Coming out of the spiritual closet

This is a dark time of year, a time when I think a lot (or more than usual) about meaning-making in a world that feels so broken, about shining light on what is real and true and good, about what my values are and who I am and why am I here. You know, just the normal stuff.

So it’s in this mindset that I was recently reflecting on a #critlib chat moment. I do not participate in the #critlib chats because I find them hard to follow and process and keep up with. My thoughts aren’t always easily digestible into 140 characters, and by the time I have figured out a way to express my thought concisely, the conversation has usually already moved on. Also, there are so many people all tweeting at once, and I have difficulty understanding who is saying what and to whom.  So while I will occasionally watch part of the chat, I don’t contribute.

Sometime earlier this year, maybe over the summer, when I was lurking on a #critlib Twitter chat, a participant made a snarky comment about people who go to church. I don’t remember the exact context or wording, but it came across to me as sarcastic and mocking. I felt stung and offended and hurt by this comment, but I didn’t respond.

Part of the reason why I didn’t respond was because I never participate to begin with, and I felt like jumping into the conversation to challenge this comment wasn’t really the best way to begin my participation. I also know that because of the reasons I describe above, it’s really easy to lose nuance and context in a Twitter conversation, so for all I knew, there was some legitimate context for the assertion about people who go to church that I didn’t know about. I also felt worried that chiming in to say, “hey, what do you mean by that?” might sound a bit too much like the people who protest #NotAllMen (i.e., pointing out that some people who claim to be representing Jesus do terrible, terrible things and I’m Not Like That) and that would derail the larger conversation.

So I did nothing except stew over it all night. And maybe I’m still stewing over it now. It’s on my mind because I was corresponding with someone recently about feeling like you have a minority viewpoint within a dominant culture. And maybe it’s also on my mind because yesterday was the first Sunday of the liturgical season of Advent, which might be my favorite season of the church year. Advent is all about expectant waiting, about lighting candles in a dark season and anticipating the promise of light at the end. To me, there is so much magic about Advent that has nothing to do with presents and Santa Claus and everything to do with my belief that the God of my understanding came to earth as a helpless baby in the unlikeliest of places. (Don’t get me wrong, though–I’m still super into Santa and presents under the tree.)

I was born and raised Roman Catholic and educated at Catholic schools for K-12, and I also spent two years at a Jesuit university before transferring to a state school, where I graduated. Today I identify as Episcopalian, but mostly I am just me, and I am someone who finds thin spaces in quiet contemplation, in the familiar symbolism of rich and ancient rituals, and in the life-affirming inclusive language of the liturgy. Sometimes, though, it’s not the Book of Common Prayer but a teaching and learning moment that will leave me breathless and disoriented. Sometimes, during a reference encounter or in the classroom, I will truly see a student, really see the student as a person, a human, a unique and beautiful child of the universe whose inherent dignity and worth are so precious. I’ve written here before how the spiritual dimensions of teaching have been immensely healing to me and the burnout I struggle with. The funny thing is that while my spiritual practices and beliefs are of some comfort to me, I also feel lonely in my beliefs. It’s not something I really talk about, for fear of being mocked in a manner not unlike that #critlib comment I observed over the summer.

I’m writing this in the hopes there are other people like me, spiritually-closeted or otherwise, who see spirituality as an essential component of their identities as teachers. Are you out there? Maybe we could talk.

Hearing, processing, and mindfulness

anatomy of the human ear
A diagram of the anatomy of the human ear. “Tidens naturlære fig40” by Morten Bisgaard – From the book “Tidens naturlære” 1903 by Poul la Cour. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tidens_naturl%C3%A6re_fig40.png#/media/File:Tidens_naturl%C3%A6re_fig40.png

This is a story about hearing and understanding, and it will eventually connect to burnout.

