I’m going to just put it out there. This is an awkward subject and an awkward post, but here goes…
Sometimes being a librarian makes me feel like I’m Gilligan stuck on a deserted island. A lot of the time I’m really happy, but there are also times when it can feel isolated and sometimes … lonely.
I don’t know about you, but as a school librarian, I spend a lot of time in my head. Much of my day is spent thinking about cognitive development and growth. Recently, as I have been working on my AISL Conference presentation on student vlogging I came to realize that much of my excitement over our students’ vlogging is that it is the only place in my information instruction that I address the affective aspects of research in any form or in any way.
An interesting by product of this process has been that it has forced me to confront affective aspects of my professional life.
Librarianship can sometimes feel like being a castaway on a deserted isle.
Weird Issue #1: The objective stuff that doesn’t seem to matter to the part of my brain that controls my emotions…
First, let me acknowledge my objective reality. I am in NO WAY, a castaway on Gilligan’s deserted island somewhere. I am very aware of the fact that I am a very lucky librarian with no objective right to complain about things.
Upon graduating from library school I moved to Los Angeles and landed a job that I had no right to land at a middle school with 640 students. By the end of my time there, I was part of a staff of 5 full-time librarians along with a full-time assistant. It was crazy!!!
Fast forward 13 years and I had the incredible good fortunate to land a rarely available job as an independent school librarian in Honolulu. I am now a K-12 librarian. I work with an awesome, dynamic, whirlwind of a librarian, and a great full-time library assistant. I love my job. I love the work. I love my colleagues. I love my kids. I have a supportive administration, and our program and work are valued and embraced by the school community.
Bottom line: I’m incredibly blessed and incredibly lucky. But… (You had to know there was a but coming, right?)
Weird Issue #2: There’s this subjective stuff that seems to matter a whole lot to me even though it shouldn’t…
In spite of all of the objective things in my favor I can’t seem to get past a definite sense of isolation that sometimes borders on loneliness. It’s weird. I realized isolation/loneliness and a desire to connect was manifesting itself in things like posting WAY too much to the listserv without thinking enough about what I was doing and why I was doing it.
Because it was the only kind of librarianship I knew, I never realized how oddly atypical it was to have four other MLS librarians working in the same space with whom I bounced ideas, brainstormed lessons, co-taught, collaborated, supported, and (yes) complained.
Weird Issue #3: Am I just being a narcissist?
I am one of those librarians who, after helping students research diseases or psychological afflictions, walks away believing that I have all of them. I’ve been reading The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson so I’ve also been wondering if I’m a narcissist, a psychopath, or a sociopath. I’m pretty sure that I’m not a psychopath or sociopath, but the narcissist possibility… Err… concerns me.
[Pauses to allow awkward assertion to dissipate…]
Anyway, the thing is that affective aspects of our lives are subjective to us. By any reasonable person’s objective measure, I’m just whining and being a narcissist.
It’s not a, “not having friends” kind of issue…
Daniel Pink, author of Drive, A Whole New Mind, and To Sell is Human, is one of my favorite follows on Twitter. A week or two ago, he tweeted a link to this:
While it’s a really good read and as an introvert at my core, there’s advice I have actually already applied to my non-librarian life, but I don’t really think that the issue is a “I have no friends…” sense of feeling alone.
It’s more of a:
“I don’t know what percentage of my budget I should be spending on digital resources vs. print and I wish I could just chat about it with other people to see how they think things through, but there’s nobody here to go have lunch with and talk about it” kind of isolated loneliness. [I know that’s not a good sentence, but you get the point]
“I don’t think we can afford to keep all of our ABC-CIO and Facts-on-File history databases, but my social studies teachers are pretty evenly divided about which ones to keep and which ones to cancel so I don’t know what to do. What would you do?”
It’s that kind of isolation and lonely that I think about when my budget proposal for the next school year is due and I’m lying in bed staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night.
Sleeping Beauty Syndrome
There is definitely a part of me that wants to be Sleeping Beauty. I want to lie down on the sofa and have people come and take care of me. The thing is, though, that maybe Sleeping Beauty wouldn’t just lie around on a sofa waiting for the prince if she had differently-minded princess pals who might say, “Hey WAKE UP, brush your teeth, and get out there and go slay some dragons yourself!!!”
There’s another part of me that isn’t really so very Sleeping Beauty oriented so I’m not always a shrinking violet or wallflower when it comes to my work.
I decided a while ago that I would stop behaving like Sleeping Beauty waiting for people to come and say hi. Nicole, my partner here in the library and I invited other Honolulu area independent school librarians over to our space for a social meet and greet. Other librarians in the area have stepped up to host gatherings in their various spaces so we’ve started visiting each others’ libraries for indie librarian chats–once in the fall and once in the spring. Our little mini-network is slowly developing and that’s exciting to see.
What kinds of things do you do to find “your people” and build your librarian pal network?
If you have a vibrant independent school library community in your region, what kinds of things are you doing together? How did you make it come about?
Thank you for your honesty, Dave – you always seem to hit on what so many of us are experiencing. I too lean heavily on colleagues (at my school and far beyond) to ensure I’ I am not making decisions in isolation. Looking forward to leaving snow behind and chatting with you more at AISL NOLA next week!
I did my job in isolation for too many years without knowing about the consortium of independent school librarians in my area. Connecting with them has changed everything and makes being a solo librarian so much more manageable. Thank you Philadelphia region PREP! We get together a few times a year, rotating schools, for lunch and guided conversation. We also communicate via listserv and that is my first stop when I have questions or concerns. I hope you have similar success with your networking!
Such a wonderful piece. As I read through this I felt like I could have written it myself, but never as well as David did. I was a Director of several Law Libraries before switching to the school environment. I have always felt like an “other” in my roles and it can be very lonely. I am so thankful for AISL and the library consortiums in this area. I LOVE being a librarian and also love being able to share with others in the library community. It validates me as a librarian and I am so thankful for you all!
Have a great time in NOLA. I have managed to miss the deadline 2 years in a row waiting on approvals. Hoping I can make it happen next year. I look forward to reading all about the conference so please share!
Have a great day –
Thank you, David. AISL and the New Hampshire School Library Media Association listservs make me feel like I have friends who understand what I do and am trying to accomplish every day in my work life. I couldn’t do it without all of you. Thank you.
Completely agree, David!
when I was a teacher, I worked with a team but I am the sole librarian at a prek-12 school and feel very alone a lot of the time!
Appreciate the great feedback.