Roots

Roots are a funny thing. For most of my life, my roots have been shallow, at best. As a child, I suppose I took stability for granted, as all children will and should do. Our trailer house on five acres, with my grandmother living next door, was all I knew. My parents were never… happy, but they weren’t overtly miserable, either. Besides, Gramma was right next door and seeing her was the end game of literally every day. Fuck parents.

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When I was 8, we left the trailer and my grandmother moved to town. After a year or two of finally having all the things, my parents still began their Lifetime Original Movie level divorce and my brother and I were more or less left to fend for ourselves. Stability was a thing of the past and I wouldn’t claim to have gained anything resembling it until after my divorce at 23. My new roots were shallow, indeed, as I worked two jobs to afford my single girl apartment and attended grad school part time. I hoped that, in time, all my efforts would pay off and my roots would deepen. I dated on and off, at times wondering if I even wanted to try the marriage thing again. At 24, my brother told me I’d better get on it, because the good ones marry early. At 25, my aunt offered to set me up with some cute musicians, to which I responded that that’s exactly what I needed, another man without a job.

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#goals

At 26, the cynicism began to fade and the panic began to set in, as I wailed to my Gramma that I was going to die alone. All the while, I worked to climb the ladder in my library system and shared my dating stories with you fine folks. At 27, Jake showed up, fucking finally. At 29, I married him; and at 30, we bought our own home. In these six or seven years, I found myself at six different libraries, living in three different dwellings. In short, it was a crazy time. I yearned for stability.

Today, I’ve begun to set down new roots. I’ve been stationed at the Cherokee library, heading the teen programming for all five satellite locations, for almost two years now. Jake has received a promotion to crew chief, with the city. We’re fixing up our home and planning on children soon. We’ve formed some tentative friendships at church. Still, not three months ago, I was in tears, because the connections feel so insubstantial. We live near no one. My family isn’t nearby and if they were, I wouldn’t be especially close with them. As wonderful as my step-siblings and their spouses are, Jake and I have vastly different interests and are simply in a different stage of life. I have delightful friends, but they have different goals, dreams, worldviews. Jake’s friends, who are much more relatable, in these regards, are in another state. His family is scattered across both states and again, are largely in different stages of life. I love my husband and feel entirely secure in our marriage, but I can’t help but wonder, will I ever feel anchored in any other area of my life?

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The first couple of months of the year were hard for me. As much as I love working with my teens, my library system doesn’t provide any additional compensation for working in the satellite branches. We get such varied experience, it makes us obvious candidates for promotion, something many gladly take, because working at five libraries is substantially more stressful than working at one. Even small issues, such as sharing supplies, covering the desk, and filling out mileage forms, often become huge stressors. Naturally, this results in much higher turnover and every time a position is filled, another is vacated. We finally get a strong team, in which everyone works well together, only to have to train someone new. It’s exhausting, particularly when coupled with the general chaos of the system as a whole, which was turned on its head nearly five years ago and has never quite righted itself. For literally the first time in eight years, I’ve begun looking at my options. Yet… my library system is all I know. I’ve worked there since I was 23 and the idea of leaving is scary… but since I don’t seem to have set down any deep roots, just yet, perhaps this is the right time.

I’m reading Gone with the Wind and I find myself envying Scarlet. I’ve never had a Tara, a place for which I feel a true sense of home… and maybe, as hard as it’s been lately, that’s for the best. Just maybe, before Jake and I have children, get them into school, plant ourselves more firmly into our fields and our community, we could consider uprooting, once again. I still have a valid teaching certificate and I’ve kept my finger on the pulse of education for the last ten years. I could leave my system and work as a school librarian, my original goal, when I began pursuing my master’s degree. I could continue to work with teens, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and have more time in the summers, the most hectic time of year for public librarians. If we were to relocate to Jake’s home state, I could make very similar money. We could move closer to friends and family, before starting a family of our own, and be there to support Jake’s parents as they move into their seventies. We could even use the superior public school system and save money on tuition for Catholic school. We could transplant these shallow roots, in a way that might not be an option in five years.

And yet, I worry that the constant shifting within my library system, although beyond my control, has created a sense of professional wanderlust in me. Am I considering leaving so I can have something more consistent or have I just been in Cherokee for almost two years, which is about my turnaround per branch? Am I looking for a stronger commitment or a bigger challenge? Do I crave predictability or chaos? Have I spent so long with a shallow root system that, although appealing in theory, the idea of deep roots has me feeling trapped? I don’t know, but the prospect is terrifying. Roots are a funny thing.

