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08

May
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

My Gap Year(s)

On 08, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

showmetheawesome2This post is part of Show Me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion, an initiative started by Kelly at Stacked, Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Teacozy, and Sophie at SophieBiblio. Follow along on their blogs and on Twitter with the hashtag #30awesome. The banner is by John LeMasney at Lemasney.com.

If you’ve read my About Me page (or keep reading this sentence) you’ll know, among other things, that about two years ago I had a baby and quit my job. What you won’t know is how terrifying that prospect was and how difficult the decision was to make. I worried that no one would ever look past that gap in my work history or worse yet, would write off motherhood as a busy, but ultimately easy, job requiring no skill. Even in a profession dominated by women it can be hard for mothers to justify putting their family first. But what I wish I had known then, is how much better a librarian I am for having made that choice and actually staying home.

Now, I’ve never been the kind of woman who believed she could have everything. In fact, I’m not sure I know what that means to me and if I would even want it. But two years ago I had a job I loved in a profession I loved. Sure, it didn’t pay well, but that was fine for starting out.

I also had a husband I loved and wanted to start a family. When we sat down and actually looked at the financial reality of having a baby we realized my job wouldn’t cover quality daycare, not to mention all the additional costs that came with a baby. And deep down I knew it would take a lot more than a financial wash for me to go back to work immediately. I have to say in her infinite wisdom, when I told my boss I wasn’t coming back, she already knew what choice I would make, but thought I would have to see the baby’s face before making it. At least I didn’t have to feel guilty leaving.

I know it sounds terribly trite to say being a mother made me a better sort of person, but I can actually agree with the list of ways everyone says being a parent changes them for the better. I’m more patient with everyone. I’m more empathetic, although I think that’s mostly the hormones talking. I’ve learned to embrace unpredictability and imperfection because you can never be sure your kid won’t melt down in the grocery store or that you’ll handle it well when it happens. I’m great at managing time and often wonder what I did with myself before having a baby. I appreciate community more and want to be a part of it for my daughter’s sake. Considering librarians are essentially customer service professionals, all those characteristics are positive, but not all the ways I became a better librarian were so obvious (or cliched).

One of my first worries when I was home was that I would show up to an interview and sound hopelessly out of touch and outdated. I wasn’t especially connected with the library world and needed a way to stay involved without having a job. So, I started up a Twitter account (@AtomicBeeRanch) and began following other librarians, professional associations, and book sources. I set up a Google Reader account and got my mom to babysit one day a week so I could spend some quality time reading the various library blogs and the professional publications I began subscribing to. I also set up this blog (with a lot of help from my husband, thanks Tom!) to have a place I could leave a record of what I was doing. I joined a couple professional organizations and began attending their conferences (when our budget allows). I take professional development classes through ALA and catch as many free webinars as I can. Now I have a collaborative network I can rely on even once I’m back in the workforce.

Part and parcel with engaging in the library community, I’ve also become a lot more aware of the wider world of librarianship and the many ideas and opinions that are out there. I worked full time through library school and jumped into a library job where there was only one other person working with me. I was too inexperienced and there wasn’t time to worry about the big picture or much pressure to once I was working in a library. Which isn’t to say the future of libraries or the next big technological advance is something all librarians need an opinion on, but I think it’s important to have a philosophical foundation to work from, to guide you and I didn’t really have that before.

I worried, at one point, that being home might make it more difficult for me to find my way in my career, but instead it crystallized it. A few months into motherhood I was surprised to find I was missing the students. I also really missed the energy and excitement they brought to school. I had never felt tied to one particular type of library before, but leaving the kids behind made me realize I want to work with them again. And after all that fretting over staying home, I also decided that I don’t want to work for a company or library that would look at my gap years as a black spot. I know that my family will always come first and an institution that can’t respect that is one I can’t see fitting into. If at all possible, I also want a flexible, part-time schedule so I can still be home, even if it’s just a few hours after school.

I think most importantly though, I know now I made the right decision. I know how lucky I am to have had the ability to make a choice between work and staying home and I am grateful every single day that I don’t have to miss a minute of my daughter growing up; even the not so great minutes. I can see her flourishing right before my eyes and I will never have to ask myself if I shouldn’t have put my career first or if the financial sacrifice would have been worth it. I’ll never feel guilty that I didn’t give my daughter enough time and equally importantly I’ll never have to worry that I didn’t give my library enough time. Which means I’ll never have to resent the profession I love for taking that from me.