I have been dealing with what I believed to be progressively worsening hearing loss for quite awhile now, over a year, at least. I hear things, but I don’t understand. Everything sounds garbled, or I’ll miss the beginning of a sentence and spend the rest of the sentence trying and failing to catch up. Talking in a place with lots of background noise is the worst. I am constantly asking my wife to repeat herself, which is annoying and tiresome to both of us.

I finally mentioned it to my primary care doctor this summer while consulting him about other matters. He told me he could refer me to get my hearing tested, but unless I was willing to pursue getting hearing aids if indicated, there probably wasn’t much point in getting tested. At that point, I was quite resistant to hearing aids, so I did not ask for that referral. But over this past month, I found myself mentally ready to get hearing aids if it turned out that’s what I needed. My inability to understand people was not just impairing my domestic life, but it was adversely affecting my encounters at the reference desk and in the classroom. I was tired of asking people to repeat themselves, and I was also tired of feeling ashamed that I needed people to repeat themselves, because apparently it’s terrible to need accommodations. Yes, I know how dumb that sounds.

Last week, I returned to my primary care doctor, who referred me to an ENT practice. Today I had my appointment, which consisted of a hearing test with an audiologist and then a consultation with an otolaryngologist. I was totally gobsmacked to learn that I have normal hearing. In fact, the doctor and audiologist both said I had excellent hearing. The achievement addict in me preened a bit at this, of course, and then I was like, wait a minute, what’s going on then? Why am I having such a hard time hearing and understanding things?

It turns out that I have a processing problem, not a hearing problem. I am hearing people just fine when they speak, but my brain is taking longer to process the information, so that’s why it sounds garbled to me, and why I need people to repeat themselves, so I have more time to process and translate the information. My doctor said that the neurons that affect the processing of auditory input can decline over time due to the normal aging process–or something like that. I don’t remember the exact words he used, but that was the basic idea.

It was at this point that about eighty million revelatory lights came on in my head. I have always had immense difficulty understanding things like verbal instructions or verbal driving directions. When I’m making group study room reservations over the phone at the reference desk, I die a little on the inside when someone has to spell their name for me, because hearing a word spelled aloud sounds like gobbledygook to me and I usually have to have them repeat it more than once. In fact, despite my excellent vocabulary and spelling skills, I stopped participating in school spelling bees at an early age because I have great difficulty understanding a word when it’s spelled aloud, even if I’m the one doing the spelling. Hearing a word spelled out sounds like hearing a foreign language, or a grownup in a Charlie Brown cartoon.

Since nothing is real or true until I can research it, I started googling almost the minute I left the doctor’s office. It turns out that there is a thing called auditory processing disorder, which my doctor did not mention, and I don’t believe I have, because I’ve never had a speech problem, and I definitely have not had any academic problems. However, some of the characteristics strongly resonated with me.

A processing problem like mine is not fixable. This is not something that can be addressed with hearing aids. You just have to adapt. My wife almost seemed kind of excited at the prospect of helping me to develop adaptations to this challenge, which seemed weird at first, but then made sense, since she was born with a visual impairment and was educated at a school for the blind, where one of the main things they teach you is how to cope with a world that was not designed for you. My wife is the Queen of Adaptation ruling over the Kingdom of Making It Work. And looking back, I can see how I’ve developed adaptations to my difficulties over the years. For whatever reason, translating a spelled-aloud word into a typed word is about 10 times harder to me than it is to hand write it. So when I’m talking on the phone to people and they need to spell their name, or an author’s name, I take my hands off the keyboard and try to hand write it.

Another thing the doctor said was that when I miss the beginning of the sentence, I shouldn’t panic and try to figure what I missed, but instead I should pay attention to the rest of the sentence that I’m hearing just fine. If I do the latter, I probably can figure out the part I missed by context. There are some customer service encounters I have where this always happens–why is always so loud in Chipotle?–but if I pay attention and hear BLAH BLAH YOU? I can pretty safely assume that the words I missed were probably “May I,” so I need to not internally freak out so much and just do the best I can with what I do understand.

