A few months ago I wrote a note to my library contacts that went something like this: “Before word went entirely public, I wanted to pass along a message that I am leaving my position as the Associate Director at the library. While leaving a job is not unusual, the reason that I am leaving is. God willing, in August, I will be entering a Catholic religious order (The Servants of God’s Love).”
Most people responded with, “Congratulations?” To which I replied, “Thank you. Yes, that is the right answer.” One editor of this dear blog, though, responded with, “WOW! This sounds great!… Any chance you could write one more blog post about this decision?”
So, here I am, blogging one last time for Library Lost and Found on my last day of work. You see, I contemplated many options for topics:
- Becoming a Nun: A How-To Guide – That seemed kind of insulting to this library blog and kind of misleading because I’m hoping to become a Sister (not a nun).
- Decision Making 101: How To Make Big Life Decisions – This idea makes me laugh. For me, mostly, this decision took a deep love of the person of Christ Jesus and the Trinity, a group of amazing women who magnify my prayers and still get over-competitive playing Euchre, and a foolhardy nature that people keep mistaking for “courage”.
- Beware: There Are Conservatives Among You: I know. It’s a scary thought. In spite of the stereotypes, I have found that the most outspoken librarians tend to be fairly…loose with words. Sometimes they forget that there are librarians that live more conservative lives amongst you. So, maybe edit your tweets before you post them. #notintobookburning #notintoexcessiveswearing
Instead, I wanted to highlight what I really saw about my life as a librarian as I walked through this decision: At its heart, librarianship is service.
What librarians do is not a job: It is an act of love performed for our patrons. It is a moment of kind grace given to a stranger or a friend. It is a moment of hope in a world that often seems hopeless.
I became a librarian because I loved the chase. I worked in ILL in college, and I loved finding ridiculous books in languages that I couldn’t speak (let alone write). That search for hard-to-find information is what motivated me to go to information school. It was a fine motivation. But once I started working as a librarian with the public, I realized that librarianship could be so much more. I interned for a small resource center attached to the U of M Depression Center. I wanted to work on the catalog, but I spent some of my time in the resource center, sometimes with patients, but mostly with friends and family of patients. They’d come to wait during the appointment, and mostly they wanted someone to talk to. I learned how to start every sentence with, “I’m not a mental health professional…” and end every conversation with, “…let me give you a pamphlet.” I don’t think that I ever said anything helpful, but I was there. In a moment of panic and fear, they needed an ear, and I was wearing silver hoops. It was an act of service.
Then I started as an Adult Services Librarian in a public library. While I did a lot of electronic and systems work, I loved working with the public. The older lady who read every thriller book that came out and still, without fail, ran out of books each week. The middle school girls who liked to come and sit at the desk and talk about their days while looking up ridiculous saint names (see St. Ulfrid). The widow who came and interloaned the best mormon fiction books you’ve ever read. The group who gave up their Thursday nights for three months to learn about the Civil Rights movement. No matter how many books I ordered or computers I fixed, those people are what made me excited to come into work in the morning. It was an act of friendship.
When I became Associate Director, it was hard. I didn’t have management ambitions, but I wanted to try. Unfortunately, that meant giving up most of my programming and all of my time on the reference desk. I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. I no longer had the thing that made me most excited to show up to work in the morning.
Then we hired a few new managers. Training them and helping them feel confident about their new jobs. Making small changes to our ILS to ease a little bit of the load from my Circulation staff. Bringing a new perspective to a policy debate. These became my new acts of service. I was no longer directly serving my patrons, but I was helping to make the library better for them. And I was directly serving my staff, particularly my managers. When they needed advice, they got advice. When they needed an ear, I gave them an ear. When they needed a kick in the pants, they got a figurative kick in the pants. Watching them grow and develop is probably one of the things about which I am most proud in my time as a librarian. It was an act of love.
When I look back on my 6.5 years as a certified librarian, I don’t think about the books that I ordered or the meetings that I went to; I look back on the people that I served and that I served with. Any impact that I might have had on them, they had 100x the impact on me. Their patience, their kindness, and their willingness to give me a kick in the pants when I needed it helped me to grow and mature into the (still kind of immature) person that I am today. I could not be here, taking this step in my life, about which I am bananas excited, without all that they did for me.
Librarianship for me, has been an act of service and a labor of love. But, somehow, I feel like I received far more than I ever gave, and I have unending gratitude for those who served me so well.