Do I Really Want To Be A Librarian?

Career Advice (via quinn.anya on Flickr)

The start of the school year is a good time to refocus – on initiatives, priorities, and most importantly, on your direction and career. With students back, the start of a new year can be really energizing, but it can also be draining and overwhelming especially if your energies are focused in unproductive directions.

There was a great thread in the ALA Think Tank (join this amazing group!) several weeks ago in which someone asked others about having mixed feelings and angst about librarianship. I loved the post and all the answers because they were so authentic and sincere. These are very real, genuine questions that I know I have dealt with and that we all have to deal with as librarians and as professionals. Does my work satisfy me? Is my work fulfilling? Do I really want to be a librarian?

Sometimes librarianship can seem like a cult. There are a lot of passionate, excited people talking about how great the profession is. This can make the profession really fun, but not everyone has completely drunk the kool-aid. While it’s nice to have colleagues who love their work, it can also make it hard to do this questioning. You can feel out of place or crazy asking “do I actually want to be a librarian?”

But these are important questions and part of being a professional is taking time to reflect on them, refocus, and sometimes even find a different job or career.  This reflection isn’t just limited to librarians though. I know people in other careers from college age to people in their 50s that ask these same questions. These are questions that you need to spend time on, but they are also not just one time questions. They’re important at different points in our careers and lives and should be asked multiple times. You need to find your own answers, not simply what everyone around you is saying.

Like everyone, there have been times when I have been less than satisfied in the work I was doing. I have been in funks or have been frustrated with the way things were going. I have found these situations to be enlightening though. These are opportunities to learn about yourself and what you value.

One line of questioning I’ve found helpful is asking “what do I love doing?” “When am I most excited and engaged at work?” Do you love working one on one with users? Collaborating with others? Designing events, or projects, or lessons? This can help give you insight into what your strengths are and what gives life for you. You can then focus on and leverage those strengths which will often help you become more fulfilled and effective. If you love collaborating, can you create a project-based team? Or based on your strengths are there different areas in your position that you could direct your energy? Are there other positions where you can capitalize on those strengths?

Sometimes though, there may be bigger issues or things outside your control (organization, management, culture, etc.) that refocusing just can’t fix. In situations like this it’s important to recognize that there are things you can’t control and fighting them will only frustrate you. You may also find that librarianship is simply not for you. Like anything else it has it’s own challenges and not everyone gets excited or passionate about it. Ultimately you have to find a place where your strengths can flourish and be directed towards something important to you.

I don’t feel like I have to be a librarian. I could be a million other things. Through reflection and asking these difficult questions though I’ve recognized that I am passionate about curiosity, personal growth and understanding, lifelong learning, and serving others. I could pursue these passions a number of different ways, but for right now librarianship is a pretty damn good fit.

Do you struggle with these questions? Does your work satisfy you? What’s helpful for you when you reflect on these issues?



Bring Your SELF To Work Day

Image via Librarian Wardrobe

Balance is something I highly value and recognize that it’s important for a lot of things in life. It’s  especially necessary to have a balance between work life and the rest of life to avoid burnout and feeling overwhelmed. Constantly doing work at home or vice versa is a recipe for disaster. This does not necessarily mean setting rigid boundaries though.

Boundaries are always artificial and can often cause more stress in worrying about crossing them. We are not completely different people at work and at home. We may act differently and have different tasks and priorities, but we’re still the same person. We still have the same values and interests, and by completely sectioning work from home both areas of our life lose something.

Two weeks ago we had ACRL’s excellent Immersion Program here on campus. I was in the teacher track  a couple of years ago, and one of the things they discuss is the idea of becoming an authentic teacher. They assign readings from Parker Palmer who talks not about the how-to but about the reflective side of teaching and the “inner landscape of a teacher’s life.” Authenticity in the classroom is not about simply putting on a show or a façade, but about bringing your own identity and experiences into every situation. This is something that takes work though. This means that in the classroom I might talk about my affinity for dinosaurs, or mention that I recently at half a dozen hotdogs at a Vermont Lake Monster’s game, or get really excited about learning, research, and curiosity.

This authenticity can also carry over into the other areas of work. I was reminded of a presentation that Char Booth gave at LOEX this spring. An important point that stuck with me was the idea of personality cultivation for librarians. She gave some fun examples of librarians wearing banana suits as a promotion, creating cardboard cutouts, and some clever UPload Yours buttons they created at Claremont for their scholarly repository.

As librarians we can often be concerned about being seen as professionals, but we also need to be concerned about being seen as people. Cultivating a personality and bringing your strengths and interests to your work can make your job that much more fulfilling as well as help build relationships around campus. There are a lot of examples of librarians who bring their personalities, sense of humor, and authentic selves to the work they do. Whether they’re creating wickedly funny and informative learning objects, creating a story sailboat, or simply adding a bit more style to their workplace, librarians who let their own interests infiltrate their work life seem to have a lot of fun.

The same is true for conference presentations. People who have their own style and tell stories from their life tend to be much more engaging than those simply giving information. And this is also the essence of library social media accounts. No one wants dry, institutional, informational status updates or tweets. Our users, whether online or off do not connect with the library, they connect with people.

Finding a balance between work and home is important and will be different for everyone. But I don’t think boxes work. Bring the things that excite you to work. Bring the things that fulfill you home. Do good work both places. We’re all whole people and when we can bring ourselves wholly into our work and home lives, both places will be more enriching and enriched.



Positive Vision and Questions in Libraries

“All we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” -Buddha

“A vivid imagination compels the whole body to obey it.” -Aristotle

I just began a 6 week online workshop on Appreciative Inquiry conducted by David Cooperrider at Case Western University’s Weatherhead School of Management. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an organizational development model and a way of implementing change that focuses not on the problems or deficits of a group or organization, but instead focuses on the positive and increasing what they do well. I recognized right away that this workshop was going to be exploring a lot of questions that I have recently been dealing with, especially the importance of questions in the change process.

One of the interesting elements of AI is called the Anticipatory Principle. This principle states that our current actions and behaviors are guided and deeply influenced by our images of the future. An example of this is Pygmalion Effect in pedagogy. Research shows that students will perform better if their teacher has higher expectations of them. The same is true with organizations or institutions. And of course examples like the Pygmalion Effect or the Placebo Effect are instances of self-fulfilling prophecies. If we have a positive vision of the future we will create that future. If we have a negative vision of the future, that is what we will get.

Then I come across sentiments like this:

I remember coming across this tweet a couple of months ago at the Library Technology Conference, and it seemed pretty spot on. There’s a lot of hand-wringing that goes on in librarianship. We see a “crisis of identity” and “low self esteem.” There’s a lot of hype that libraries are doomed or that the library “empire” is declining and falling.

It’s easy to focus on problems, a future of obsolescence, budget cuts, or change resistant colleagues. But there is a problem with that. If we focus on obsolescence or resistance to change, that is what we’ll get. Focusing only on fixing what’s wrong with libraries is a waste of energy. There will always be more problems. Instead we should be focusing on the strengths of libraries, capitalizing on them and innovating in those areas.

This is a really exciting time in the history of humanity and there is so much potential, not just for libraries but also for human curiosity. There are tons of examples of libraries and librarians innovating, creating new service models, and meeting the changing needs of their members. When libraries are at their best, they are funinspiring places, that foster community and civic engagement, empower citizens of all ages and cultures, and promote literacy and scholarship.

How can we shift our professional discourse away from all the problems facing libraries and instead think about questions like “what do libraries look like when they are at their best” and “what would an ideal library look like?”