And isn’t this just like life in general anyway? It is for me. I struggle so hard to just fucking pay attention and sit with the feelings and that I end up not experiencing the actual moment I am in. I have learned and read a lot about mindfulness over the past several years, and it is something I am trying to cultivate, but it is hard. A few weeks ago, I had an especially restful and blissful and pleasant weekend, and I turned to my wife and said aloud, “I am experiencing happiness!” Everything just felt so amazing and perfect that I had to mark it in some way and bask in the loveliness of a fall day, a clear blue sky, a leisurely walk around my neighborhood.

And here’s how I’m connecting this to burnout: for me, responding to and resisting burnout involves mindfulness. It requires intentional, deliberate attention to what brings me pleasure and joy and what makes me feel alive. It was indeed revelatory to learn that I do not have hearing loss, but it was also meaningful to have my problem reframed in a way that made a thousand different kinds of sense. It was helpful to get yet another reminder that the only way I’m going to be able to continue shuffling through this weird life and feel moderately okay doing it is to just pay attention–to listen, to do the best with what I have, to adapt, to be here.

Elle’s Story–An Anonymous Guest Post

I am pleased to present another guest post this week at librarianburnout.com. This story comes from Elle, who completed her MLIS in 2012.


 

When I reflect upon the way I felt during my first year as an instruction librarian, I realize that during that year, I felt a lot of the same feelings that function as signals that a relationship is not healthy. I started out enthusiastic, happy, and passionate, and ended up emotionally drained, confused, and alone. As is often the case when a relationship ends, it’s taken me some time to be able to begin untangling the various aspects of the situation in order to make sense of what went wrong.

At some point during the past several years, I started thinking of my work as a kind of relationship. Work, like a relationship or partnership, requires a mutual commitment, along with a significant investment of effort and energy from both sides. As is the case in a partnership (intimate or otherwise), in order for a relationship between an employee and an organization to be successful, both parties must feel that they benefit or are enriched in some way in order for the arrangement to be worthwhile. Healthy relationships and partnerships involve giving and receiving; we may give freely and happily, but in order to sustain our ability to give, we must receive something in return. Likewise, for people who genuinely care about the work that they do and the quality their work, work involves a great deal of emotional energy, and if that energy does not elicit results that allow that energy to be recharged and strengthened, our ability to care about our work slowly, inevitably burns out.

My first job as a professional librarian was a part-time position in a learning commons at a local not-for-profit career college. My official title was Academic Resource Coordinator, which meant that I had some role in all of the services that the learning commons offered, which included writing center services, tutoring services, and library services, among other things. Library instruction was just one thing on a long list of learning support services that the learning commons was responsible for providing to the campus.  I was aware that the learning commons model presents a set of challenges for academic libraries, but having heard the message of “embrace change” that seemed to be the rallying cry of academic librarians throughout my time as a student in library school, I was prepared to do just that. Thus, I entered my new role with a mindset similar to what I think lays the foundation of a successful relationship: I was unreservedly committed, optimistic, aware of the challenges and opportunities the situation presented, and I genuinely wanted it to be successful.

Sadly, it turned out that making a commitment to the job and genuinely wanting to be successful in the job was not enough. At first, I felt like something was just…missing. I didn’t feel great about my instruction sessions, for a number of reasons. Instruction sessions were routinely scheduled just a few hours ahead of time, which meant that I got very little time to prepare, and practically no opportunity to communicate with instructors regarding their expectations for the session. Even more problematic was the fact that the instructors’ expectations for library instruction sessions were beyond reasonable for the 30 minutes that was the standard amount of time that a session was scheduled for. In addition to talking about locating and evaluating sources, I was expected to discuss not just citing sources, but the actual formatting of in-text citations and references, along with things like paraphrasing, avoiding plagiarism, and so on.