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The Curse of Ambition

When I was in pre-school, I overheard my parents talking about my brother getting “straight A’s,” as though it were impossible. In my childhood literalism, I understood this as a reference to handwriting (“A” was, like, the easiest letter to write) and confidently declared that could make straight A’s. Something about the way my dad responded that he wasn’t sure if that were true, because getting straight A’s was hard work, alerted me to the idea that there was clearly more to it. Regardless, at four years old, admittedly uncertain as to what I was being challenged, I essentially clapped back with “It’s on, bitch.”

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Not verbatim.

As I grew up, I became used to being, if not the best at every subject in school, one of the best. I hated P.E., because it was rooted in the only area in which I couldn’t excel. It didn’t matter to me that I always got an A in the class. I wanted to be on the National or Presidential Physical Fitness Award wall. If I couldn’t, I didn’t want to fucking play.

I always viewed athleticism as simply unattainable… which to some extent, was an accurate assessment. I was born with asthma, in lieu of any innate grace. I was blessed with a broad rib cage and enormous breasts, at a young age, as opposed to a naturally svelte form. I couldn’t change the fact that I was slow and short of breath, so I was an inattentive daydreamer, which does not make for the best team member. If I tried my hardest, I was middling, so I chose to save my energy and just not try at all. Of course, this meant that I not only missed out on the sport itself, but all the benefits that might have come with it, such as exercise, sportsmanship, and teamwork skills, just to avoid the embarrassment of being not one of the best. 

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Intellectual endeavors, however, were totally my jam. I was overweight, antisocial, and lazy, but straight A’s came easy… more or less. The only time I received a C, was a 79 in reading, because I refused to follow the totalitarian Accelerated Reader regime, a stance I still proudly hold as a public librarian, today. While I struggled in math (a failing I credit to my parents’ claim that the Addin’ Muscle resides in the penis), I always managed at least a B. In high school, I was able to enroll in AP courses and, for the first time, I felt somewhat challenged. Not only was the subject matter explored more deeply, but my classmates were actually engaged and competitive. I was no longer certain of my status as the smartest person in the room and that sparked my sense of ambition. I wanted to continue to be one of the best, and I was willing to work for it, knowing it was at least possible. Unfortunately, these AP courses only made up two or three hours of my day, so I largely found high school to be only slightly more demanding than all that preceded it. Although Rory Gilmore promised college would be different, I did not go to Yale. I went to the third largest public university in my state, and while I did eventually feel engaged, I can’t say that I ever felt truly challenged, until I began my master’s degree.

Lacking social, musical, or athletic graces, prior to graduate school, my sense of ambition was almost exclusively rooted in academics. I’d have ceaselessly climbed that ladder, too, had I been offered more rungs, or encouraged to pursue the areas in which I struggled, like science and math. It should come as no surprise, though, that I gravitated toward an intellectual field and, in hindsight, that I eventually did so well… perhaps too well.

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When I started as a half-time circulation clerk, my goal was simply to gain experience working in a library. Originally, my dream job was to work as a middle school librarian, because I didn’t even realize that teen librarian was a job title. Once I learned what this job entailed, though, it didn’t take long to figure out that working in my system was both more stable and more lucrative, while lacking many of the headaches of working in the public education system. I set my sights on a new goal and for two years, I substitute taught, worked 20 hours a week at the Southside library, and pursued my MLIS.

After graduation, I was fortunate to move, almost immediately, into a half-time librarian position, no specialization… where I stagnated for two and a half years, because there are plenty of 70’s and 80’s feminists, who haven’t recovered from the mentality that women must tear each other down to succeed. Truly, this woman had a list of people she didn’t want to destroy and I was just one of many who failed to make that cut. When the time came for her to retire to her cave and eat puppies, however, my ambition was reignited and I jumped at the chance to move up, as surprisingly to some, there are many opportunities for upward movement in the library world.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know that at the end of 2015, I accepted a new position, advertised as 80% librarian and 20% supervisor… and rocked it for eleven months, before succumbing to the fact that I just could not be a manager any longer. If I had to tell one more grownup that she couldn’t wear her jammies to work, I was going to be on the news. For the first time since the semester I took 22 credit hours, I realized that my ambition had bitten me in the ass. I had thought long and hard about stepping down, about the possibility that I might never get the chance to be a manager again… and ultimately decided that I’d prefer that to never being a librarian again. So, I became an adult librarian… and as the result of a grassroots restructuring and an impassioned speech on my love for teens, with no experience as a teen librarian, I was eventually mapped into my current title: teen librarian for the five Satellite Libraries, primarily operating out of the Cherokee branch.

