Last weekend I overheard two library employees chatting. One confided in the other that a difficult patron treated her “like an angry black woman” for not putting up with the patron’s attempts to goad her. Before I proceed, I have no idea what took place between the employee and the patron. I only caught a snippet of the conversation and I was so surprised to hear it that I perhaps rudely and unthinkingly entered the conversation by asking who made her feel that way. I guess the impulse was that of one woman relating to another and/or future information professional seeking to learn from a current information professional. Her demeanor changed and she told me not to worry about it and that everything was okay. I felt embarrassed that I may have made her more uncomfortable and I will never know exactly what transpired. What I do know is that library employees are subjected to a lot. I’m not even sure how to further qualify “a lot,” but I get the general sense that for all the hope, idealism, professionalism, and kindness we attribute to library staff, they are also tired and frustrated. Some of them wear it. Heck, I don’t even work at a library and I’m tired, frustrated, and it occasionally shows. Gill Corkindale writes of the importance of kindness at work. Regardless of whether we are in a public facing role, we will likely interact with a great number of people and underneath our professional veneer, we will struggle with snap decisions and how to interpret certain requests. I’m sure it happens to patrons too. I’m a patron and it’s still hard for me to ask for help. Corkingdale implores us to treat our jobs and colleagues with empathy. We can’t know the unknown, but we can certainly appreciate the vastness of human experience. We as information professionals, students, and patrons, will experience all manner of triumph and failure. I think two of the best lessons we can take away from our time in this course and the program are those of temperance and innovation.
I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom. I’m truly excited by the possibilities. The fact that there is a job title called “knowledge manager” is enough to keep me striving forward. There’s a hell of a lot of knowledge to manage! But here’s a reality that hovers in the back of my mind. I have friends who attended library school who did not obtain their dream jobs in public libraries or elsewhere. That’s not a failure. Just a different outcome, perhaps temporary. Nearly all of them are on amazing paths, regardless. Another big caveat. This is my personal reflection based on personal experiences, particularly approaching the profession as a second career. Maybe it’s stifling to advise others to temper their expectations. However, many of the readings in this course focus on doing a lot with a little. We rightly celebrate the implementation of new technologies, the expansion of buildings, the changing of attitudes. But we can also celebrate the small things too–the successful compromises, the new hand dryer in the washroom, the introverted teen patron who asked for help. Lastly, we can acknowledge that stuff happens. Hope for the best, expect (or at least don’t be surprised by) the worst. Which brings me to innovation.
Stock photos of librarians can tell us a lot about the public’s perception of the profession. Bespectacled. Varying degrees of shooshing. Women.
The point I’m trying to make is that there’s a very entrenched perception of the profession. We know better though. We know that information professionals are MacGyvers, teachers, plumbers, experts, puppeteers, parking validators, or just about anything else their patrons need them to be. We are everything or can be what we need to be in a pinch because we’ve learned to do a lot with a little and to rejigger as needed. I felt like the whole of INFO 204 was an exercise in “what to do when your strategic plan ≠ reality.” Also, no disrespect to INFO 204. That’s a hugely important lesson. As for INFO 287-10, it’s tougher to sum things up but I think Michael leaves us with some sage advice in his article and its title, “Always Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”
It’s been an absolute pleasure taking this course and getting to know all of you. Best of luck in summer or fall or whatever’s next! If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area, drop me a line if you’re interested in taking my tour of Central Library.
Corkindale, G. (2011). The importance of kindness at work. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2011/04/the-importance-of-kindness-at
Stephens, M. (2014). Always doesn’t live here anymore. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/2014/10/opinion/michael-stephens/always-doesnt-live-here-anymore-office-hours/#_