I slowly began to realize that I was pouring my emotional and intellectual energy into a service—library instruction—that appeared to be little more than an afterthought to the college. I didn’t feel confident that I could really provide a very high quality instruction session for which I had little notice, little time to prepare, and so on. Early on, I saw these issues as process-related things that could be and should be remedied at the department level. But as time went on, I began to get the sense that there was a culture of indifference towards library instruction that went beyond the ways that the learning commons managed its workflow. Instructors expected a lot from the sessions (e.g., searching strategies, citing sources, avoiding plagiarism, APA formatting) but didn’t see any need to contact the learning commons within a reasonable amount of time to schedule a session ahead of time, and these attitudes had apparently been unchallenged by the administration. The head of the learning commons, who had previously served as dean of general education at this same college, seemed generally unconcerned about scheduling sessions on extremely short notice, as though it hadn’t really occurred to her that inadequate time to prepare might compromise the quality of library instruction sessions.

And then, there was the worst part of all: A significant number of the students were woefully underprepared to use computers independently, so teaching anything about locating, evaluating, and synthesizing sources was, for the most part, out of the question. Once, toward the beginning of one of my sessions, a student asked a question about accessing library resources off-campus, which is a reasonable technical question for a library instruction session. After answering this, without giving much thought to what kinds of responses I might get, I asked the class if anyone else had any similar questions. One student raised her hand, and asked if I could show them how to email an assignment to the instructor, which turned into an overview of saving and uploading documents. On a different occasion, I spent an entire session answering questions about Microsoft Word and discussing workarounds that students could use if they did not have access to Microsoft Word off-campus.

Basic computer literacy and technological readiness for college-level coursework are issues that I think should probably get more attention from the field of academic librarianship broadly; at the very least, these issues are deserving of a separate blog post. Suffice it to say that for me, as an instruction librarian, it was disorienting and disheartening that the college seemed either unaware or unconcerned about this. It seemed like the college was okay with treating library instruction as a kind of catch-all service that would, in theory, fill in the gaps in students’ computer skills, information skills, critical thinking skills, and communication skills (e.g., what does it mean to paraphrase another person’s words?). Paradoxically, even though library instruction seemed to be viewed as a one-stop shop service, it was treated inconsiderately and with little respect, as evidenced by the fact that instructors wanted sessions on extremely short notice, with the expectation that sessions would be not much more than 30 minutes long. (I was once told, off the record, that the 30 minute thing had been put in place by the administration, which wanted to hold instructors accountable for making appropriate use of their classroom time with their students.)

It didn’t take long before I became aware that I was expending a significant amount of energy attempting to mask the negative emotions that I was feeling about my work. I developed canned responses to use when people asked me how things were going, and if was I liking my job. I regularly took time before the start of my work day to “get in to character” so as to be able to present in an appropriate manner. I developed a cognitive protocol that I intentionally activated when I found myself in situations where, either during reference duty or during an instruction session, I felt unpleasant emotions welling up. It was exhausting. But I pressed on, until I couldn’t. For me, the tipping point came when I began to feel like my commitment to the quality of my work and the energy and passion that I had for it just simply did not matter: The fact that I cared about the quality and effectiveness of library instruction sessions was, at best, at odds with the college’s view of library instruction, and at worst, probably worked against me. I mean, if I hadn’t cared about the quality of my sessions, it probably would not have bothered me that I got little notice and virtually no time to prepare. If I didn’t view information literacy as essential to a valuable undergraduate education, it likely would not have mattered to me that I didn’t really get to teach it. The fact that I cared was my downfall.