In those first few months in my position, I had the following conversation with my immediate supervisor:

Me: “I am wildly unqualified for this position.”
Supervisor: “There’s… room for growth, but I wouldn’t put it that way.”
Me: “If this job had been opened for interviews, I wouldn’t have gotten one.”

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My sense of ambition had been more than sparked, y’all. I was petrified. After all the years I’d spent yearning for the title of teen librarian, only to feel as though it had slipped from my grasp, when I became a manager and then an adult librarian, I finally had my dream job… like my ten year plan dream job. I’d been willing and eager to head the teen programming for one library, in one community, not five. Although, I’d worked as a substitute teacher for six years and enjoyed the teens there, I had no actual experience working with them in a library setting. What if they didn’t like me? What if I completely missed the mark and became the guidance counselor from Freaks and Geeks to them, never actually making a difference? What if I never built a following and decimated the teen attendance in the Satellite Libraries?!?! I’d been forced to take a bite, much larger than what I felt I could  chew.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve grown my initial home school teen book club from an average attendance of four to 17. Moms comment in Facebook groups about how much I do for my teens and how much they love me. One of my regulars has decided she wants to cut her hair like mine. I remember the names of more than thirty teenagers who come in and out of the library, in a given week. We’ve had murder mystery parties and nerd trivia battles and played Clue and improv games. We’ve debated Doctor Who vs. The Hulk and Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings. My teenagers are the highlight of my work day, every day. I’m no longer overwhelmed by what’s ahead of me and have long been making jokes with Susie, the children’s librarian and my good friend, about how we’re both going to die at the reference desk of the Cherokee branch.

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For years, I’ve been joking about how I wanted to get a teen librarian position and simply stagnate. In actuality I just wanted to get the perfect position and be really good at at it and never move up again. It seems that’s a perfectly reasonable and delightful plan, at this point, except… there’s a possibility that a librarian position might soon open in the materials selection department at our downtown location. The pay would be approximately $11,000 more a year, though the commute would increase by at least 45 minutes round trip… but the position would entail selecting books and materials for the entire system, digitally and physically, ensuring we have a balanced collection. It’s one of the few titles I’ve ever said could tempt me away from Cherokee and the Satellite Libraries, my teens and my non-existent commute… but no one ever leaves materials selection. They all stay until retirement, which means that these jobs almost never open… and I see that little spark of ambition in the girl who once cried over a 98.5% . She just wants to put in an application, when the time comes, and see what happens. Except this time, I’m not working for half the hourly pay as a circulation clerk or half time as a librarian, desperate for benefits. I’m not miserable as a manager or being forced to choose an age group with no knowledge of where I’ll end up. I’m happy and if I vacate my job, it may never open again… but I also know I’m at least a decent candidate and I may never get another chance… and yet, there’s always the possibility that I’d regret it. I suppose it’s a good thing the position hasn’t actually opened yet. I still have time to try to lift the curse of ambition.

Four Stitches and a Tetanus Shot: My Favorite Librarians Who Saved the World

Quiet season at the library has more or less ended, now that the holidays have passed. As a teen librarian, this means that I’m planning more original and creative programs for my kids, as opposed to lazily ordering kits from outreach, because there’s a 60% chance no one will show. This means more prep and sadly, for me, more injuries.

Three weeks ago, on the new branch manager, Penny’s, third day, I was prepping for my stained glass program, when I cut my finger and yelped in surprise and pain. It was just bad enough that, without a Band-Aid, the blood would have been an issue, so Penny helped me bandage it, sharing her own klutzy tale and we returned to work.

It was a rough day, as I later learned that a coworker from another branch had suddenly died over the weekend. He’d been my motivation for becoming a teen librarian and I told him so just last summer, at our teen volunteer laser tag party. I powered through, however, as I chose an additional last minute craft for the week’s book-themed family program. What cuter craft than a laminate bookmark made of shapes cut from book pages… or so I thought, as I trimmed the edges with the guillotine paper cutter.