In the end, realizing all this doesn’t necessarily make me worry less about rejoining the workforce, but it does make me feel confident in my decision to leave it for a time. Sure it’s a cliche to say that being a mother has made me a better librarian, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

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15

Apr
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Something about forests and trees

On 15, Apr 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

In my reading lately I’ve come across a few blog posts (and articles) about The Future of Libraries. I know I have eluded, subtly and not so subtly, to my opinion about that future, mostly in regards to education and ebooks, but I’ve tried to stay out of the fracas for the most part. However because of some of these articles, I feel compeled to synthesize my thinking on this issue and my reactions to these posts.

The first post was from David Lankes. You can read it here, and really should, but the gist of it was that we need to ignore minutia and have bigger conversations about librarianship (i.e. fixing a broken education system or using books to make a difference). Because right now in librarianship and libraries, it’s those big questions that are going to “save” us. (Update: I am only now becoming aware that there was a controversy over this post. When I read it, I did not read that controversy into it and took away something completely different that was related to other things I was thinking about in libraries.)

The second was a guest post from the author Cory Doctrow, you can read it here, which was not strictly about the future of libraries. It was really about makerspaces in libraries, which not only serve as great community building spaces, but also as places to encourage learning and creativity (things that are sadly lacking in our schools!). The beginning of his piece really nicely puts how I have felt about libraries for years now, but didn’t say everything I wanted to say.

The final blog post was from Jenica Rogers over at Attempting Elegance, a librarian I much admire despite the fact that I have zero interest in being either a library director or a college librarian. She gave a keynote at a conference titled Moving Beyond Book Museums. I HIGHLY recommend you read this post. It’s brilliant. And so true. Just the title alone sums up a good portion of how I feel about the Future of Libraries. She tackles some pieces that I agree with, but don’t have much experience with.

I actually think to call “The Future of Libraries” an issue is incorrect. There was never a question in my mind that libraries would continue to be both relevant and vibrant. So where does this argument come from and why are we having it?

People who tend to argue that libraries will be obsolete think of them as “book depositories”, as Doctrow called them, or “book museums”, as Rogers named them. I would hope that as librarians we see our institutions as more than that, but I think when we argue about the Future of Libraries we fall into their rhetoric and believe that we are only about books. We need to look at what the underlying mission of libraries is to get out of that habit. Maybe I’m wrong or overly idealistic, but I always thought it was to be a bastion of learning and education (in all their forms) and to be a center of the community. Sure we’ve specialized into academic, public, school, special libraries, and many others. But don’t they all essentially have the same mission when you strip away all the superficial differences?

Personally I think libraries have never simply been about books, so we need to stop discussing something that isn’t true to begin with. Libraries are about education and community. Education can be a lot of things depending on what type of library you are in, but I am referring to teaching and learning in a broad sense. Teaching and learning through reading, through other people (the community), through books and periodicals, through the Internet and visual media, through listening and through experience. Teaching and learning through more traditional pathways such as professors and school teachers and classes. Community can also vary depending on the institution. Academic libraries strive to provide a community for their students and faculty through the scholarship and materials they provide.Public libraries with their 3-D printers encourage people to interact with other creators in their community or bring book lovers together in book clubs. School libraries provide professional development classes to the teachers and spark discussion. They also frequently house after school activities and meetings- a literal hub of community activity. Education and community.

Lankes, in his blog post, noted that librarianship at its most fundamental level is not about how we integrate Common Core or how we suggest a book or catalog. It’s about the questions we ask and the thinking we do. There will always be the day-to-day programming and tasks to deal with. But broad questions guide us, make us think, make us question everything we do and why we do it. They make us change and adapt and continue to meet the needs of our patrons and even predict those needs before they even know they have them. They create our philosophy and ensure we are sustaining our mission.

I say being a librarian of any kind isn’t about teaching reading or simply putting a book (or article) in a patron’s hand or even about giving them access to the Internet. It’s a lot broader because it’s about education and community and we need to be asking big questions that make sure librarians are ensuring these principles are being upheld. What is the purpose of having a librarian? What does the library and what do librarians offer that the classroom teacher or professor or home environment doesn’t? I think the answers lie in the fact that libraries are a lot of things-community hubs, print collections, Internet access, staffed by people who are a mile wide and a mile deep- not one thing: a book museum.

If you can answer the big questions, I think you can begin to break the philosophical stuff into more manageable and doable parts. If libraries are about education, then I think libraries are about providing access to knowledge and encouraging its creation.  We need to ask ourselves: how can I help my patrons, be they professors, students, or blue collar workers, be successful in a 21st century environment? Education is never going to go out of style and so how you go about answering that question is going to propel you and librarianship forward into a secure future.

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