Waiting for the And: Why “I love books” is not enough

My graduate degree is a mix of in person and online classes. Even if the class is larger, many professors will ask us to submit a brief bio about ourselves to whatever platform we’re using so we’ll get to know each other. This is important, especially in a state like Ohio where all the librarians seem to know one another.

In my bio, I’ve started to include I am tired of people who write “I love books” to explain an MLIS degree. What else do you love about libraries? I posted this over Facebook—towering vision of Socratic process, I know—and got a bit of pushback, which is fine. But I thought it would be an interesting exercise to unpack some of this frustration. Specifically, I wrote, “’I love books’ should be a red flag for MLIS applications.” Just to be sure, I looked over my application essay to Kent State and at no point do I say I love books. I did go on a bit of a tear about public libraries and the physical ‘space’ of democracy, the corporatization of libraries, and the fallacy that knowledge and wisdom are achieved by reading the latest issue of The Walking Dead at a Starbucks inside a Barnes and Noble, which strikes me as some sort of niche marketing event horizon. For those weekends when I want to drink reliably bad coffee and read laughable erotica, thank God for the bookstore. The mission of the bookstore is to move product. The mission of the library is clearly different, even if I bring my Starbucks and laptop so I can read Something Short and Snappy’s latest post on Fifty Shades of Grey to my local branch. I digress—but I didn’t tell Kent’s LIS program “I love books” because I was applying to a LIS program. That I loved books was assumed—what made me different from the hundreds of other applications? $20k in tuition and fees is a big chunk of change to fork over for “I love books.”

Too many people are advised to enter librarianship because they are introverted or don’t play well with others, which sometimes manifests as “loving books” in childhood. Believe me, I understand. I am an avid indoorsman. I love my rescue cats. I play MMORPGs, and if I install Skyrim or Minecraft, the world may never see me again. I am grateful when I can’t make it to parties with dozens of people attending. I love my friends, but I want to see them in small groups over a nice dinner or out for a walk. Many of us hear ‘introvert’ and think this means a hatred of people. It doesn’t. It means interacting with large groups or endless streams of them in insignificant, small-talky ways becomes exhausting. I am terrible at schmoozing. Introversion and librarianship is not a problem, even in more intense public-facing positions like reference and circulation, or instruction. But saying you want to become a librarian because you only “love books” is a red flag.

Librarians have to be intellectually curious. I love books means you don’t know much about the profession and didn’t bother to Google it either. Libraries are more than books. We already have to deal with enough colleagues uninterested in technology, resistant to change, or who don’t want to learn anything new beyond the book loving part of librarianship. Many librarians don’t work with books at all.

What I’d like to hear is what comes after the love of books. I love books and I want to be an agent of change in my community with early literacy initiatives. I love books and I enjoy taking programs apart to see how they work so I can build something better. I love books and even though teenagers drive everybody crazy, I can put up with it and I sleep better at night knowing I’m a role model in youth services. While there are many jobs that don’t involve any of these things, LIS programs and your future colleagues want you to be employable. We want you to like your job. Forty hours a week is too much time out of your life to spend it at a job you can’t stand while you wait for your ‘ideal’ no-people-just-books position to open. Your supervisors will feel it, your customers will as well. Your and can be almost anything. Loving books is not enough. Loving books won’t get you out of bed in the morning, but your and will.

But if what comes after your and is: I love books and I don’t get along with people, then librarianship is not for you. Cataloging, archives, or museum work isn’t for you either. Not even tech services, where mortals fear to tread. If this is your and, consider finding a mentor or even a therapist. You might be—as William Gibson says—surrounded by assholes and that’s why you prefer books to people. But you have to live in the world with the rest of us. Find a better and. Then we’ll be glad to see what you can do.

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Library management class reflection

This week my last requirement beyond the thesis/capstone for my MLIS began—a library management class. The professor is good for a variety of reasons but the most important one so far is her tendency to emphasize good managers as having a “bias for action and innovation.” I’ve seen what happens when managers aren’t good. In the session today, we were asked to reflect on our best and worst experiences with managers, consider how they impacted our work, and how they made us feel.

