Ten things I hate about you – part 2

It seems fitting, as I reflect on 10 years in libraries that it’s also the end of the decade. So much of my life has been focused around my career that in reflecting on my time in libraries, I’m also reflecting on my life in general. My first post was about the patriarchy and capitalism at the heart of the industry, this time I wanted to say something positive.

I am not the person I was ten years ago. That says both everything and nothing at all. Nobody is the same person they were ten years ago, because life and other catastrophes  changes you. But I’m not the same person largely because of my profession in both good and bad ways.

Ten years ago my world was certainly very different. I grew up in a white middle class town, with white middle-class views. While I’ve always been a swinging voter, I probably leaned more towards the right. I would not have considered myself a feminist in anything but the most general terms.

In public libraries, you are confronted with the hardest things in the community; refugees trying to make a go of it, unemployment, language barriers, drugs, mental-health – you name it and public libraries are dealing with it. And the thing about seeing and dealing with it, means you end up understanding it or at least trying too.

Understanding it, means you come to see how political and societal systems negatively impact the community you are supporting. And this is at both a personal level – that is how your views and votes matter, and in the bigger picture view. Librarianship changed that for me, as I could see the direct result of the harm being done by government policy in a range of areas. It made me intentional in aligning my politics to my values.

Exposure to different world views has be key to changing perspectives and this has come from the relationships I’ve built both in person and online. Twitter is often a bin-fire, but it’s also been a place of learning and information gathering, which I’ve used to learn and grow.

I’ve often called on library twitter for help with an issue and always found useful advice and connections. But it’s also been a primary source for news and connecting with people from across the world and with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Getting the chance to read and sometimes discuss but often just learn has been at times confronting but also a joy.

The single best thing about the library profession is the people who work in the industry. I want to say that again… The single best thing about being a librarian is the people you share the journey with. Generous with our time, supportive, ready to advocate and argue for what is good and right; we accept everyone (although there is a strictly enforced no dickheads policy), we especially look out for the quiet ones who may not feel they fit in anywhere else.

But it’s more than just acceptance though – it’s welcoming, it’s saying come sit at the table with us. It makes complete sense – in an industry where we deal with community at both its best and worst, it would be difficult to not have the same compassionate and welcoming stance with each other.

In libraries, I’ve found a safe space to be creative, shape my talents and use my voice. Ten years ago I was would have been too scared to share my opinions in a blog. But through the acceptance of the industry and the gentle encouragement of friends and colleagues, I’ve found out who I am, what matters to me and I’ve become bold enough to speak up.

The courage I’ve gained through finding a place among librarians has had a real world impact. This year, as a member of parish council, I raised the issue of Acknowledgement of Country at services. It was a bumpier road than what I was expecting but we are now saying a prayer, which acknowledges the traditional owners of the lands where our church meets.

Key for me pressing this issue, was the knowledge I’d gained about it’s importance through my learning and conversations with other librarians and GLAM sector workers. I knew many of you were supporting and encouraging me to be brave and raise issues that meant something to me – as you always are, on a range of issues.

In a ten year career, you meet a lot of people some become friends and others just pass through. If I was to thank everyone, it would be a long list and I would probably forget to name someone anyway – also not an Oscars acceptance speech. But there are key influencers, mentors and advisors I’ve turned to for help and support, who have shaped my career – sometimes literally, my thinking and my life.

These people have qualities that I admire and desperately hope I have and want to mentor others to have. They are deep thinkers about library services and the world in general. They like to get stuff done the easiest way possible without necessarily caring too much about the hierarchy. In all cases they have given me plenty to think about and the safe space to work things through – and that is a precious gift.

So thank you to those people (you know who you are) and to everyone else as well. For ten years of acceptance and for challenging me to be a better librarian and more importantly a better person too.

For all the difficult things facing this industry and the uncertainty I feel going forward in it, I still find myself breaking into a smile when someone asks me what I do for a living. Because I’m a librarian, which has been both the greatest gift and the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s all been made easier because of all of you.












On LIS careers and volunteering

Many people on Twitter saw this thread by Megan Chorusch, on the dilemma and cost of LIS Volunteering.

