “world’s nicest library” tagline. And the first post at the top of the page? A listing of library rules and guidelines for staff. Sheer brilliance! I think it sets a new standard in transparency.

I’m floored at how simple and wonderful this site it. Well done, Royce!

Movin’ & Shakin’ & Rhymin’ & Stealin’

Now it can be told: in January, my good friend/partner-in-crime Steve Lawson and I were notified by Library Journal that we were among this year’s Movers & Shakers. I was honestly very surprised and conflicted. Of course it’s a huge ego-stroke. And it’s flattering that other people nominated us for this. (Whoever you are, THANK YOU!) But this is also kind of an “establishment” thing, which Steve and I usually set ourselves outside of. And to be honest, I don’t feel like I really did much moving and shaking this past year. (Surviving, yes. Moving and shaking, not so much.)

But it is sincerely flattering, and it’s really nice to be recognized for the work (and play) Steve and I put into the Library Society of the World. And it’s a huge honor to be included among the other Movers and Shakers. Congratulations to all of you! And here’s a public high five with my fellow carping nerdboy, Steve Lawson! I’m so glad I know you and get to make mischief with you! You, sir, rock the block!

Circles

As I said in my previous post, I went to a school in Kansas City called Loretto for 5th-8th grades. Loretto was a private school that promoted self-paced education, cooperative learning, broad educational study and free thinking. It wasn’t quite “anything goes,” but it was much looser and more open than almost any other school I’ve gone to, not too dissimilar from the Montessori method. I really enjoyed my time at Loretto, and I was very upset when it closed during the summer of 1984, but it didn’t really hit me until this past weekend, reuniting with old friends and teachers from the school, just how much Loretto helped shape who I am and what I do today.

The Library Society of the World, begun on a whim and a dare, is completely a Loretto thing. It’s nonhierarchical, loosely-structured, open, free, collaborative, sarcastic and often lazy about getting things done…just like my classmates and I were at Loretto. Library Camp Kansas and my fondness for unconferences in general, that’s also Loretto-inspired. My dislike of formal presentations, standing at a podium and lecturing to an audience, and my preference for free-flowing conversations and the equal exhange of ideas also comes from my time at Loretto.

If I can continue to bring the Loretto philosophy and style into my professional and personal life, I’ll consider myself very successful indeed. The world needs fewer squares and more circles.

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.

Impractical, Unfeasible, Unfundable Ideas for Libraries

Yesterday, I drove to Wichita to present at the Kansas Library Association/Mountain Plains Library Association conference on “Impractical, Unfeasible, Unfundable Ideas for Libraries.” This was a presentation based on one of the best sessions of Library Camp of the West that I participated in. I expanded the premise a bit to be: in these times of economic uncertainty and hardship, now is not the time to give in to despair or to play it safe. Libraries should be daring, bold, willing to dream big, take risks and make mistakes. Rather than stand up and babble for the entire session, with Powerpoint slides to illustrate my blather, I threw out some wild ideas I would like to see in libraries and then solicited ideas from the attendees. Which was easy, because librarians are full of wild ideas they’d like to see.

Here are the major ideas we came up with:

Libraries stop rolling over for vendors

* For ILS vendors, aren’t libraries their only customer base? They should roll over for us!
* What about database vendors? Why don’t they give us more of what we want? (And what DO we want?)?

Libraries go completely open source

* Open source software isn’t always an easy solution or an easy change
* But the ideals of OSS match librarian ideals
* Going open source could push more librarians to be computer problem-solvers

Bill Gates gives computers, software & money to libraries…

* Why not other companies, like FedEx & UPS?
* Why not other entrepreneurs who may share library values? Like Mark Shuttleworth, the sponsor of Ubuntu Linux.

Librarian travel by pneumatic tube to wherever they’re needed!

Databases controlling the space.

Hybrid engines for library vehicles! Or biodeisel engines from Willy Nelson.

Partner with Meals on Wheels.

Choose something in the catalog & the item starts blinking. Spot where item goes blinks when it needs to be reshelved.

Staff-driven climate control.

Like Loews–patrons push a button & “Help wanted!” would sound out, alerting librarians.

Abolish the reference desk! Reference staff should walk around the library, not sit at a desk.

Everything with a number & up to date.

Magic button that reorganizes furniture and puts it back where it belongs after patrons move it.

Streamlined ILL!

Librarians out of the library! Have librarians on cruise ships! in coffee shops!

Technology that decodes “I want the book with the blue cover” question patrons often have.

Flashing neon signs to direct people to restrooms.

Creating added entries in MARC records for “red book” & “blue book”–tagging items in catalog–browsing by cover.

On http://www.etsy.com, you can browse by color. Why not in library catalogs?

Abolish the Dewey Decimal System!

Culture shift to play with things that might not work.

Combine libraries with laundromats & the DMV.

Bars in libraries!

Check out an audiobook at one Kansas library & return it to any other Kansas library.

Nationwide library cards. (Or just get rid of library cards.)

Anything marked as library materials goes through the mail for free.

Heather Braum of NEKLS was one of the attendees who also tweeted during the session.  She posted great notes and got some interesting responses.

What wild, crazy, dreamy ideas do you have for libraries? And how can we make these ideas a reality?

EDIT: The notes from the LCOW session have great ideas, too.