Clearly, there were a number of different things going on in this situation, all of which worked together to create a situation that I ultimately felt that I could not stay in and care adequately for my emotional well-being. For me, I think these issues created a situation in which I did not feel needed: If what is needed for library instruction services is simply someone who will show up, answer computer-usage questions, and give very cursory overviews of basic information strategies, then all they really needed was someone with basic computer skills. They didn’t really need someone with an MLIS and an understanding of information literacy, and they certainly didn’t need me, an individual with a unique approach to teaching and a genuine passion for quality education. In this situation, it became clear to me that what was needed was someone who was willing to give a great deal and take on lots of responsibilities, but who would understand and accept that they shouldn’t ask for much of anything in return.[1] One day, it suddenly hit me: If this were a relationship, I would be a complete fool to continue to invest my energy and my time into such a relationship.

I left the learning commons voluntarily after one year. I felt depleted and disillusioned; I felt like I just did not have very much left to give, and I had begun to question my goals of becoming a full-time academic librarian. So, for now, I’m unattached; I’m working on a number of academic-library related groups and projects, none of which involve a full-fledged relationship with any one institution.

That having been said, I have not abandoned hope of somehow finding my way back to a meaningful role in an academic library setting, although the thought of being responsible for a significant amount of in-person library instruction really does not appeal to me. My hope is that I can find a way to contribute to increased institutional awareness of the importance of information literacy and the value that academic libraries can add to the quality of education that students receive. I think that working as an instruction librarian—that is, delivering one-shot instruction sessions—is an important first step in joining the field-wide effort to enhance instruction librarians’ roles on college and university campuses. It could even be argued that conditions like those I experienced in my first library instruction position—being responsible for providing instruction sessions with little or no notice, not having an office to work in, or an opportunity to do any instruction-related work away from the reference desk—are to be expected and endured because these experiences are prerequisites to gaining better, more “academic” positions in the future.  I am concerned, though, that the costs associated with positions like these outweigh the potential benefits that *might* accompany different roles that an instruction librarian *might* have the opportunity to pursue later on in his or her career. Unfortunately, as anyone who has been in the market for an academic library job knows, we mostly do not get to choose to go only to institutions where we can be reasonably confident that we will be valued. Many of us, especially those of us who are relatively new to the field, have to take whatever experience we can get and try to create a path towards securing our ideal roles and positions. But if, for whatever reason, we end up at institutions willing to treat master’s degree-level people as little more than matchsticks, to be burned through and discarded, then the process of getting the required experience can be extremely costly. As a relative newcomer to the field, I was not at all prepared for the harsh realities of the one library instruction position that I was able to secure as a recent graduate. I suspect that I am not alone in this. I think it would be appropriate for us, as a field of educators, to ask ourselves whether we are adequately preparing students in our field for the broad range of library instruction positions and responsibilities that they might encounter.

[1] This feeling was especially jarring given the job-search process and subsequent interview process that I experienced on my path towards securing this job, which is a topic that is deserving of far more discussion. For now, I will simply say that while there are many factors that impact the job market at any given time, and individual institutions do not control the job market, institutions can control the interview process that they subject applicants to. If what is needed for a library instruction position is someone who will show up, answer computer-usage questions, and give very cursory overviews of basic information strategies, then the interview process should reflect that. It is absurd for an institution to subject a candidate to an academic-esque interview process for a position that will not allow that employee to do anything academic whatsoever.

“In What Other Field Do You Have to Explain What You Do to Your Idiot Friends?”: Emotional Burnout in Defending LIS–Guest Post by Dylan Burns and Sarah Crissinger

I am excited to publish a co-written guest post today from a current LIS student and recent LIS graduate, Dylan Burns and Sarah Crissinger.

Dylan Burns is currently in his second year as a Library Science student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He works currently in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the Scholarly Commons, straddling both the new and the old in libraries. He shares his opinions on rare books, music and nostalgia at HackLibrarySchool.com as well as on Twitter @ForgetTheMaine.

Sarah Crissinger is an Information Literacy Librarian in North Carolina. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2015. She regularly blogs for ACRLog and enjoys writing about pedagogy, openness, and the importance of LIS student voices. She shares her thoughts on libraries–interspersed with frequent pictures of small dogs– at @SarahCrissinger

In September 2015, we had a discussion on Twitter about how difficult it is to explain librarianship to our relatives and friends. We have titled this post the original tweet that started that conversation, as the discussion that day morphed into this piece. We hope our stories will resonate with other students and librarians who find burnout in not only explaining what they do but also in justifying why they do it.

