Don’t Let It Bring You Down MJ

MJ, I rarely, if ever, regret anything I’ve written, but I read your comment and if my post causes you to doubt that I am really passionate about academic librarianship, or if it leads you to question if you are making the right choice about wanting to pursue a career in academic librarianship – that I would really truly regret.

I wrote about passion primarily to explore just what we mean when we talk about being passionate about our jobs. I pointed readers to a NYT article that got me thinking about whether we are really passionate or merely satisfied with our choice of profession. You do hear the “P-word” thrown around quite a bit when academic librarians talk about their work (well, maybe you’re not seeing signs of it at your academic library). But I ultimately decided that it is of little consequence whether what we call “passion” would meet the criteria of a passion expert such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

As an LIS student planning for a career in an academic library I can imagine that much of the news these days about higher education and academic libraries could be a downer for you. If it isn’t someone predicting the demise of the traditional university it’s someone else telling us the future academic library will be a room full of technicians controlling the content of some massive digital library. But I want to express my opinion that I continue to see a bright future for academic libraries, but that we just can’t take it for granted. We have some hard work ahead of us if we want to maintain our relevance amidst the doom-and-gloom outlooks.

I could probably write a few posts full of stories that would help you understand what it is that I love about my work. Instead, my suggestion is to go back and read my article on “passion for the profession” from that 2003 issue of portal. If you read it I think you’ll see there is a great deal to look forward to as a future academic librarian. But let me share just one story. Even though I’ve been an academic librarian for a pretty long time now, one of the things I really love about the job is that it constantly presents new challenges. At my library I’m responsible for leading our scholarly communication effort. We’re an ARL member, but we don’t have the luxury of having a dedicated position for scholarly communications and copyright. So it is part of my portfolio, but scholarly communications can’t always be at the top of my priority list. But here we are and it’s Open Access Week. So I wanted to do at least one thing to create some awareness on my campus. So I asked my colleagues in our Instructional Technology Center if I could make a presentation about author rights at their montlhy user group meeting scheduled for the week of October 19th. They said yes. The problem is that I didn’t know a heck of a lot about author rights, and I certainly had never talked to faculty about the issues. But I discovered there’s a ton of information out there, and between videos, author agreement examples, sharing my own stories about using the author addendum and getting them to tell their stories about being ripped off by publishers because they just signed the agreement without thinking about it – we had a pretty damn good conversation – and what I shared really opened up their eyes to some new possibilities. This was incredibly rewarding, and I’m sure this kind of thing is happening for other academic librarians on a pretty regular basis. How many jobs are there where you have this kind of opportunity?

I’m not sure what is going on at your library, but no matter where you work in this profession you’ll run into some negativity in your workplace. It’s unavoidable. But don’t let it get you down, and most of all don’t judge this profession based on what’s happening at your library or the people who work there. In the academic librarianship course I’ve taught for a number of years the student project involves an in depth study of a single academic library. The one thing I tell students at the start is to not make the error of assuming that all academic libraries and librarians are like the ones that will be encountered during the project. That’s why I started having regular discussion breaks where everyone shares stories from their project libraries. That way everyone starts to understand that each academic library presents a different set of challenges and opportunties – and an entirely unique set of library workers who will be incredibly different from the one library you’ve experienced. If I could suggest one thing to you it would be to make visits to other academic libraries in your region, talk to the academic librarians who work there, and start to gain different perspectives on the profession. It’s just not healthy to learn about academic librarianship by limiting yourself to a single institution. Get out there and meet other librarians and find out what they are doing and what gets them excited about their work.

So am I passionate about what I do? Well, I should be watching the Phillies play the Dodgers, but I couldn’t resist taking time to respond to your comment. It’s a small personal sacrifice of sorts but right now it seems more important than a baseball game. It seems like the right thing to do if you are trying to convince a colleague to look at the bright side.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Let It Bring You Down MJ”

  1. Hmmm….after 23 years in academic libraries, am I still passionate about my job? Well, let’s look at what this past week has been like:

    Monday: I taught a GREAT class on job hunting in higher education for graduate students (part of a grad student workshop series we do in the library)—everyone who registered signed up and they had LOTS of questions. I completed a libguide on econ Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz—he’s visiting campus in November and we wanted to highlight some library resources in connection to his visit. The guide will be used in some of the campus PR and I get to introduce him at one of the sessions (very cool for an econ gal!) Also finally received a Google Wave invite.

    Tuesday: Taught a biochemistry class I co-teach with a faculty member from that department. Worked on a state-wide workshop for K-12 library media specialists that we host in the spring.

    Wednesday: Spent 4 hours helping out with our Center for Teaching & Learning’s brown bag lunch—including setting up and taking down. Focus of the session was on strategies for successful advising. While there, I had numerous questions about grad workshops and services we offer in the library. Worked on one long, difficult Turnitin question for a faculty member.

    Thursday: so far today, I’ve worked on the ethics component for a NSF Research Experience for Teachers grant application that a group from our College of Engineering is putting together and met with my ind. study student from English—we’re doing a directed study on careers in librarianship.

    So—do I get tired and cranky sometimes? Sure. Am I still passionate about the career choice I made over two decades ago? You bet. I LOVE that I never have the same day twice—there’s always a new project, a database that’s changed, another opportunity to engage in a “teachable” moment with a student or faculty member.

    This is still a great career choice and the different ways you can pursue a career in academic librarianship are almost limitless. I have met folks for whom it was not a good fit—we all have our strengths and weaknesses; before making any career choice, you have to realistically evaluate what you do and don’t like. But there’s a lot of room to grow and thrive in academic librarianship and I would encourage anyone who is interested to ask around before dismissing the option based on one locale or one individual.

  2. Hey, *I* spent 4 hours on Wednesday on our Center for Teaching and Learning’s faculty lunch, too! Our topic was public speaking; our Academic Dean is choosing topics to follow up on material from our campus-wide curricular review last year, and he’s committed to having the CTL IN the library! Even better: next month’s lunch topic? Information literacy!

  3. I’ve been in academic libraries for 14 years now. At two universities where librarians have faculty status; and one where librarians are ‘senior staff’. There are ups and downs in every workplace, so besides understanding that the mix of personalities and policies varies from library to library, please understand that it also changes over time in any workplace.
    I love that the work varies from day to day. Changes in technology, faculty, and students guarantee that variety. Workshops, classes, guides, Twitter, blogs, reference desk duty, appointments in my office, panicked phone calls – they’re all interesting! And I learn from all of it.

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