My worst managers were a combination of indifferent and ignorant, or moody, masquerading under business-speak buzzwords. If they were neither of these, it was an absentee landlord—usually the case with franchise hotel properties. I rarely got along with any of my bosses because they were often inflexible micro-managers who responded to questions with “We’ve always done it this way.” As a hotheaded twenty something, I resisted and did not listen. As a hotel clerk, I bent and broke rules for customers in the name of better service. I wore business suits instead of the brand uniform and got away with it because the alternative was firing me and causing a manager to work night shift until a replacement was found. My customer ratings were high; the guests sober enough to remember the night shift girl loved me.

As a library staff member in a large public, I forgave the fines of precocious teen readers in high poverty areas and did my best to multitask—shelving reserves while keeping an eye on the desk and helping customers. For this, I was condescended to. I loved my patrons and my observed interactions showed this. I had some of the highest in the branch. Yet, I was made to feel as though I was a problem, always doing the wrong thing no matter how closely I followed procedure.

Maybe a public library was not for me. This was a strange thought. Many of my classmates at Kent State were sure they’d become librarians for public systems. My adviser was assigned to me because I’d discussed the usability flaws of large public library discovery layers and the abuse of so-called Web 2.0 technologies in my admissions essay. I disagreed with Michael Goreman, loved Google, and was interested in how librarians responded to disasters like September 11 and Hurricane Katrina.  

The next library was better in many ways. I thought perhaps I’d found a home at last. Although this manager was innovative and friendly, all my ideas were swiftly dismissed before they were appropriated as examples of a willingness to listen. I learned a great deal from this library. This manager wanted one big family at work and I agreed you should be happy at your job. But I was the problem child. Again, I figured this was my fault. I came home from work exhausted and in a dim, chronic pain. They are a great team, but I was not right for them.    

It’s kind of an American thing to hate your job and resent your boss. But for every manager that failed me, I too made a mistake: I failed to understand the kind of environment I would thrive in. I assumed all jobs were like my previous ones, with favorites and kingdom builders and sanctimony. So tonight when during the class session, my professor asked us to remember how those bosses made us feel, my muscles flexed with tight pain and I felt my brain dull with terminal boredom.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. You can go to work happy. You can come home with energy and a sense of accomplishment instead of an extra bottle of wine. I hope this class can help me understand how and why people thrive, why they stop, and how to build an environment to help others flourish.  

Rain, rain

This photo sums it up nicely.

Being from Portland means a few things to me: everything on Portlandia is true, I miss decent mass transit, and we have only two distinct seasons–Sign My Petition and Rain. Although I am often grateful for moving to Ohio back in what feels like a dark age ago, our swampland, flooded forecast makes me kind of regret this decision. Just a little. In a blunt greeting card sort of way to my past. Thinking of you. On a day when I can cut the air. I hold you responsible. 

A large cell is passing overhead causing the lights to flicker while I’m working on retrieving every article request I’ve sent to the National Library of Medicine during the month of June. Something’s happened with the way our systems ‘talk’ to each other and my PDFs vanish somewhere in transmission without posting to the ILLiad server. This is upsetting because it slows my response time and causes patrons to lose confidence in the system–something that’s vital to ILL and that I often have difficulty explaining to co-workers. Why make patrons jump through hoops when we can simply document the request and get researchers what they need?

“But Angela! People need to learn how to use the library!” Yes. Yes they do. Students do. Many staff do. But when your non-students don’t have time and the request takes less than a minute? Just do it and follow up with how they can find materials in the future. Borrowing is down, you have the time.

Obligatory cat photo

hallie_trap

What better way to start off a library-ish blog than with a cat photo? I often work on MLIS assignments at home and Hallie’s favorite spot to sleep is between me and the laptop. A cat trap was in order. My partner furnished a box lid and we ended with cat-free laptops and a happy Hallie.