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In my shock, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. I walked into Penny’s office, cupping my left thumb and blurted “This is much worse.” A flurry of activity ensued, in which I learned that dealing with blood is not one of a librarian’s many talents, as Penny, a former high school librarian, was the only one who could assist without fainting… including myself. Someone called Jake, as Penny determined that I needed to go to aftercare.

Jake: “So, what did you do?”
Me: “I made a beautiful craft.”

Three hours and four stitches later, the doctor asked when I’d last had a tetanus shot and my manual labor husband chimed in:

Jake: “I’m sure she’s had one through work.”
Me: “I’m a librarian. We were just mocking the fact that we have to take a blood borne pathogens training. When would they have given me a tetanus shot?”

So it was, that after seven and a half years with the system, I learned about worker’s comp… along with my new manager, on her third day. On the way home, I cried and told Jake that Jim died. He asked who Jim was and, knowing it was the only way to jog his memory, I reminded him of the guy at the Southside Library, who, coincidentally… was missing a thumb.

“I’d love to have a job where I can read all day.” Yeah. Me, too. Let me know if you find it.

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So, my thumb has finally healed enough that I can comfortably type to tell you about my favorite librarians, who saved the world. Spoiler warning, as appropriate.

Rupert Giles – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It was a fandom war, when I got my new puppy, y’all. Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Harry Potter? In a moment of truth, however, I named my little guy Rupert, after the half-superhero, half-father figure librarian of Sunnydale High. Giles wasn’t just the only reason the Scoobies ever even knew what or how to fight, he killed two major series villains, one as a mercy to Buffy, so she wouldn’t have to take it on her own conscious. For me, his real heroism, however, was best repesented in the scene where he comforts Buffy after she loses her virginity to Angel, causing him to lose his soul. Anyone with a buttload of explosives can be a badass. It takes a real hero to comfort a crying teen, as her world falls apart.

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Mike Hanlon – Stephen King’s It

Zetus lapetus, librarians never get any credit in fiction. If you ask anyone how Stephen King’s It concludes, depending on whether or not they’ve read the book, they’ll either mention eleven-year-old group sex or a weird spider from outer space. No one seems to recall that this story, in ever single way, is about a librarian who saved the fucking world. Not only was Mike Hanlon the only character to stay in Derry, he was the sole individual who kept any memory or record of the horrors that happened in his childhood. He called back Bill and the gang to fight this ancient evil, after they all went on to live lives of success, leaving him behind to be an intelligent black man in a terrifyingly racist town. Fuck Bill. He was only the main protagonist, because he was a semi-autobiographical and Stephen King is in love with himself. Mike Hanlon was the real MVP.

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Samwell Tarly – Game of Thrones

Due to his lack of rapey tendencies and general mental stability, Samwell Tarly is portrayed as a meek, cowardly character in Game of Thrones. In some respects, this is a valid description, as he refuses to stand up for himself and fails at most athletic and physical feats. His overall lack of aggression seems to have freed up a lot of mental space, though, as it’s Sam who discovers the long lost key to killing the White Walkers, by testing it out personally. He even cures greyscale, a magical and more horrifying form of leprosy, on his way to discovering John Snow’s true identity. Of course, Game of Thrones has not actually concluded, which makes this more speculation than spoiler, but we can see where this is going. Sam uncovers the true identity of John Snow and he ushers in a golden age of royal unity for the Seven Kingdoms, even though this is a world where magic is second only to violence, because research is badass.tumblr_myzwhrflwp1s5m21go3_250

Barbara Gordon – Bat Girl

Barbara Gordon wasn’t only the daughter of the police commissioner, James Gordon. She was the head of the Gotham City Public Library. Y’all, I have worked in an inner-city library, and Batgirl or no, this makes Barbara Gordon a tough cookie. Not only was she a researcher and homeless people’s advocate extraordinaire, Barbara Gordon used her innocent librarian cover to throw the scent off her own vigilantism, which is essentially my dream… if I could just get Jake on board. Even when she became wheelchair bound, Barbara Gordon simply shifted her goals and alter-ego to become The Oracle, basically librarianing the bad guys right into the hands of Batman and friends. Librarians, folks, are truly the unsung heroes of literature.

