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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