Saturday, May 26, 2007

Work != Life

I was reading a recent post over at A Wandering Eyre (along with some of the responses to it at a couple of other places), and I realized something that is sounding odd in my head well before I type it, but I'm going to try to make it come out right.

I think the "My work is not my life" realization is something that everyone comes to in time. For some, it comes very early - to the point that there are people who only show up for a paycheck. They have jobs but not necessarily careers and they are fine with that. And as long as they're happy with the way their life is, I've got no business saying anything's wrong with them.

Then there are those who learn it later. It took me a while to learn it - for me, it was in my previous career, one where, by the time I left it I was incredibly miserable - I don't think it's possible for me to really explain how miserable I was now that I'm almost five years removed from it. I brought that knowledge into librarianship with me, and it's one of the things I've tried to make a point of remembering - and to be not at work when I'm not there.

When I leave the office, I try to leave the politics and such behind me at my desk. Does it always work? No. Am I still a librarian on the weekends or on vacation or what not? Yes, I am. And I still get joy out of what I do and I love it. But if I don't take the time for myself, then I'll push myself into that state when I am miserable again - and I don't want to be there again, because it would mean that I'd lost the joy of librarianship.

So for the other young librarians out there - remember your passions, your loves, beyond librarianship. You can't live and breathe your career 24/7 and expect to keep loving it. Go do whatever else you need to do to make yourself walk back in the door focused and content. These are the things we have to do to stay sane.

Edited to add: I realized later that final paragraph may seem condescending, depending on how you read it (first time I read through it was fine, then later I got the other reading). I am still in a lot of ways a young librarian - and I am definitely a new librarian. And the things I can say can only come from my experiences and background. I want the ones with passion to not end up burned out, and anything that they can do to help themselves not do so is fine by me.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Thoughts on librarianship from the dentist's chair

So, I had this thought while in the dentist chair today (I was in that chair for almost three hours, so there was plenty of time to think) - ended up talking to the dentist about it. It was a little odd. Dentists and librarians face similar challenges, at least in an academic library.

Both academic librarians and dentists are seen by some as the last resort. Like I put off going to the dentist until I couldn't anymore, students put off seeing the librarian, like what they have to do is going to be as painful as a root canal or having a crown replaced with the attendant decay below the old crown.

People avoid the dentist. Then they go when it's absolutely necessary and expect miracles - they expect just what Uncle JimBob got when he had fantastic results, quite possibly because he didn't wait five years between visits. At the same time (again, much like my dental visit today), the problem may be much more involved once he or she is actually into the work. And it may be much less involved, but that's not typical.

We were also talking about how he feels that dentists have made their jobs look too easy - they've hidden the challenges, and people expect perfect results every time. Haven't we done the same thing? We make an interface that looks simple. That enables the basic user to find what they need most of the time and hides the challenges of searching. This is great for the most common denominator - because most people will find what they need. But what happens when someone is not the most common denominator, when their search is more involved and their topic more complex? Because we've made search seem simple, they expect the results for a search on a specific horse disease that affected animals during the Boer War that are as easy as those they might get with a search for scholarly articles about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which, by the way, are fairly easy to find). It frustrates our users - and leaves us as a last resort.

This post grew out of a visit to the dentist, and I feel there's more to say, but I'm not sure how to say it at the moment. So I'll let this be for now.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Preexising thoughts

There are bunches of librarians blogging out there, so why start another one? Of course, because this one is mine - and everyone, in our own narcissistic way, thinks our thoughts are at least as important as those of anyone else.

I am currently an academic librarian, and I'm starting a new job this summer, also as an academic librarian but in a whole new part of the country for me. I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I want out of this new job - I know that they have expectations for what I am bringing as well, but thinking about what I want will help me focus as I begin - and since this one has research and publication requirements, I need to be thinking those thoughts.

Here's the deal: I love being a librarian. I love helping students, I love teaching classes, I love working with new technologies. There are aspects of the profession I dislike - primarily it's the bitterness that comes across when some groups of librarians get together. I'm on a bunch of e-mail lists, and I think the combined griping that can occur has really dragged me down and brought me to a somewhat negative mindset about how things aren't going to change.

What I want is to keep being excited about being a librarian. To be excited about the new tools that open possibilities - like Twitter and tagging and all the new fun stuff that I feel like I'm playing with - but that does have enormous possibilities for reconnecting with our users. I want the excitement to stay with me. I want to keep loving what I do - instead of being distracted by naysayers. I want libraries and librarians to say that "yes, we can do that. In fact, we can do it better and cheaper" instead of "well...maybe we could do that, what if we tweaked it some so it looks (and works) just like what we've got over here...".

I want to play. I want the joy of my profession, not just the daily grind. I don't want to just show up for the sake of getting a paycheck - I want to contribute and be involved. Sitting on my duff letting changes catch up to me only when they happen to flow past is no good. I want to seek and find the fun stuff and try to figure out what the next big thing is.

Let's go to work.