Library page: “You know who’s just a fantastic boss? Belle. She always knows everything that’s going on in the library. She walks around and sees what needs to be done and talks to people. She really is great at her job.”
Ngo, other supervisory librarian: “No, you are really good at this. You have a great balance with the staff.”
Brett, my boss: “You are just doing an awesome job. You’re also the only person who is ever willing to disagree with me and that is so valuable to me.”
It really sucks to be so great at something I hate so much. I am every sports movie cliché I’ve ever seen.
Center Stage is a sports movie.
20% supervisor and 80% librarian. That’s what I was told the supervisory librarian position would be, when it was created and I applied in November. On Thursday night, I got off at 9:00, stopped by my favorite ice cream place for chocolate frozen yogurt and discovered too late that they’d given me a chocolate and vanilla twist. Jake was staying with me and had long since gone to bed, but came into the living room to find me quietly weeping over frozen yogurt.
Jake: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “Vanilla frozen yogurt doesn’t taste like anything!”
Jake: “What’s really wrong?”
Me: “I hate my job! I have everything I ever wanted: the job, you, and I even got a cat and I am just so unhappy. I dread going to work. I never thought I would feel this way about being a librarian, but I don’t even get to be a librarian anymore! I spend a minimum of twenty hours a month in meetings and the supervisory librarians just decided we need to have another weekly meeting, between just the three of us! We sit down and have a meeting about something we just talked about in another meeting, even though we haven’t had any time to work on it since said meeting, and if I have to tell one more grown ass adult to do their fucking job, my brain is going to bleed out my ears and they gave me the wrong ice cream!”
He wants to create an app that translates Crying Girl into English.
I love being a librarian, y’all. I love planning and putting on programs, weeding the collection and ordering replacement materials, helping little old ladies realize they can do this iPad thing, teaching twenty-somethings to make a resume, assisting ex-offenders in their job searches, and giving the rare well-behaved child a sticker. I used to be so excited when my copy of American Libraries came in the mail and now I hardly even look at it, because it’s officially a magazine full of articles about awesome things that I don’t have time to do.
Last week, I e-mailed the third grade teachers at the Catholic school just up the street from the Northside Library, where I work. I wanted to know if they’d like to take part in a pen pal program, with the nursing home I visit monthly. I received a reply immediately, that they’d both love to participate and, together, they had about 40 students. My first thought was one of excitement. The second was that I didn’t know if I had the time to devote to an 80 person pen pal project. I went to college for seven years, took out $150,000 in student loans, and I don’t have time to do the enjoyable parts of my job. I don’t have the time to talk to customers about their favorite books, to sign someone up for summer reading, to consider rearranging the collection, to make book displays, to fill out the checklist for that digital scrapbooking/online dating/adult coloring class I want to do. No. My time has been scheduled for supervisory librarian meetings with our manager, my one-on-one meetings with my direct reports, my one-on-one meetings with Brett, my one-on-one meetings with the other supervisory librarians and now our group meeting with each other; none of which I singularly despise, but rather have a growing resentment toward for taking so much of my time.
Jake: “I’m sorry your job sucks right now.”
Me: “My job sucks all the time. I just don’t talk about it.”
I immediately realized just how true that was. When I started in January, it was natural to be overwhelmed. In about mid-April, I thought I’d started to get the hang of all this manager stuff. I only had Ngo and Brett to consult with and the Supervisory Series training came to an end, freeing up much of my week. I wasn’t yet required to meet monthly with my direct reports, do evaluations, or address workflow and personnel issues, so the bulk of my management responsibilities involved making the page schedule and entering programs into the calendar. 20% supervisor and 80% librarian seemed about right. Then, the reality of my position settled in, along with all of the additional responsibilities. In the last couple of months, I’ve realized that aside from that six to eight week respite, I have hated my job since I started.
I have a more or less private office. I have my own laptop. Brett gives me the go-ahead on most of my ideas, even when they cost money. He solicits and respects my opinion. I love my coworkers, even the ones I have to supervise. I live in the cheapest part of the country and pull in about $50,000 a year, at the start of my career. I am really good at my job… and I hate it. I’m no longer waiting for the dust to settle on this new position. It’s management and if it continues to evolve, it will only become more managerial. I got my MLIS to do a job that should require an MBA. I have skipped over being just a librarian and unless I step down, I will never get that chance. I will forever supervise those I envy, because stepping down could mean that I never get the opportunity to move up again. It could mean that everyone assumes I was reassigned by force, because I failed. It would mean telling my dad that I gave up all the momentum of a management opportunity to be just a librarian.
Well, so… fucking… what? I am not going to spend the next two and half years crying over frozen yogurt and yearning for all the missed opportunities of being a librarian, to hit some arbitrary number that will look good on a resume, just in case I want to be a manager again. I didn’t work 60 hours a week and go to grad school to hate my job, just because modern society expects intelligent women to hit the corporate ground running. I have amazing momentum with my system. I could manage my own library inside of three years and that’s not what I want. So, after discussing it with Jake, I decided to apply for an open librarian position at the Southeastern Library, in Cherokee. Cherokee is a more rural city inside the same county as the other libraries in the system, with a population of around 10,000, even smaller than Shetland. I could have the small town existence Jake and I imagine and still make $50,000 a year. I can do adult and senior programming and be just a librarian.
Jake: “Babe, I’m totally fine with whatever you wanna do. I couldn’t do what you do… being people’s boss? That would drive me crazy. I just wanna make sure you know that if you leave a management position, you may not be able to get another one.”
This is the point that keeps coming up. It’s a legitimate possibility, despite my conversation with Brett, in which he told me about prominent women in the system stepping down at some point and rising to even higher positions, later in their careers. It’s one thing to work in management for five years and step down to care for children. It’s another to last eight months, before burnout. At this point, however, if I have to choose between never being manager or never being just a librarian, there’s no contest. So, after another meeting, where everyone agreed that we needed more meetings, Brett asked for a moment to discuss why this idea upset me so much. Apparently, it’s not normal to get teary-eyed over meetings.
Me: “Maybe you’re all exactly right and we do need more meetings. Maybe this is just about me, because every hour I schedule for management duties is another hour that I don’t get to be a librarian. I never got to be just a librarian. At best, I left a substitute teaching job in the day, to be a half time librarian in the evening, and it was exhausting. So, I wanted to tell you that I applied for the librarian position at the Southeastern library, in Cherokee.”
Brett was unbelievably supportive. He told me he’d miss me, because I’m great at my job and everyone else is too intimidated to tell him what they think. He told me he’d give me a fantastic reference and that he understands that I have to pursue what I want for my career.
It’s a hard thing to do, make a decision that will change your whole life. I don’t have to leave the Northside Library, where I have great coworkers and a great boss, where I’m making connections in the community, and working from a semi-private office. I could stay in familiar surroundings, continuing to commute from Shetland… or I could make a change, move to a new library and a new city, for the chance to enjoy my career again.
“It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.” – John Steinbeck