It hurt my heart and made me angry to think that we have people who are have to consider giving up so much for a chance in this industry. It also made me think about my own journey and the way we all contribute to this problem. @Lissertations has also written on this and I encourage you to read her wise and angry words.

The first thing I need to say that Megan’s story is the story of so many, including my own. The fact that ten years has gone by and we are still in the same spiral is alarming and a sad indictment on the industry.

When I started studying librarianship, I knew I would need to get a library job as soon as possible. I left a permanent job, for a 12 month part time contract – it became much much longer and full time but still casual.

I took another casual job at a librarian level. While I was finishing my masters and working two jobs – I was so stressed I developed eczema around my eyes. It was horrendous and I was exhausted running from one job to another and trying to study.

While studying I also did voluntary work at a couple of places. One project I loved and did for six months or more. It was as much for interest as for my CV.  I volunteered to be on an ALIA committee, I showed everyone I cared, was enthusiastic, engaged. Was active on social media. And all of this still wasn’t enough…

I went for a job, didn’t get it, was offered casual work… Took that (happened twice). From 2011-2012 I worked casually at three public libraries. Worse, I was competing with others in the same boat and we’d play a game of fastest finger first to see who would get that day’s offered shift.

If it wasn’t for the cheap accomodation and support of my family, I would not have been able to do this. But it was also disillusioning and made me question who I was, and the industry as a whole.

When I managed to get a permanent part time job I still felt that this wouldn’t be enough because there was limited desk work, so I continued working my casual jobs as well. At one point I had four jobs.

And from 2012-2016, most weeks I worked six-days-a-week. The longest stretch I ever worked was 10 days and then had one day off before working another six. I was perpetually exhausted and had no life. Thought it was worth it though and I’d be rewarded for my hard work.

But all of this still wasn’t enough… (Honestly whatever public libraries are looking for, clearly I don’t have it).

I’d like to tell Megan and co. not to volunteer, or give up too much for the industry on the hopes that it might lead to something because it’s not worth it. But of course I can’t. The reason this model exists is because out of it jobs do come – sometimes.

Part of me wants to see what would happen if we all went – about that volunteering that keeps the industry running; yeah, nah we aren’t doing it anymore. But there’s almost no chance everyone would agree to that. And then we’d have a situation where we’d all feel like we have too, to be seen as one of those who are engaged. Thus creating the problem we have now.

I still do casual work and volunteer, though it’s much more manageable these days. I also think about it differently now – I’m not trying to impress anyone or show them I’m engaged. It’s about giving back, increasing my own knowledge, helping new grads avoid the pitfalls and maybe changing things a little.

One of my volunteer roles is reviewing CVs for ALIA. As well as talking about their translatable skills, I often tell them to volunteer or take casual work. I see now that this is bad advice that perpetuates exploitation and gives false hope to new graduates. But there’s nothing else I can say…

There are no paths into the industry that don’t require years of slog and a whole lot of good luck. I often review CVs knowing there’s little chance of them getting a job in a public library at all. (I’ve only ever reviewed CVs for people interested in public library roles). This is not to say they wouldn’t be great at it or have translatable skills that would be an asset, just that there are others at the same level or better.

It’s unendingly depressing seeing the enthusiasm of students and new graduates, knowing that the jobs aren’t there and they’ll likely end up with their hopes dashed. I often want to tell them to run, run as far away as they can; that they have been sold a myth and only a very lucky will find the promised land.

I don’t have any answers on how we can change this. Beyond the twitter echo chamber, I doubt many see this as a problem. And without recognition from those in positions to change things, well, we are tilting at windmills.

A major issues with librarianship is that there is no single voice to advocate for workers. We have our sector unions but these can never address the totality of issues within the industry. A voice that actually speaks for us, a library union, is needed to support workers and make real changes in the industry.

As for me, working so much contributed to burn-out. But the disillusionment started long before, when I realised that all the volunteering and extra jobs was not getting me anywhere. It was never going to be enough.

So my advice to new grads and students is don’t give up everything for a career in libraries; think more broadly about your skills, don’t tie yourself to a particular library sector and if you are going to volunteer do it because you want to not with the hopes of getting anything out of it.

And remember that no library job is more important than life or your relationships… You are enough.