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Protecting the Future of Libraries is Ruining My Life

If you’ve been following my blog for the past year, then you know my professional life has been a bit hectic. Last January, I started as a Supervisory Librarian at the Northside Library. Finally full time, I was able to quit substitute teaching for a new position that was envisioned as 20% supervisory and 80% librarian. Sadly, the title quickly evolved and my true role ended up being 100% supervisory… and still 80% librarian. In addition to acting as manager at all times, I was also the adult librarian, in charge of local and off-site book clubs, building the adult programming department, working the reference desk, maintaining and weeding a quarter of the collection, and performing readers’ advisory. After eight exhausting months, I tearfully explained to my manager that a good week was one in which I was the only person crying in my office… and that I was stepping down, internally.

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This took a bit longer than I thought it would. I assumed I was the obvious choice for the adult librarian position in Cherokee and was rather overdramatically devastated when the job went to a woman who I now know was the more qualified candidate. Then, just north of Cherokee, a position opened in Jackson, also for an adult librarian. While teens have always been my passion, my experience at the Northside Library in adult librarianship just seemed to go further than my bachelor’s degree in education or my six years of substitute teaching or even all the teen-centered classes I took in grad school. No one cared about my goals or theoretical experience as much as they did my actual experience. Since I enjoyed working with seniors and I hated being a manager, it seemed unwise to be picky. Exactly 11 months after my first day, I celebrated my last as a Supervisory Librarian, before starting as just a Librarian at the Eastside Library. Life was good… for a fucking minute and a half.

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Towards the end of January, came the announcement: my library system is undergoing a grassroots restructuring. Literally everyone’s title and job description are changing… no matter how new they might be. Less than two month’s, y’all. I had my position at a small town library with a touch of adult programming for less than two months… which was still enough time to relocate.

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The Jackson Library is unique in that it’s grouped with the Lakeville, Harmon, and Nada libraries, which all serve small, almost rural, communities around a thriving metropolitan city. Together, these libraries comprise the Satellite Libraries of my system, which until very recently, have been treated as the Hillbilly Annex, when it comes to resources and funding.

Me: “I just hate the way everyone talks about these libraries. My bachelor’s degree was in home-ec. I constantly had to defend it, even to those in the education field, and here I am again, defending the Satellite Libraries to the rest of the system.”
Boss: “How do you mean?”
Me: “We’re part of a fifty million dollar system and we didn’t have color printing here, until 2017. I had a color printer in 1997.”

This is one reason why I asked my managers to see if I could be transferred to a new branch as part of the restructuring, since it seemed at least two librarians would be moved from the Satellite Libraries and no one else wanted to leave. Additionally, despite my asking before the interview and during the interview, if my position would require traveling to every Satellite branch and being told no, it seems this position has also evolved. Instead of doing the occasional adult program and working as a librarian, as promised, I would be expected to spend my days in meetings with city officials and schmoozing business owners in four different communities.

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Me to my boss: “This is exactly why I got out of management. I spent all my time in meetings, talking about changing the world instead of actually changing the world.”

The restructuring, however, isn’t just about revising the positions themselves, but also deciding who fits best within them. We were asked to evaluate our strengths and truly consider with which population we could make the biggest difference: children, adults, or teens.

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Children’s library has never even been a consideration of mine. I only like the children I’m required to like and sometimes, not even them. I’ll like my own. I probably won’t like their friends. As a whole, I don’t like kids and I’m not sorry.

While I sort of fell into adult librarianship, I did enjoy it, especially seniors. I had a group of ladies I visited at the nursing home, and they fun, sassy, and opinionated. I was the first stop at the Northside Library if a senior needed help with an iPad or Kindle Fire, because I loved reassuring them that they weren’t stupid, technology is hard, and they could do it. Still… my heart has always belonged to teens.

For the same reason I love seniors, I love teens. They’re the forgotten population. We push them aside in favor of the most active tax payers. When they’re children, we love them because they’re cute (or so I hear) and we cater to them because their parents are watching and voting.  As teens, however, they come in alone, make a ruckus, and can’t vote. Most people view teens as little adults who have not yet learned to behave. I know that their brains are just as different from adult brains as those of children. One of the most miserable parts of management was watching the teen librarian plan and orchestrate programs and mentor volunteers, when I had missed the chance.

As much as I didn’t want to travel to a different library every day, I decided to chance it. I tossed my hat into an unknown ring and claimed teens. I could end up staying and travelling or leaving for any of our other 14 system libraries… but I’d get to be a teen librarian. Management has assured me the decision isn’t permanent, but I don’t see how it couldn’t be. No one will ever be more qualified for a position than someone who’s already doing it. Nevertheless, I was assured that they could probably still find a new place for me to serve teens, in system,  but outside of the Satellite Libraries… or so they thought.

