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.