Satisfaction For The Profession

Back in 2003 I authored an article titled “Passion for the Profession” in portal: Libraries and the Academy. In this piece I shared my reasons for being passionate about our work and provided my rationale for why we do it – and why those contemplating a career in librarianship would do well to consider the academic sector. I waxed eloquently on the virtues of serving students and faculty, as well as the joys of being part of an academic community and a professional network. But perhaps I was guilty of overselling the concept of professional passion. According to some real passion experts maybe I should have written an article titled “Satisfaction for the Profession” or “Finding Meaning in the Profession” because for most of us that is about all we can hope to achieve.

Real passion, it turns out, is rather elusive. According to experts true job passion is a state of total involvement and complete immersion. A truly passionate academic librarian is fully absorbed in the experience. How absorbed? Picture a teenager playing his or her favorite video game. Hours can pass totally unnoticed. While I often have days when I’m wondering where the morning went and occasionally have one where I literally lose track of time – an occupational hazard that leads to showing up late for appointments – most days pass just about right and rarely does boredom strike. When I occasionally check Facebook or Twitter during the work day it seems that some colleagues are frequently changing their status, reporting their top five kung-fu movies or sharing quiz results that indicate which Star Wars character they are. A passionate academic librarian would be so immersed in their work that he or she would not only not have time for such questionable diversions, but would be so caught up in their work that they would hardly even contemplate stopping for a little break. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with the occasional social network visit – it may even be beneficial in giving our brains a needed rest. A truly passionate academic librarian just wouldn’t go there.

While I enjoyed thinking and writing about being passionate for academic librarianship – and it made for a good article title – in hindsight I’d say that while most of us certainly enjoy our work and are challenged by what we do, passion may be too strong a word. I’m certainly not the only academic librarian who has gone on record expressing their passion for the profession (see here). But perhaps it’s not necessary to be passionate about academic librarianship at all. According to the experts, feeling a sense of control over one’s work situation and having work that one is able to master while taking on challenges that afford the opportunity to grow are the foundation of feeling satisfied with one’s job. Being completely immersed (obsessed?), if that’s a sign of passion, is not necessarily required for workplace happiness or professional success.

So if you do find yourself in a position of speaking with a potential, future academic librarian what should you tell him or her? Should you pull all the stops and go with the “P” word? Or is knowing just how elusive real passion is a reason to put the kibosh on introducing it into the conversation? In thinking this over I conclude that it’s fine to go with passion. If I tell someone I’m passionate about my work I think he or she gets it – I really like what I do and look forward to doing it. From there it’s a matter of elaborating on the reasons why I know so many colleagues who, like me, have practiced this profession for so long. Ultimately I think it does go beyond just being satisfied about or finding meaning in what we do. What is it that explains our passion for the profession? If you have a chance, try reading the article.

18 thoughts on “Satisfaction For The Profession

  1. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps we show case our passion through social networks? It’s one of the ways I connect with other librarians and get great ideas. How dare you question librarians passions because they get on Twitter or Facebook or whatever more than you. It doesn’t mean we’re any less passionate about our jobs we just view it in a different light than you do.

  2. I agree that passion for the profession is a wonderful thing, and I’ve come to know so many inspiring and passionate librarians over the course of the past few years… mostly by following them via social networks. I’m sorry that you’ve only found social networks (which appear not to mean blogs, to you) that are primarily full of personality quizzes. (Some people love those as a distraction, but I’ve avoided networks that inundate me with those things.) There are a few networks out there that are anything but distractions, though. I’m thinking particularly of the LSW and the medical librarian groups that I know about. I’ve had many of my most rewarding, inspiring, passionate discussions about librarianship via these kinds of networks. They are anything but a distraction for me and are instead an integral part of my professional development activities.

    Social networks have a little bit more tolerance for “off topic” posts than listservs do, for sure, but in my professional networks online, these are rarely of the personality quiz type of post, they nearly always enhance community building, they build social capital, and if I’m busy, they are easily ignored.

  3. I am a bit confused by what you are really trying to accomplish with this post. Are you advocating for passion? Are you saying that people who engage in social networks aren’t passionate? Are you saying too much passion is a bad thing? What’s your point?

