Well, it’s been a while since I wrote on this blog, and rather than just come back and start posting without addressing that fact, I want to spend my first post back talking it.
Earlier this year, Maria Accardi launched a new blog called Librarian Burnout. The blog provides a space for librarians (beginning with academic librarians, but now encompassing more than that) to build a community and support around this shared experience, and to feel less alone in their individual institutional context. I recently encountered the Librarian Burnout blog, and it really got me thinking about this post, this blog, this job, this year–I’d highly recommend it to anyone who reads Rule Number One.
So, was burnout my problem? Yes and no, but it certainly gave me a framework to think within.
Let me start by saying that creating Rule Number One has been one of the things I’m proudest of so far in my librarianship career. Kevin and I set out to just make a space where we could talk about library instruction and being new librarians in an honest and personal way, and I think we’ve done that. We’ve been blown away by the response, and that feeling of community that’s grown up around Rule Number One–other librarians interested in talking about the same issues in a similarly open way–has been so rewarding to find. Even if it was totally by accident, this blog has opened some doors for the two of us, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything–there’s been so much good, but then there’s also been some less good.
Two things happened a little over a year ago: First, some librarians who I very much respect but hadn’t talked to in a while let me know that they didn’t think what Kevin and I were doing on this blog was a good idea–that it was unprofessional in some way and that we should be careful not to burn bridges (and implied that I had already done so). This scared the crap out of me, frankly, especially since I didn’t (and still don’t) understand how what I’ve written here could be construed in that way. And since I couldn’t figure it out, it made me nervous to write anything, because what if that next post is the career-ender, and I just couldn’t see it? So I would start writing, and then panic, and then nothing would happen. Other, equally respected colleagues and friends told me that it was nothing to worry about, but it was just so hard to believe them–why would someone give that kind of warning unless they knew something I didn’t? It took a long time, but I’ve made my peace with this, which is why I’m telling this story now: That comment may have come from a place of good intentions, but it scared me and it seemed like there was no way to fix whatever it was I’d done. I let that comment shut me up, and I’m sorry I did that–it was antithetical to what we had set out to do here, which was to be real about librarianship and share what we’d learned or are learning and hope maybe it resonated with someone, somewhere.
Here’s what I think now: As a community, I agree that we have a responsibility to say something when we think someone is doing something damaging to themselves or the profession, but I think we have a further responsibility, especially to new practitioners, to tell them how they might change what they are doing and not resort to scare-inducing rhetoric like, “Librarianship is a small world.” I’ve found that librarianship both is and isn’t small, but if it is indeed that much of a village, then isn’t that a reason for us to help build each other up? We’re all we’ve got, and silencing doesn’t help us move forward. So I’m done with that.
Second, also about a year ago, my department got reorganized and I stepped into a position with more responsibility. I was (and am) super jazzed about this development: I have significant agency in helping to determine the direction of instruction in my library (and recently, research services as well), I’m able to work on a variety of cross-departmental teams with sharp co-workers, and my role has shifted to be more externally facing. I love the gig, but like many other librarians’ experience, these new duties are on top of things I was already doing. The learning curve has been steep, and figuring out how to negotiate how to get everything done (and done well) has been a challenge. I come home tired every day and ready to think about anything BUT librarian-ing. A lot of good personal things happened in the past year, and I still did professional things I’m proud of with various colleagues (shout-outs to Char Booth, Natalie Tagge, Alex Chappell, Kate Crocker, and of course Kevin Michael Klipfel), but I do feel creatively drained. Blogging felt like the proverbial camel’s straw both in terms of brain power and some kind of disastrous professional consequence. But I’ve realized that this blog is important to me, because of that community I’ve found through it.
This past weekend, I went to Minnesota to attend my first LITA Forum. It’s a different crowd than I normally see, but I found so many commonalities in experience with the people I talked to. I must have talked to 9 metadata librarians: none of them do the same thing. Everybody feels overwhelmed in some way. Everybody hits that budgetary or bureaucratic wall. And that was a helpful reminder and perspective that, as librarians, there is a commonality of experience, and sharing that makes it a more welcoming profession for all. We’re spread out in libraries around the country and the world, and sometimes it feels like nobody else could possibly be going through the same things…but they are. So thank you, LITA Forum, for helping me to remember that, and to remind me that informal spaces like blogs (like Accardi’s), chats in the hallway at conferences, and Twitter are so critical for community building.
All of which is to say, that I’m ready to write on this blog again–to finish some of those neglected, half-started posts and to engage in a dialogue with other librarians who do similar work or think about similar things and to be supportive of one another. So you keep doing you, and I’ll keep doing me. Hopefully we’ll find something to talk about, here on Rule Number One.