Getting it Together

I admit I’ve struggled thinking about what to write for this, my April post. I am grateful to Shelagh and Reba for figuring it out ahead of me and articulating well what I maybe felt too vulnerable to say. I don’t really feel like a librarian much these days. What this experience has thrown into high relief for me as a worker and an educator is how much of our work in normal times is around the edges; the casual or serendipitous interactions with students that allow us to build relationships and serve them best, and which don’t require the extra thought or step of deliberately seeking out and clicking on a Zoom link. 

We make ourselves available with online office/library hours, we provide access to digital resources and tutorials for using them, and we reach out to teachers to provide research support. However, we’re not there to make light conversation with a student struggling with a printer, writing them a late pass because the infernal machine is jammed. We’re not there to see a student wandering the stacks and, after a few minutes of leaving them to their browsing, offering assistance and reminding them about the online catalog. Maybe we’re available just for a chat, but not at random times, and not without someone taking a step, showing that vulnerability, and logging in to see us.

So I have been trying to find ways to be in the places around the edges; being present in student-led online meetings and events, making announcements as often as possible, “liking” the Class of 2020 Instagram posts from the library account, sending emails promoting databases and ebooks. I’ve been grabbing at those chances to do the work of a librarian; holding reading celebrations, and answering the few reference question emails I receive from students while practically begging them to schedule a research meeting. With so much emphasis on digital resources, 24/7 access, the importance of the online library presence, etc., I never realized how hard it would be to be a librarian without a library. There’s more I could be doing, but I am also a member of the school-age-kids-at-home-while-I’m-trying-to-be-working chorus. Also, it will do no good to add to the information overload everyone is feeling. I don’t really want any more emails about distance learning resources, frankly, and I don’t think I’m alone.

While I am feeling a little at sea, I know some students are too, BUT, they are also still doing amazing things and engaging with the present moment in relevant, social justice-oriented ways. Last week, we saw a student-led presentation on COVID-19 and xenophobia, for example. Our GSA still celebrated the GLSEN Day of Silence and held a virtual dance party that was surprisingly fun. If they can get it together and carry on their personal missions, I can too! They act as an anchor for me, and I majorly owe it to them to do so in return.

I realize that at this moment it is a kind of privilege to be able to quietly ponder my professional identity from my dining room office, but I suppose there are bigger questions there, all tied up with our current state of general uncertainty. One thing I’ve been trying to do these last weeks is attend to the purchased and nearly forgotten unread books on my own home shelves. How excited was I, after reading Shelagh’s post last week, to find this in the bookcase? You’d better believe that it went to the top of the pile pretty quickly. Thank you!

5 thoughts on “Getting it Together

  1. Thank you, Kate, for sharing your feelings.

    I “come to work” every day, respond as quickly as I can to any and all inquiries, offer help where I can, attend to my advisees, and lead the progress of this year’s and next year’s yearbook, but still feel like I’m not doing enough because a huge chunk of what I do on campus is missing. That’s the part that connects me most closely to students and faculty, and there’s not a darn thing I can do about it.

    It seems when I’m feeling most vulnerable, and like a fraud as a librarian/teacher, someone on this listserv expresses similar feelings. It helps put my insecurities into perspective. I appreciate your efforts today, and thank you for the reminder that we are all in this together.

  2. Thank you for this. I’m with you on so much of it! I’m lucky to be subbing right now for 2 English classes while a faculty member is on an earlier-than-anticipated maternity leave, so I’m getting my kid connections that way. But I miss so much the work I usually do, and I’m feeling left out of things because kids aren’t coming to the virtual library. I start to question the connections I have had and the value of the work I’ve done, but maybe it will just be that much sweeter for all of us when we can be back in person again. I’m working way more hours than usual, but the thing that I felt was most valuable about the work I do–those serendipitous moments of recommending a book or having a chat or just trying to be a kind and patient presence in the middle of a hectic day–is gone.
    I used to be the early morning person, opening up the library 30 min before the start of school. I miss the kids who would always be waiting outside the door for me to arrive. It’s silly, but I swear, no matter my mood when I woke up, I was always cheered by those faces, that start to the day that said, “You are needed here.” Even if only as a body to open up a door to get them out of the cold, I was a person they were happy to see. (I think they legit were happy to see me as a person as well! They are very sweet!) I miss that. I always appreciated it, but it will be on a new level when I have it again.

  3. I got chills reading this. Thank you for sharing and finding ways to be around the edges, so to speak. It is hard to be a librarian without a library.

  4. I think it helps to know we are not alone, right? I really loved your description of being in the places along the edges. It’s so true. Thank you for your post!

  5. Thank you for this post, Kate. Today, I’m exhausted from a too-late night of work, so your words struck a cord that, for me, lies at the heart of librarianship. When I’m feeling low, I wonder how / why the work we do is so often hidden, or overlooked. And why so often the only way to be made visible within our school communities, requires the awkward “blowing of our own horn.” At the end of the day, though, I truly believe your students—and all of ours, too—appreciate our steady presence (even online) and will remember the help and kindness we offered.

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