Saturday, January 26, 2019

I had a weird moment midweek where something that seemed like a crazy idea seemed also like a totally do-able thing. But what was worse, was that the spectre of the thing seemed for a second to strike an old spark and sense of purpose I haven't felt in a while, and certainly not in the past couple of years. I was so enamored of that feeling, I had to separate that feeling in itself from the thing that inspired it (which seemed far more riduculous in the light of day) and parse out what it was that was touching those connectors and what might be a better way to do that. (than this thing, which was, as I said, crazy).

About  15 years ago, I had been working in libraries for a few years and reached a point where I had a couple options.  I could pursue my MLIS degree, and therefore cement my career as a librarian, which would probably bump my pay and career possibilities by a bit, but I'm nor sure by THAT much, or get my MFA in writing poetry.  Since I've always determined not to do things for the sake of money alone, I went with the latter.   I also wasn't sure I wanted to be in libraries permanently, or follow a traditional library career path, since while I enjoy them greatly in a general sense, the profession itself has never been a draw. I wanted to be a writer, so it seemed more important to focus things and center myself there. And while I had both negative and positive experiences therein, the overall takeaway was that it was worth it for the work and progress I made while getting it.

Also, many of my friends have since found their library grad educations sort of boring, basic, and uninspiring.  A necessary step-stone, but little else.  Prone to being largely out of date even a few years out of graduation.  Also weilded by the worst and most inept of the profession in many cases as a reason you should take them seriously--that degree, much like the MFA, when you really should not. That MLS, non MLS conflict seemed to permeate all corners of the profession, and at times I've felt it and brushed it off.  In a lot of things I've been reading, people have been questioning the necessity, especially given it seems you are expected to go into hock for a degree, much of which you could have learned in practice on the job.

Any temptation to go back to school for that particular reason has faded over the years.  For one, I'm not sure I would, at this age, make a good student.  It was hard to play that role in something I was passionate about a decade ago, let alone now and in a subject where, sure, some of it will be interesting and new, but most will likely be knowledge I've already gleaned professionally on the job. Also money (I have none and my student loans are already crazy).  Also time (I can barely keep myself afloat).   Also, even if I got the degree, I would mostly likely have to leave Columbia to pursue degreed career options elsewhere, a place I feel I belong and a department I feel like I belong in. I've also said that most likely when I leave CCC, unless I were laid off or fired, it will be to work entirely for myself with the press or other writing or art endeavors.

But I've also felt the sting of not being taken seriously in the workplace for not being a degreed librarian.  Also overstepping invisble boundaries.  Being ignored and treated shittily. For being too much sometimes.  (Though truthfully my boss  (who is both a dept. head and degreed) says this might be because we're, ya know, women. Or work in Access Services vs Reference or some other dept. The people who basically make sure the doors are open and things in their places, but god forbid we try to have an impact on the workplace beyond that.

All of this less interesting backstory, but one that applies as we've navigated our way through our A of R endeavors, how they are accepted and received, how seriously they have been taken in the past.  How many obstacles there were to get things rolling., or hell, to even get things off the ground. We're in a far better and hopeful place now, but I'm still a little resentful sometimes at how hard it was to be taken seriously or listened to, whatever the factors at play.

I've mentioned before some library-related writing projects we've been trying to pin down, some more scholarly content about libraries and artmaking and creative communities.  About self-directed learning, and the role of the academic library not only as a place that supports the sort of learning that happens in the classroom via materials and resources, but that also be an intellectual center in and off itself. How the library serves as a connection point for self-directed learning, but also a nexus of a community that in turn radiates out into greater campus and arts communities.  Things have been sort of bonkers with our staffing issues and anything not absolutely crucial has been set aside, but we're hoping to return to these pursuits when we've filled department positions that take some of the load off.

One of my co-workers is currently in grad school and we were joking about Ph.D programs in Library Science at our last department meeting--why anyone would ever do that when it seemed mostly, at this point unecessary in the field and more likely to just make you overqualified for most positions in the library sector? Afterward I decided to google programs and people experiences. And the more I looked at it, the more appealing it seemed as a possibility, particularly one distance learning one that looked to be very research-focused.  Granted, I have no idea what I would do professionally with such a degree--whether it would open or close more doors, and hell, I'm looking for a way OUT of the library workforce eventually. But the idea of working on a thesis on something I am kind of passionate about seemed like a really exciting idea. At least for a few hours. I read everything I could--program descriptors, blogs about current student experiences.  Thesis abstracts. Looked up what people did with the degree--crossovers in teaching and research and libraries.

I went to bed that night, really intrigued with this crazy idea and the possibilities therein. I woke up more realistically, but with the feeling that it had been a long time since I had been that excited by a future possibility, however reckless or unlikely to be a good idea.  Then I realized I need to figure out why that was. Why that feeling?  Why that particular thing evoked that feeling?  My tiny mental spin-out right before Christmas had been spun around the idea that, at this age, how the only things you have to look forward to on a macro level are bad--death, disease, loss.  Sure, there are still good things, and I am always looking forward to new books and projects and adventures, but those seem smaller-scale compared to what you potentially lose going into the second half of your life.   You were always buildIng, adding, and now begins the substraction. This has everything to do with losing my mom and also not entirely just that.

I joked the next day when talking it out maybe this was a temptation toward my own version of a mid-life crisis--instead of buying a boat or dating people remarkably younger than than me, I was thinking about a Ph.D. I mean, why not if it made me feel like I had a little more purpose.  All crazy since I've built my life to always make sure I have purpose, that I've grounded myself in things I am passionate about.  Around the time I turned 40, I always laughed and said I'd surely by-pass midlife malaise by making sure to do things right the first time.   But low and behold, a few years later, it seems it's found me at least a little bit. I have a slightly hectic, but immensely fufilling life, but still that little bit of sparkle distracted me for a moment in a good way.

Since I'm not sold on those kind unrealistic Ph.D dreams, I'm now set into trying to figure out WHY that sparked what it did and how to achieve that on a more realistic level.  Is it the inquiry, which I can do just as well outside a program and much cheaper on my own. And no doubt will continue to pursue inside or outside of that.  Or can I parlay this into other arenas, writing or publishing or artmaking, all of which I am already doing.  Into my existing work at the library--our programming and projects?

For a second, there was a sparkle there I haven't seen in a while, so WHY?  Granted, it may not even be possible.  I was going down the Ph.D track once before twenty years ago and decided against it (I got into NIU's Lit program, and abandoned a couple other in progress applications.)  I couldn't see myself teaching or doing scholarly work in lit and wanted to devote myself to writing creatively.  This feels different, the work I would do more applicable to real world things and libraries than studying Bronte novels and then spending my years teaching composition classes, noble but not the goal. Many of the candidates I e-stalked in the desired program did not have an MLS degree, but possibly not having one could work against me, even with 20 years of experience. Also, would what seems shiny now be really boring after a while. And I have no idea what I might be getting into, how to balance current pursuits I very much want to keep doing, with this new potential endeavor. If that balance is even possible.

It's all moot b/c the porgram I'm most interested in isn't taking applications til next year anyway and I'm not about to throw myself wily nilly into anything, but we'll see what happens and if time makes this more or less appealing as a possibility. There are many things I could do that may spark the same feeling and be much less expensive, exhausting, and much more realistic...

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