Disclaimer: This is not a post about how I think so-and-so isn’t deserving of a Mover and Shaker award, nor is this an accusation that non-Movers and Shakers are just bitter and jealous, nor is this a plea to get my own award.
Library Journal’s Movers and Shakers of 2013 have just been announced. Not to be confused with the ALA Emerging Leaders program, LJ’s Movers and Shakers are considered to be “up-and-coming individuals…who are innovative, creative, and making a difference”. It’s quite an honor to be named as a Mover and Shaker, but along with that honor, there’s always a chance of backlash. If the library Twitter-verse thinks that you’re not deserving, for whatever reason (it could be a sour personal history or it can be a general distate for the person’s career), they will call you out in public. By your full name. So there’s no doubt who they’re talking about. They will dissect everything you’ve ever said, every drink you’ve ever downed at a bar, what your degree is and where you got it, and how many Twitter followers you have (Seriously. As if that’s a measure of merit). They will dismiss and belittle your work. They will malign your character. And they won’t let it go. You might have to watch strangers (or near strangers), drag your name through the mud for weeks or months. If you fight back, you’ll make it worse. You’ll prolong it. If you say nothing, you just end up helplessly witnessing the tarnishing of your reputation.
(Not that I won’t go after someone who done me wrong. I am not Miss Congeniality, after all. But at least I won’t mention you by name).
I’m seeing it happen right now, and it’s not cute. Worse than that, it’s not professional. Seriously. Even my pink-haired, loud-mouthed, totally inappropriate ass is lucid enough to see that it’s not professional. It doesn’t make you look better to drag down others. It’s not going to get you an award. It’s not going to get their award taken away. It’s just going to make you look foolish and trifling and petty and bitter. And it makes you look jealous.
OK, I can’t honestly be sure if these Movers and Shakers-dislikers (see how I didn’t say “haters”? They hate that), are jealous. If they aren’t, I guess I just don’t understand their actions at all. To me, it definitely looks to me like they’re saying “Why that person? Why not ME?” But, how could I possibly know what’s driving all this focussed hate? I don’t.
But I will say that I am jealous.
I am! So jealous! Hey, man! I’d sure like an award. Like many librarians, I feel under-appreciated and under-paid and I certainly do work for a library system that’s under-staffed and under-funded. I get bummed out and burnt out and jaded I would really like a big old important somebody to publicly tell me that I’m doing a good job. Who doesn’t like a pat on the back? Just tell me the work I do matters. Validate me! Appreciate me! In addition, it seems like I’m always really close to being laid-off, and something like Movers and Shakers would look really good on my resume. Sure, my system just let me go with a boatload of my coworkers, but look! I’m a Mover and Shaker! Someone will rehire me in no time if I seem that important, right?
Here’s the thing, though. I’m not going to get a Movers and Shakers award. This is not the part where I’m fishing for everyone to say, “Never say never!” or “I’ll nominate you!” or “Your hair is SO shiny!” because that’s not the point I’m trying to make. I won’t get one because I’m a front line/stuck in the trenches librarian. This is not a complaint. This is just how I like it. I think the work I do is vital and necessary. I do reference desks and programming. I put together book lists and displays. I interact with kids. I smooth over patron drama (or at least try to). I give kids hugs and listen to their problems (when I’m not begging them to stop bullying/kicking the crap out of each other). I help with homework when I can. I bug kids to read. I maintain good relationships with teachers and schools. I take care of our collection and order books. I read a lot. I advocate for my library like a beast. I do this stuff because that’s what makes the library run. I’m a public services librarian and I take absolute pride in that. Once in a while, I’ll work on something kinda big and kinda cool (I’m on the Rainbow List and I do some pretty rad volunteer work), but not something mind-blowing enough to get Library Journal decide that I’m interesting or fascinating enough to sell magazines.