“I felt really really tired of constantly trying to explain what we do, why we do it, and why it matters” ~Maria Accardi, “The Souls of Our Students, the Souls of Ourselves: Resisting Burnout through Radical Self-Care,” p. 15

Sarah

I was a sophomore in college when I started working at my university’s library. I was an English major, already dreaming of a PhD in literature. The same fall I started staffing the reference desk, I somehow landed the opportunity to teach a semester-long class on adjusting to college life. There I was—a “peer instructor”—leading a class of twenty-five freshmen through study habits and career decisions. I found teaching unbelievably rewarding but also incredibly humbling. While I really connected with many of the students, I always felt like there were at least a few that I could not reach. At the same time, I was energized by my hectic reference shifts where I always learned something new without fail. I also noticed that the librarians I worked with held more in-depth consultations with students, which seemed to be the more one-on-one instruction that I so intensely craved in the course I was teaching.

After months of working through these feelings with my librarian-mentor, I decided to pursue librarianship. I must have sent her at least ten book-length e-mails about the MLS, the job market, and the work she did. I look back and I am still deeply grateful for her unwavering guidance and support.

The spring of my last year rolled around and I made the decision to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s LIS program. My news was accompanied by some news from my mentor; she was leaving librarianship. She had a second Master’s degree in another subject area that she wanted to pursue. I still remember asking her—this incredibly talented librarian whom I wanted so dearly to emulate—why. Why would she leave librarianship? I realize now that I was shielded from many of the behind-the-scenes events happening in my library and on my campus (as many of our undergraduate student assistants are). She looked at me squarely and said, “Sarah, it is unbelievably exhausting to have to continually explain what you do and why it has value.”

It has been three years and I think I finally know what she means.

Dylan

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at noon I sit in a classroom with 15 undergrads in Latin class.  For the first couple of days into the first few weeks I would get a similar question from the other students who are almost a decade younger than me, “you are in grad school…that is SO WEIRD.” It is weird. I did not come to library school thinking I would be a rare book librarian in training but it is more and more my calling and the thing that brings me to campus everyday.

Even in my classes, my interests and my skills are outside of the norm. I am brushing up on Latin, reading Western Theology books, listening to classical history podcasts while working exclusively with older patrons, PhD students and higher level scholars. The skills I was taught in my library graduate trainings courses hardly apply to the kinds of work I have been doing. Nowhere in “how to do reference interviews” are questions about the Koberger Bible troubleshot. As much as I feel like my focus is on the outside, conversations like this tell me that my concerns are closer to the norm rather than the outlier.

My friends and family have a really difficult time understanding the complexities of what contemporary librarianship is. Jokes like “Dylan is taking Shushing 101 in library school” got a little old.

A few months ago, I reflected on how difficult explaining my work to them was through a Hack Library School (HLS) post. After it was published, I got backlash from my family and friends. To them, pointing out how they “did not understand” what I do was calling them out. What I was really doing was showing how frustrating being a librarian, or a librarian in training, could be at times.

In talking with Sarah, and other librarians, I found that my frustrations were not narrowed only to my little subset of librarianship but to the field as a whole. Many do not know what a librarian does, even though they seem to need one on a daily basis.

Sarah

Since then, I have explained to multiple family members and friends what librarianship is and why it matters. One of these conversations even devolved into me ranting about librarian stereotypes and the important work that Librarian Wardrobe and Nicole Pagowsky and Miriam Rigby have done to interrogate and disprove harmful assumptions about who librarians are and what they look like. I always find myself feeling markedly helpless in these conversations.

The feeling starts as pure frustration. Frustration that I cannot articulate exactly what I do, even after studying LIS for two years. Frustration that my position does not fit in a box as neatly as other professions or that it is not automatically recognized as a valuable calling, as a doctor or lawyer might be. This frustration builds to oversimplification. I want so badly to provide an explanation that resonates with them, and that reaffirms my value, that I often oversimplify the complexities of what I do and why it matters to me. This explanation usually does a disservice to information literacy, open access, copyright, and all of the other important aspects of my job. I am left feeling unimportant and incapable and the person I am talking to walks away knowing nothing useful about librarianship.

This phenomenon is, of course, powerfully connected to burnout. In some ways, I can stomach explaining to my grandmother that I do not actually read books to children but it becomes unbearable to have similar conversations on my own campus. While I do not necessarily have to go back to drawing board, there are still moments that I feel need an explanation of information literacy and why it is important. There is also a significant faculty-staff divide at my institution. After three months, it has become increasingly clear to me that there are some faculty members that do not understand my role as an instructor and do not trust my competency as an expert in information literacy and as a colleague in instructional design and pedagogy. They– my colleagues–need a convincing explanation just as much as one of my family members do.

I have found refuge in my team and professional community.

Dylan

What is it about library school that leads to this kind of uncertainty?

There has certainly been a move toward making librarianship professional. For the most part, the MLS (or MSLIS whatever) is a requirement for our professional field. Currently, the University of Illinois is planning to remove the word “library” from our school name. (You can read current U of I students Brenna Murphy and Hailley Fargo talk about the change). In some ways, the school-formerly-known-as GSLIS believes that focusing on “information” is a way to bring relevance to our field on an already technology and science heavy campus.

I wonder if I would have wanted to attend an “information school.” Given this change, seemingly present all across the country, it really makes me wonder: why does librarianship feel the need to justify its own existence? In other words, why is it that librarianship is not viewed on the same level as other professional fields? Is it the money, it could be the power, or it the influence (or lack thereof)?

What if it is the difficulty with which our jobs are explained?

Sarah and I do wildly different jobs, and while I believe there are commonalities between the day-to-day tasks we perform, rare books and informational literacy are different fields in a larger profession. My classmates might be interested in different things or read different books but we are all librarians and all are united in having difficulty explaining what we do, whether that is children’s librarianship, archives, data management, IR work, information literacy, public librarianship, etc. etc.

The problem with our field, especially as new professionals and students, is that the public has preconceived notions of librarianship. The important, imperative work that both  Sarah and I do, while part of the larger field of librarianship, does not line up with how librarianship is presented through media and culture. In fact, a majority of LIS jobs probably do not line up with the spinster shusher common on television and film.

The other day my friend told me that he was sure my job involved “unsticking the pages in the fine arts section of the library.”

What I do and what my friends and colleagues do is much more important and essential to the University and the world as a whole than people comprehend.

That is where burnout begins for me. I am not troubled by job prospects, and I am not troubled by the future of libraries. I am, though, beginning to be burned out by constantly justifying why I chose libraries, what interests me in the field, and why I do more than “unstick pages.”

Sarah & Dylan

How do we move forward? How do we tell others that our jobs, our careers, our callings are much more than “unsticking pages”?

We will not pretend to have any easy fixes for changing the perception of librarians overnight. We know that we must recognize the larger historical context of librarian stereotypes. We must also continue to support initiatives, particularly public-facing efforts, that reject librarian stereotypes. Mentoring and retaining diverse librarians is also an important step in contesting these harmful manifestations of the librarian stereotype.

We know for sure that our professional communities and networks become even more important and salient in these moments. We started talking about this topic on Twitter which, for us, has been a welcoming place for conversations with everyone, from newbies in the field to the librarian rock stars we look up to. When these concerns are expressed in a community, there becomes a space for encouragement and growth. For us, those interactions have been some of the most energizing and encouraging dialogues that we have experienced in the library world. They reaffirm that we are not alone.