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The next week, I was informed that I would probably be staying with the Satellite Libraries, as the teen librarian, despite the fact that two librarians will still need to leave and no one else wants out. I felt like management was trying to make a point that this wasn’t about me, but was it really so unreasonable to think I could still benefit, if someone had to leave anyway? Furthermore, why did they even open the Jackson Library in December, filling three positions, if they knew they were going to pull the rug out from under us all? After what happened with the Supervisory Librarian position, how could they do this to me, again? For the last six months, I’ve had no idea what my professional future holds. On the one hand, I understand the importance of the restructuring and I’m thrilled we have a director will to take it on to keep our libraries relevant… on the other, I’m trying to move and plan a wedding and prepare for marriage and management is ruining my life!

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I’ve gotta give some credit to Jake, here, y’all, because as much as I tried to keep my cool, I… so… horribly… failed. You have not seen dramatic Belle, until you’ve threatened her future as a librarian and at this point, the back and forth was just too much. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to do teens for sure. There was still a chance I’d have to spend all day in meetings with city officials and lead book club discussions over boring grownup books about the Civil War and economics. If they made me travel and sit in meetings all day, I was seriously considering look for teaching jobs… and education in my state is not looking good. I’ve said it before, folks. I am the old man declaring that what you do is who you are and if I’m not a librarian, who am I? I spent days in bed, sleeping and crying over the stress of just not knowing.

Finally, I was able to sit down with my own Supervisory Librarian and the manager above her, where they explained that it’s unlikely anyone will be leaving the Satellite Libraries, but if they do, it just wouldn’t make sense for it to be their only passionate teen librarian. I was even informed that no one actually knew the restructuring would be so drastic, until after the Jackson Library was opened. My manager also made the point that, despite all this stress and upheaval, the teens in these communities need someone to champion them and I could be the best person to do so, considering the similarities between these towns and Shetland, my upbringing and theirs.

As icing on the cake, amidst all of this craziness, we received some other news: IMLS (Institute of Museums and Library Services) might lose their funding, because President Donald Trump is ignorant and shortsighted and wants to give the appearance that he’s cutting real spending when the only impact from defunding libraries at a federal level, will be a negative one. It’s a drop in the bucket as far as government spending goes, but if it’s eliminated, libraries all over the country will have to cut staff, hours, and resources and some will probably have to close their doors for good. I, myself, am fortunate enough to work in a library system that receives zero federal funding. While we benefit from a state database resource funded by IMLS, my job and that of everyone in our system, is secure.

So, over this past weekend, I was really able to process what my manager said, now that I’ve been assured that there are no hidden agendas and I can at least count on being the teen librarian for the Satellite Libraries. Maybe I really can make a difference out here and be truly fulfilled. Would the traveling even be so bad, once I’ve gotten used to each branch? After my talk with management, I realized that everyone in the system is facing major changes in their title. If I moved, I’d just be in the same trailer, different park. I told my Supervisory Librarian as much on Monday morning only to hear that the wheels are still turning and the Cherokee Library is now considered a Satellite Library, as well. I may end up working there as a teen librarian after all.

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As exasperating as they may be, however, these changes are the reason we’ll be thriving in five years. They’re going to be the reason we’re still standing as other libraries fall, because while I’ve been crying in bed like a fucking Disney Princess, because I don’t know the future of my library, others in my field have been crying because their library has no future. This isn’t just a great chance, because it’s my opportunity to work with teens.

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– I GET TO BE A TEEN LIBRARIAN, Y’ALL! –

It’s reassurance that I can still even be a librarian… because for many in my field, it ain’t looking good.

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To the Women Who Tried to Ruin My Career

At 25 years old, I’d just begun my career as a real librarian, in my current system, when I excitedly accepted a second job at the neighboring library system. Within two months, I was informed that I wasn’t “a good fit” and that I’d worked my last day there. I was never late. No customer ever complained about me. I did everything I was asked… except go to my immediate supervisor’s house for spaghetti with the rest of the team, share Pinterest recipes, and sport an “I’m With Her” t-shirt. That’s right. Instead of valuing diversity in her staff, this woman sought employees who were just like her, a modern day Heather willing to abuse her power to the detriment of the community she served.

