I Neither Move Nor Shake: On awards and front-line/trenches librarians

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

28 thoughts on “I Neither Move Nor Shake: On awards and front-line/trenches librarians

  1. Hi…I’d just like to clarify about my post (which was mostly about the fact that I was treading water stuck at home), that I am not denigrating or discounting the daily work of ANY type of librarian. Far far far from it. What bothers me is not that we all have jobs to do that involve routine. My problem is that if ALL we do as a profession and as individual professionals is perform tasks as assigned then the profession gets stuck.

    I wasn’t indicting knowing about the common core or the best titles. What I was criticizing is a mistaken belief that a professional duty is simply to find correlated standards and “best of lists” and deliver them…without seeing if this part of a larger mission of librarians.

    I am not calling for us all to be Movers and Shakers, I’m calling for us all to reject “pure practice” without reflection. I am encouraging exactly what this post is saying. We are a service profession. If we do not provide service we do no good. However, if the services we provide are based on tradition and based on former views, how long can we continue to be of service?

    1. I really tried to give you the benefit of the doubt on your blog. I read and re-read it several times. I, personally, did not find your examples to be true to my experience as a youth services librarian.
      I appreciate you stopping in to clarify. I appreciate, in many ways, your blog post as well.

  2. Tess

    I have such mixed feelings about LJs Movers and Shakers. I feel like it should be a morale boost, to see ppl being recognized, for doing new or awesome things, but I find it often has the opposite effect. Many a time have I heard hard working and talented colleagues crack open their issue of LJ and say something along the lines of “Huh. Guess I didn’t move or shake enough.” And it makes me sad. In a way lifting up certain ppl makes everyone else feel less special. And if you feel that way are you “jealous?” I know I’m not going to win a big award (I don’t even win little awards). And I didn’t become a librarian to win an award. But damned if I don’t feel a little twinge this time every year. What wrong with me that I’m not a rock star? Nothing, since 99% of us don’t “get” to be “stars,” and that’s okay, right? Right, I guess 🙂

      1. Tess

        Oh no. That’d be great, but I think you have to have a masters degree? And I don’t… I know I should but I don’t. Please don’t stop talking to me haha

      2. Tess

        Thanks for the link. I’d be happy to get an MLS, but (like you say) it’s not possible, not right now anyway. Maybe one day I’ll be a “real” librarian and not “just” a “para.” We’ll see 🙂

      3. FYI you do not need an MLS to be an Emerging Leader; I know several people who were ELs while in library school. But I’m not sure if you have to be working toward one if you don’t have one.

        The relevant criterion is “Be a new library professional of any age with fewer than 5 years of experience working at a professional or paraprofessional level in a library”, which is, I have to admit, ridiculously unhelpful, as “professional” suggests “has MLS” but obviously they accept people who don’t have MLSes. Whether they would accept someone who neither has nor is working toward one, I don’t know. But if you’re interested in the program, I would ask for clarification, because it’s worth doing if you’re willing to put a lot into it. ( http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/leadership/emergingleaders )

  3. Great post. Full disclosure: the only award I’ve ever received was a prize for writing a poem when I was in college. It was a *tiny* college, so I don’t think the award meant much.

    Somehow, it seems that society (and this is probably nothing new) prizes the spectacular over the “lifetime achievement”. If you think of awards for acting or writing, it’s a lot easier to think of people who have won awards for one part or for one book than those who won for a solid, impressive body of work.

    I think that “Movers & Shakers” is a good thing, though it does seem heavy on individual accomplishment in a profession that’s all about collaboration and cooperation. And that does mean that a lot of truly exceptional library workers are never recognized, except by their coworkers and their customers.

    We should, I think, find as many ways as we can to celebrate one another, to add some glitter and shine to each other’s lives, to praise other library workers, and to build up our work–and our egos!

    1. If I could give a lifetime achievement award to any librarian, it would be you, Dale. You’re such an inspiration and mentor to so many librarians. I don’t know what we’d do without you.

  4. So true.


    And this: I am in the trenches daily too. We went from 9 to 3 people just this week at my work. But because I am a government contractor I cannot talk about my work, or even who I work for. So I will never get recognition for my ‘librarian’ work or even be able to discuss its challenges and trenches-worthy bits legally. And that is kind of unique to the government contracting sphere. So I do my side gig and spend roughly 40 hrs a week doing it and that is what I get a M&S for. And I do bust my rear on it. But it is far from the only Library thing I do. It isn’t representative of all I do or even much of what I do in libraries. lol- no sexy times at my gig, I am basically doing 5 people’s jobs for less than one person’s salary. I also work with people who will never get this award but who I personally feel are kick-a**! 🙂 And I tell then that too 🙂 I have 188+ volunteers now that work with me and finally I am able to find a good way to give them credit.

    I would love to be able to do that more for others who like me work directly with the challenges of no $ and no staff…so fingers crossed that what the recognition for me as an M+S will do is give me more of a platform for others. I was lib staff for years before my MLIS and always looking for a way to give them shout-outs and recognition. My article runs 3/19…

    Keep blogging 🙂 I do enjoy 🙂

    1. librariankate7578

      I’m partially in Naomi’s boat (and on a side note, I am glad you’re not being too affected by the sequester, though I’m sure the staff reduction is due to that) – I work for a vendor, which limits what I can and cannot talk about publicly, lest it be misconstrued as official company opinion. So I put my energy into side projects – I spent most of this weekend diving into Drupal and redoing my online portfolio, for example. I’m going to get back into blogging about gender issues in libraries (see what one of your recent posts inspired, Ingrid? 🙂 ), and then there’s All The Tech.

      Maybe that will get me an award, maybe not. There’s still too much prejudice against those of us MLS’ers who decide to go work for vendors, and it’s going to be a long time before that stops – and that may just as well be holding me back from getting M&S recognition. And I was jealous and going through feelings of self-doubt too when I saw that list – like I was supposed to be farther along in my career than I am presently (for a lot reasons, mainly personal, I had to dial back on the professional development in 2012). I figured, get my pity party out (PRIVATELY), and then go channel that restless energy into new projects that just may lead to M&S 2014 for Kate.

      I appreciate your candor in blog posts like this. Please do keep it up.

  5. Thank you for this post–sums up just how I feel about M&S season. Hoping that some day I get the time to do my “big idea” projects & knowing that the hard work I do every day helps my patrons.

  6. Rebecca Kane

    You pretty much described my every day at work in this post. I love to see anyone in our profession getting recognition for how hard and how much work we do, in any capacity. We’ve all been so undervalued for so long, that it probably helps all of us for some fanfare and back patting to go on, especially on a national scale. I just feel like when we raise one of us up, (or several of us), it raises all of us together. I’m happy for of all the M&S folks, because they highlight how important we ALL are. Truly working for the greater good, no matter what.

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