    As an academic librarian, I enjoy my job. I like to think that I’m involved in what I do and have a good level of engagement. But like any job, there are many facets to it; some that are not as enjoyable as others. It would be wonderful to engage in only those parts that truly cause me to immerse myself fully in my work so that time passes unnoticed. But to encourage that or suggest that you are only truly passionate if that’s how you approach your work is misguided and potentially dangerous.

    Yes, I do mean dangerous. We have too many people in the field who are disillusioned with what the real life of an academic librarian is like. They’re not prepared for the grind of tenure track positions, the mindless and endless meetings about nothing, and the soul-sucking stagnation that is often found in academia. While I may sound jaded, I’m not. I just think that we can’t blow sunshine everywhere and then be upset when new librarians complain that “I never knew it would be like this.”

    Also, the mindset in the workplace has changed. You can still be passionate without having every waking minute be about your job. When I’m at work, I’m focused on my work and on being the best librarian I can be. When I’m away from work, I find my passion in other things like photography, being a musician, and knitting (yes I’m a bit of a cliche.) I think we need to encourage librarians to be multi-faceted and have some life balance. It will keep us fresh, more adaptable, and more interesting people to the world at large.

  4. I find it amusing, and slightly quaint, that you make a distinction between “social networks” and my job as an academic librarian.

    It’s cute, like wondering why public librarians would be reading “funny books” or playing games.

    Social networks are _how work gets done_ these days. And it’s how it will get done even moreso in the future.

  5. Also, it’s a job. That I work at. Almost every day. With great and joy and pleasure and, yes, passion. But it is a job and I am paid to do it. I worry about the elision of work and leisure, the idea that I am always available to my work if I really believe in its value. I am not always available. I have a life where people are born and die and need things from me in ways that exceed committee responsibilities, reference desk work, and, yes, even library instruction. But you can be sure I pay attention when I’m off the clock. My mother didn’t raise me to work (under capitalism) for free.

  6. Speaking as a workaholic, complete immersion has its bad points. You know–too much delivery food rather than cooking because you have to get those revisions in; taking a day off to relax, but then spending a great hunk of it checking and answering emails (typical response from coworker: “Why are you checking your email? You’re supposed to be OFF remember??”); not enjoying vacations because you’re thinking of that paper you need to finish, or forwarding a patron’s email to a colleague because you don’t have your reference books at home, etc. ad nauseam.

    NB: I’m trying to get better about this, but it is hard. On the plus side, I have spent the last slew of Sundays reading for pleasure and not for research, which is a baby step, right?

    Passion for your work and a well-balanced life can and should go hand in hand. If FaceBook is what some people need–why the heck not.

  7. Steven, I completely get where you are coming from. Your introspection is valuable. And I don’t think your comments about social networking tools are really that critical. Clearly they are not your first priority when you come into work in the morning, but you do connect with people by using them, just not as often as others. I myself use twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. But after a recent illness I have found I have less time to use those tools as I struggle to play catch up with everything else my job requires me to do. Soon enough I will be back to them, but right now there are other things I deem somewhat more important right now and so they take center stage. In a way, I care more about serving the immediate needs of the patrons I am face to face with in my library. Or, am passionate about serving them. I’m of course not saying others are not as equally passionate, it is just that there are not enough hours in the day to do it all, I get the feeling that is what you were implying in your post.

    I also get the sense that you came to the conclusion that passion for the profession can be defined in as many ways as there are librarians. With that, I fully agree. My passion comes out of how much I care about what I do. No, it isn’t a full on blind passion so that I forget appointments or other obligations, but I have to admit it is awesome to come to work everyday. Why? Because I get to work in a library! And the cherry on top? An academic library! Whoo Hoo!

  8. Thanks everyone for your comments – glad to have some discussion going here and I appreciate the different perspectives. I do wonder if some of those who are commenting have read the NYT article to which I’m referring before leaving a comment, because without doing that you can take my example using social networks out of context. I’m not saying there isn’t value to using them. I use them myself to share information with colleagues and to learn what others are up to. But thinking about passion from the point of view of the experts in the article – the immersion in whatever it is your particular job calls for could be diminished – not enhanced – by participation in Facebook or Twitter.

    I get Jason’s point – and it’s well taken – but he may be an outlier in the way he uses social networks. For the majority of academic librarians I would say it is still more of a distraction from work than the primary vehicle for accomplishing work. I don’t know – maybe I’m wrong about that but I’m basing it on my observations. If you think that using social networks adds to your professional passion – that’s a good thing. In the future they may be the way we do our work, but there’s also a reason they’re called social networks rather than work networks – but the boundaries between what’s social and what’s work are less hard and fast than they used to be. And I certainly agree with Francesco – and I’ve written and spoken before about the importance of using these technologies to connect with users – or at least be trying them (and yes – I’ve also written about how they may be ineffective for interacting with the user community).

    And Jill makes almost the same point that is made near the end of the article – that being passionate about a job doesn’t mean it’s always fulfilling – and that it’s not realistic to be totally immersed. If you like what you are doing enough to accept the problems and downsides you encounter, then you probably really enjoy your work. My point in writing the post is to contemplate what it means to say you are passionate about being a librarian, and whether – in the context of what the experts say in the article – you really can be passionate about it. My conclusion is that it doesn’t really matter if you are totally immersed in your work – which Jill points out isn’t necessarily a good thing. As long as you are really committed to what you do and it’s a source of passion for you – that’s what really counts.

    So I hope others will read the NYT article and be thinking about what it means to be passionate about being a librarian – and do so in the context of how the experts define passion – and not focus solely on what you do or don’t do in social networks.

  9. From the comment of StevenB, it seems that the question has slightly changed. “For the majority of academic librarians I would say it is still more of a distraction from work than the primary vehicle for accomplishing work.” The question is if the so-called web 2.0 (blogs, twitter, fb, etc.) could be part of an academic librarian work. I don’t know if these are instruments that could be helpful in academic environment, but using them means also evaluate them, knowing the potential use in the profession.

  10. I believe passion follows naturally from a job that is both rewarding and challenging, but passion is hard to attain without respect for your profession. There is no Gregory House M.D. of the librarian world because no one respects Librarians as they do other professions. Librarians are portrayed in media as stodgy old sweater vest wearing people who only desire quiet in their workplace. I believe we are viewed in this anachronistic way because of this exact sort of attitude towards emerging technologies. This constant back and forth about the benefits of social media portrays a complete lack of understanding as to the true nature of social media. It is not some sort of fad and conversely it is not the end-all-be-all of the profession. It must be pursued in an intelligent way that compliments rather than replaces traditional outreach programs.

    Social Media is an incredibly vague term that could be applied to any site on the internet that allows users to generate their own content (this site for example; since most people seem to be responding to this post at work, you are already violating SteveB’s passionate abstinence from social media). Social Media is at it’s best an invisible platform that naturally promotes user dialog or contribution to a given subject. Librarians seem to be stuck in asking “why” rather than “how” when it comes to technology. The answer to why is so basic and simply that escapes most: because we are social animals. The answer to how is so much more difficult and requires a passion for technology that very few in our profession are willing to take.

  11. As an academic librarian who is passionate about helping others, teaching others, and working in academia, I have found social networking sites as the only way to maintain that passion. Not everyone at my work site is passionate about the same things that I am. Social networking sites are a great way to see what others are doing outside of my university. If there is some aspect of my job that I love (for example, working with first year international students) then I can find others with the same interest on Twitter and Facebook. I can see others’ successes and failures. Also, if I can easily talk to others who are in my same type of job (for example health science librarians) very quickly.

    Twitter and Facebook also keep me updated about my profession. I am not a fan of blogs nor am I of RSS feeds. Well, actually I view Twitter and FB as feeds.

    And I believe a big part of our profession is being social. If being social was not part of our profession than why go to conferences or join a professional organization? The greatest think about conferences/prof orgs for me are meeting people with similar goals, aspirations, and passion.

  12. Greg I couldn’t agree more with your point about the importance that professional connections play in adding to one’s passion for the profession. If you were to go back and read my portal article from 2003 you would see that I identified five components of professional passion for academic librarians – students; faculty; institution; professional community; and self. I wrote that by being part of a larger professional community we add to the passion for the profession. So I hope you will take time to read it (I hope you are still reading journal articles in addition to FB and Twitter). Again, the authors of the NYT article might suggest that we overuse the word passion to describe how much satisfaction we get out of our jobs or participation in social networks (and again, for some librarians they may be more distractions than productivity tools). You may disagree. But as I concluded in my post I believe we should just go right on using “passion” to describe our commitment to the profession if we think that’s the best way to communicate it to others. Thanks for your comment.