In time, I realized that not being “a good fit” was quite flattering and ultimately the best thing for my career, because it allowed me to hone my skills within my own system. Even in that beloved system, however, there once reigned a Regina George… the girl who poured the pigs’ blood in Carrie… a Cersei Lannister, of our very own.  Indeed, this woman was… psychotically vindictive, in the truest sense. She ruined careers when people mispronounced her name. She permanently transferred librarians to branches across the city, with less than 24 hours notice and no explanation. She planted her favorites in positions of power and pulled their strings like the fucking Puppet Master. She even tried to keep my boss at the West Side Library  from hiring me, because I’d had a poor interview for a different job. It was a joyous occasion the day Cersei pissed on the wrong boots and was demoted. It was downright freeing when she and many of her minions retired soon thereafter, to practice augury and gnaw on the bones of kittens.

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I’d like to think these women are the exceptions. The rhetoric these days would have us believe we’re are all far too evolved from a half century of breaking glass ceilings and opening our own pickle jars to still be facing such deliberate workplace sabotage. It remains true, however, that one of a woman’s greatest battles toward professional success is simply… other women. Perhaps this is evolutionary and stems from a time when we each tried to prove ourselves the most valuable gatherer, in an effort to snag the best hunter, but we are long overdue to pull up our big girl panties and crush our baser instincts.

Had the aforementioned Heather and Cersei had their way, I would be… well, I don’t know exactly, because I can’t fathom the goal behind destroying the career of a random 25-year-old fresh out of grad school. Maybe they knew every detail of the devastation that would result from their actions. Maybe the fantasy hadn’t extended that far. All I’ve ever known for sure is that there was something broken inside these women, which required them to tear down another to feel accomplished. Now, years later, I have a simple message for them:

Thank you. Thank you for showing me the worst possible scenario of who I could be as a professional woman. Thank you for inspiring me to be better at a job I hated than you were at a job you treasured like the One Ring. Thank you for the strength it took to build people up, despite the fact that I spent my lunch breaks crying in my office. I could’ve let the wounds of others fester, with the reasoning that I didn’t cause them, but instead, I worked to heal those around me. I could’ve scoffed at the personality traits and communication styles that differ from my own, yet I worked to not only understand, but translate. I will have been a manager for eleven months, to the day, when I step down into my new position as just a librarian, at the East Side Library. I’ll leave the North Side Library in the city, to work in the tiny town of Jackson, under the same library system. I’ll rarely see these people again… and I’ll be leaving them better than I found them. If I’d never cried from the abuse of powerful women, I might never have made a difference in the short time I was one myself and for that, I am thankful.

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The Horrors of Being a Manager That No One Ever Shared

I hate being a manager.

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Before I became a supervisory librarian, I was confident that while official management might be an option several years from now, I wanted to spend some time as a librarian first. Managers can make damned good money, but they’re also the ones who have to deal with personnel issues, fill out paperwork when the police are called, and spend a crazy amount of time in meetings. While that wasn’t off the table entirely, I at least wanted the chance to get my feel for the challenges a librarian faces, before trading them in for new ones of a higher pay grade.

I’ve detailed previously how drastically my position has changed since I started in January. What was advertised as a librarian position with some supervisory duties has, quite literally, become the opposite. I am a manger first, a manager second, and a librarian if there’s time. Now, I’m not gonna lie. At the time, I was exhausted and disheartened by working as a half time librarian and substitute teaching when I’d had a master’s degree for two years. I can’t say with certainty that I wouldn’t have applied for the supervisory position, had I known what it would become… but I can say I’d have only had myself to blame when I realized just how much I hate being a manager… and all the horrors no one ever mentioned.

It’s Us against Them.
I always assumed my boss at the Westside Library didn’t join us for Taco Tuesday, because it would be awkward to mix business with pleasure. You can’t reprimand someone for using inappropriate language, if they’ve heard you use the phrase “bucket of cunts,” over a bottomless basket of tortilla chips. I felt for her, because she was the only manager at our branch and it looked really lonely from the outside. Now, I realize that she wasn’t lonely. She was just perpetually ready for battle.

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In my system, the circulation clerks and library pages are almost as quick to snarl when someone blames the group for the actions of an individual as they are to make sweeping generalizations about how “management doesn’t care/understand/listen.” People constantly air their grievances about how management is a clown that eats children and they do not make exceptions. While I’d hope none exist in my system, I’m certain there are supervisors looking out for number one, too busy stressing about their own duties to care about how anyone else is coping with theirs, maybe just mad with power. I’m just as certain that I’m not one of them.

