Work in Progress

Next month marks an important stage of my career, as I anticipate completing my two-year probation and entering a continuing appointment at my institution. This gives me a real sense of permanency, a role I can work in indefinitely, and a commitment to myself as librarian. Do you remember what it was like entering into new stages of your career? Being promoted, being granted tenure, being offered a new position; I guess you never really stop moving as an academic librarian.

Recently I read Richard Wilbur’s excellent poem, “The Writer”. The poem sees the narrator—who I see as a writer, but isn’t actually specified—looking somewhat condescendingly on his daughter, as she writes and creates “a commotion of typewriter-keys/Like a chain hauled over a gunwale”. Terrible noises, as seen from the narrator’s perspective early in the poem—something that would make a great many librarians ‘shush’ at, certainly. The narrator patronizingly muses, “Young as she is, the stuff/Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:/I wish her a lucky passage”.

By the end of the poem, the narrator sees their error and can’t help but see their daughter as becoming independent and capable: “It is always a matter, my darling,/Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish/What I wished you before, but harder”. The issues the narrator’s daughter is dealing with, however trivial or small they actually are, are “matter[s]…of life or death” to teenagers. The issues that new librarians deal with are “matter[s]…of life or death.”

In my professional life, I feel like a work in progress. I’ve made significant steps in my professional life: from my liaison duties—library instruction, collections management, research services, and reference services—to research and service opportunities, but you never stop working on yourself.

I look at Wilbur’s “The Writer” and envision myself as both child and as narrator. I am simultaneously continually learning and growing, something I don’t think I’ll stop doing throughout my career, a work in progress. But also, being “the writer” (i.e. narrator) in my career, recognizing that I can see others’ perspectives and imagine how much the issues of ‘life or death’ do matter to those experiencing them. Thinking in terms of the dyad in librarianship, or any profession more broadly, we are at times both teacher-student, librarian-patron, and parent-child.

I like to think that’s a trajectory a lot of us follow, but maybe we forget what it once was like being new and being in precarious work, not being seen as an expert, not knowing the right people; not being “the writer.” But the more you think about, “the writer” in the poem is both the narrator and daughter, both being equal in their pursuit of writing for a living.

As I move closer to a new stage of my career, I don’t want to forget what it once was like being new to the profession. I want to be able to identify with perspectives different than mine, especially as I hope to take on roles with greater responsibility, as I think this moves the profession holistically forward.

It is always a matter…of life or death as I had forgotten. I wish what I wished you before, but harder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.