  13. Perhaps this comment thread is already dead, but I wonder if any academic librarians who may still be reading this can comment on StevenB’s final questions in his original post:

    “So if you do find yourself in a position of speaking with a potential, future academic librarian what should you tell him or her? [...] What is it that explains our passion for the profession?”

    As a potential future academic librarian, I’m interested in this question– can academic librarians be passionate about their work, or is the best I can hope for a kind of lukewarm satisfaction tempered by the dissatisfaction of those around me? I’m in library school and working in an academic library, and I see tons of dissatisfaction and infighting and very little passion for the work. Some of the comments on this blog post have reflected the things I am seeing at school and work: hand-wringing about how librarians don’t have the status of doctors (or professors), construing theoretical arguments as personal attacks, little or no focus on the day-to-day parts of our jobs that we actually like, etc. It’s leading me to wonder if I’ve chosen the right field.

    I am somewhat heartened by those folks who say that they are passionate about or at least satisfied by their jobs. Can anyone elaborate on what they love about their job? Because I’m not seeing much passion lately– I’m seeing a lot of worry and squabbling and dire predictions. And I could use a little bit of bright side.

    Thanks.

  14. Hi MJ,

    I love my job. I truly do. I love the idea of it, and I even love the actualities of it (most of the time). The things that motivate and inspire me won’t necessarily hold true for others, but they include having a palpable effect on student learning on campus, engaging with teaching faculty and other librarians on pedagogical issues, and working so closely with so many people whose enthusiasm for excellent teaching and learning is infectious.

    So for me it’s a combination of the particular and the general. I particularly love it when I can see connections between the teaching I do and the mission of my campus (that actually happened just this week for me), and when I see that my work directly helped a student. And in general, it’s a combination of continuous intellectual engagement with the work of teaching and learning as well as a more over-arching sense that I’m participating in an institution that is, in a very real way, expanding the imaginations of our constituents.

    For more on this last point, see Steve Lawson’s recent post, which resonates strongly with me.

  15. Hi MJ,

    What I love most about my job is teaching. Teaching is extremely challenging for me because I put a lot of work in the preparation. I aim to make my presentations engaging and valuable for the students. To hear a genuine “thank you” or “wow! I never knew we could do that” or “thanks, now I know how to use library stuff” makes my day. A “thank you” from a professor is rewarding too. Helping someone at the refdesk whose assignment is due in a few hours, is also rewarding.

    There are things I do not like. The abundance of committee work. The sense that librarians here think everything has to be perfect in order to make a decision which results in no decision being made.

    My advice is that you have to decide what will bring out the passion for you. Is it teaching? Is it developing relationships with students and faculty? Is it leading a community-library project? If the place you work at now does not stimulate your passion, then hopefully you can find a different place to work at. Also, I would email academic librarians who have an online presence and who show passion. I think they would be more than willing to share their story with you.

  16. I’m an early-career academic librarian (4 years after graduation), and I love my job!

    I agree with Steven that one needn’t feel 100% passionate about every single minute of every workday – in fact, I wouldn’t expect that in any job. Some level of interpersonal conflict and colleagues’ dissatisfaction will happen anywhere.

    But I wouldn’t work where I do if I didn’t feel passionate *sometimes*, or if I didn’t expect to feel passionate ever again, or if I thought the grass would be greener for me in another library (or profession)…

    In fact, when I give presentations to LIS classes, or talk to students one-on-one, I’m fairly certain that my love of academic librarianship comes through. And occasionally, the experiences I relate really strike a spark in a student.

    I became a librarian because I love to connect people with the information they need or want, and an academic librarian because I love the high-level educational and research setting. Not because I enjoy reading (which I do). Not because I wanted to have faculty status or tenure (which I don’t). And not because I felt limited in my career options, or just needed a paycheck.

    The moments that absorb me in passion vary from being thanked by reference patrons for my help… to seeing the light bulbs go off when teaching a class… to learning the ins and outs of a resource or tool… to crunching data (yep, I love statistics!), and beyond.

    For me, both the content and the context of a job (and profession) are extremely important. If either has too few “pro”s or too many “con”s, I will actively seek another position. You often won’t really know what a job is like until you’ve been there for a while. And both the content and context of a job (especially in libraries) is likely to change over time.

    So, my advice is to test out different workplaces as a volunteer or intern if possible, and once you take a job, stay flexible and prepared for change through professional development (learning) and service (networking).

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