I am like so many librarians. Do you find yourself running really fast just to stay in place? Are you struggling to maintain just the semblance of order at your job? Are you so stuck on making the every day “little things” happen that the bigger projects aren’t as big and special as you’d like them to be? Cool. You’re not alone. You’re a lot like me. No one’s going to give us an award for treading water, which is too bad, really. If everyone was a rockstar librarian, jack all would get done. The library world needs us, the front-line librarians, to keep the gears turning. Toddler Time needs to happen. Someone needs to be on that reference desk. Those graphic novels need to be ordered somehow. That class visit? It’s all you. And you and I will do all these things and more, and we’ll somehow get it done without proper funding and without adequate support. We have become so adept at making something out of nothing that I can’t even imagine what I’d do with funding if I had it (OK, probably more programming. Patrons loves programs). We keep the library afloat. Sure, we’ve got big ideas. We have plans. We’re creative! We’re innovative. We’ll get to our awesome projects someday. Right now, we’re finding new ways to make the library run as well as it can. We’ll pepper the every stuff with fun little enterprises and activities. These will keep us sane and keep our brains from liquefying and oozing out of our ears, but it won’t be enough to get national recognition.
The prospect of never getting a big award like Movers and Shakers? That’s going to have to be OK for a lot of us. You have to believe that you’re doing good work. You have to believe that front-line librarians are necessary. We all have to agree that we’re never going to be that reference desk librarian that’s given up and has stopped caring about librarianship and about patrons. We’re never going to be the ones who point half-heartedly in the general direction of the patron’s books. We get up off our tired asses and walk that patron to the shelves. We belt out that damn Squiggly Fish song like it’s our first time singing it. We make people want to come back to the library again and again.
So yeah, those aren’t the kinds of “sexy” projects that make you a Mover and Shaker. Lots of people don’t find public/children’s/YA services all that interesting. In this widely shared blog post “Beyond the Bullet Points: Rock Stars“, the author talks about what’s not useful or innovative in the world of librarianship, saying, “In youth Librarianship why should we care what books are chosen when we really care about how they propel our youth on a course to change the world they inherit? Don’t give me titles; give me titles and reasons. School libraries and adoption of the Common Core? Nope.” I get that people don’t find the work I do very glamorous (like most librarians, I’m totally in this for the glamour). I will tell you that it’s necessary. Our patrons need it. They demand it. We provide it and they keep coming back for more. Learning about STEM and the Common Core isn’t going to make us popular at librarian cocktail parties, but it’s going to make us a vital part of the library and the community.
And you know, you rockstar librarians should be kissing the ground that we walk on. We take care of the minutiae so you can focus on the big, sexy endeavors (why do they always call the big projects “sexy”? That’s gross. Let’s stop that). We keep up good patron-librarian relationships so that the library remains in the public’s favor. We get those kids and teens hooked on the library early so that they grow up to be fierce advocates. Public service librarians are the glue that holds the library together. Rockstar librarians are the glitter that gets thrown on top of that glue. You may sparkle and grab everyone’s attention, but without us, you’d fall right off. OK, I suck at analogies.
Here’s the part where I’m supposed to write about how I don’t need a Movers and Shakers award because the love and admiration of children and the satisfaction of seeing a kid reading a good book is thanks enough for the work I do, but can we just skip that?
I’m glad Movers and Shakers exists. The rockstar label is hilarious, because, come on. We’re librarians. Rockstar? More like easy-listening. More like Yanni. More like the musak version of a Maroon5 song. This shit ain’t glamorous! So why not single out some librarians and make then feel like a million bucks for a while? Some of my favorite librarians are Movers and Shakers. They keep me inspired and motivated. I hate that each year, when the awards come out, at least one Mover and Shaker gets targeted with hostile behavior (from their own fellow professionals, no less!). I also dislike that for every Mover and Shaker, there are countless other librarians who won’t get appreciated.
So, for all you front-line, in the trenches, punk-ass book jockey, non-rockstar librarians: I see you. I see the work you do and I promise you that it’s important. You deserve to get a Movers and Shakers award, but in case you never do, remember that nothing in the library-world moves nor shakes without you.
And that’s about as sappy as I’m going to get about that.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid