Saturday, October 26, 2019

some thoughts about day jobs*

It occurred to me this week that it has been approximately 20 years since I started working in libraries, which seems fitting given that this past week bought a couple library-related wins and endeavors, including presenting at not one, but two professional conferences. I was laughing the entire time because every time I needed a business card amongst other librarians, I never had one, and a couple times just gave out my writing/art one with the press e-mail address. I actually do have a stash of CC cards, the bland orange backed standard that has "Access Services Assistant / Course Reserves Coordinator" that I mostly give to faculty when they need to contact me about putting materials on reserve. They don't get much use, since most faculty just fill out the online form just fine and never have to get in touch.  And there is a lot of unofficial things that card doesn't capture. Interlibrary loan duties, which I've been overseeing temporarily the past year.  Our A of R initiative and the programming and exhibits we do there.  My new heading of the Programming and Events Committee, my increasing involvement in social media stuff.  We've talked and daydreamed about new job titles and pay increases, but not just yet (and subject to the sort of red tape that plagues all of academia) 

While I have always had rather nice writing/art/press related cards, I never gave much thought to my professional print collateral when it came to libraries, since I was never sure I wanted to see it as a profession.  For one, my efforts & endeavors have always been elsewhere--the library was a fine, bookish place, to make money when the other things I wanted to do did not.  For about the first 15 years or so--I showed up, did what I was supposed to do to collect my paycheck, hung out with some cool people, then went about my creative work on the side.  Two, there is always that arbitrary divide between degreed librarians and those of us without (my grad degrees are in lit and writing, not an MLS.)  Even if I'd wanted to feel like a professional, everything in how some MLS'd librarians treated those of us without indicated I would never get there unless I was willing to get that particular degree (which just seemed like a technicality and not something I felt I'd like to study in depth--also that over 20 years had probably granted me more than a classroom every could.)  The eventual gains actually weren't all that promising either, all that jumping through grad school academic hoops for a third time and even degreed positions (both public and academic)  were not particularly raking in the bucks. Nor were they guaranteed--esp. as more libraries were shrinking their degreed staff for people they could pay much less in theory. 

About five years ago, it started to change a little as I found a vein in the rock I really wanted to follow. A of R has not only been really fun to work on, but I think it's important work in connecting resources and libraries to art students in a way that has always seemed more tenuous at a place like Columbia, where everyone is less concerned with traditional scholarship and more with making things. I want to do more things there, to write about our experiences, to be a resource for other libraries.  (thus the conferences and writing projects). It definitely makes the time I spend in the library collecting that paycheck more enjoyable and integrated to my interests & abilities. We've been short-staffed this year, down by 50 percent (and of course,  dreadfully underpaid, especially given all doubling up)  but at least the work feels important, enough that I'm willing to hang in and hope things get better in the coming year. 

Also, it melds well with my outside pursuits--running things like zine programs, hosting readings, discussion panels on topics that interest me creatively.One of the reasons I originally eschewed teaching was that I hated the idea of having to struggle to get college students to care about writing and literature when it's a hard sell sometimes--esp. since I'd likely be teaching a whole lotta composition courses as do most writers I know. A noble and far underappreciated endeavor, but a terrible hell for me and my impatient nature (I totally chalk this up to being a Taurus). This scratches a similar itch and yet the audience is totally self-selecting and engaged every single time. 

Nevertheless, I always think back to my panicked 24 year old self, when I decided I didn't want an academic career, didn't want to pursue that Ph.D I was midway into applying to,  and if not, what the hell was I going to do?  Or a couple years later when I took that job in an elementary school library after months of searching --not just libraries, but bookstores, newspapers, museums. I think she'd be happy to know that it actually worked out pretty well in the end, day job-wise.

* technically, my day job is actually a night job..I write and make books in the morning/early afternoon and do the evening shift at Columbia.  This also appeals to my sleep-loving Taurus nature, since you will rarely find me outta bed before 10am. 

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