The only thing I hate more than being a manager is the fact that I hate being a manager, because someone at every level of staff, from the library pages to the system director, has told me that they hope I have my own branch one day. I refuse to read management theory and put my employees in little boxes labeled by some arbitrary personality test, because I consider these no different than delineators such as gender, race, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. Humans are complicated and we need to stop stereotyping them as a management technique. So, I read my employees and accommodate their individual work and communication styles. I address each and every concern. I champion my staff and they champion me… until they write about how much Management sucks… and it all feels like a wasted effort. No matter how hard I try, I’m still The Man and they still feel like cogs in the machine.

I’m rarely the one who can solve the problem.
Maybe they feel like cogs in the machine, because we’re all cogs in the machine. When someone brings a problem to my office, more often than not, I can’t actually solve it. If I’m lucky, I can set up some kind of committee and delegate tasks, helping the staff to feel involved in the decision making process, while simultaneously addressing the issue. If not, as with personnel issues, I can start doing paperwork. If I’m particularly unfortunate, the staff member causing problems won’t be under me and I can ask their manager to start doing paperwork… confidentially, of course, so I can’t actually clarify this with the person who brought the issue to my attention.

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Bigger picture problems are even less under my control, in the well-oiled machine that is a large library system. You’re upset that the dress code is more problematic for Black women, because they can’t wear head wraps? That’s a policy approved by the commission. You want an urban fiction section? That’s cataloging’s call, not mine. You want to move up, with the degree you received from an unaccredited institution? I’d recommend a smaller library system. You want direct answers from your immediate supervisor? I’d recommend a smaller library system. You want a fifteen thousand dollar pay cut? I’d recommend a smaller library system.

I’m the counselor from Freaks and Geeks.

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Before I became a manager, my Gramma would compare the title to babysitting. It drove her mad to supervise adults who couldn’t get to work on time or wear appropriate clothing or complete basic job tasks. That was in the seventies and eighties when efficiency and work ethic were emphasized. Now it’s all about “morale” and “empowerment” and I wish I could charge a quarter every time someone used either of those words. Years ago, Regina George ruled my library system and people’s livelihoods and careers were the casualties, so I’m not saying that I don’t agree that morale and empowerment are important… just that being responsible for them is exhausting.

I understand that change is hard for people, especially when they’ve been at the same branch, under the same management, for their entire careers, but I occasionally feel like I’m trying to motivate sullen teenagers… beyond my responsibility. There is a point when your unhappiness lies with you, not your manager. I can ask my employees about their lives and build strong work relationships. I can assign projects and tasks that will challenge them, pad their resumes, and make them feel valued. I can sit down with everyone for one-on-one meetings and truly listen to their concerns. If none of that works, though… I think our health insurance covers a few therapy sessions? I’m not being heartless here. I literally don’t know what to do about the level of discontent some of these people seem to feel!

cannot avoid the drama.
I never realized how miserable people in the library world could be, back when a good week wasn’t determined by the number of people crying in my office.

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A perfect week is defined as “just me.”

Call me self-absorbed, but when I was just a librarian, I rarely even knew what feuds were taking place and who was being called into the managers office for what infractions. I, quite literally, didn’t hear about some disputes for years and it… was… glorious! 

Now that I’m a manager, I’m involved in all of the drama and there is just so much of it. Even when my employees aren’t involved in a dispute, their workflow is directly effected, so it becomes my problem, when they come to my office and vent. Then, I have to alert the appropriate immediate supervisor, who gets upset over another personnel conflict, the terror that is addressing the issue directly… and I completely relate. Yet, if they don’t handle the problem satisfactorily, we have to involve our manager and there’s awkwardness between us. 

My worst day at the Northside Library, was the day I held a half naked drug addict until the ambulance arrived, while crying on the phone to the dispatcher. I’ve yet to top it, but the day I have to write up, or worse, fire anyone will be one of the worst days of my professional life. Most problem employees have legitimate struggles in their own lives and many of them are quite likable, personally. Their behavior is just unacceptable and unchangeable and a failure to respond is a discredit to other staff members and, in our case, the community at large. But… I just can’t sit and watch someone cry as I take their livelihood from them… and hopefully, I won’t have to, because I’ve officially set the balls in motion to move down. I suppose there is a silver lining: if I ever decide to be a larger cog in the machine again, I’ll truly be in the know.