Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The sky is falling
Alright, after last week's post about keeping things brief, I'm going to eat my words and go off on a bit of a rant.
Sometimes I wonder if librarians are their own worst enemy. There, I said it.
The above image - from PostSecret, a collaborative art project where total strangers mail in post cards with their secrets on them - illustrates beautifully where I am coming from.
We get it - the economy sucks and the sucky economy is screwing over libraries left and right. We've talked about this for ages now. Can we please move on?
It's really frustrating as a library student to be hearing the same thing over and over again: libraries aren't hiring, librarians aren't retiring, budgets are getting cut, folks are getting laid off, branches are closing, rah rah rah rah rah....
It seems like most librarians, library workers and fellow students I come across - both in person and (mostly) online - are broken records, stuck in the "woe is us" mentality.
I - the naive library student - say enough is enough! We've gone through the cathartic bellyaching phase and now is the roll-up-our-sleeves and work harder phase. It doesn't sound like fun, but I think it's what we've got to do.
Personally, I am a little nervous about what my job prospects will be like when I graduate in a year, but I've been hustling, and I'm willing to hustle a little more when school is over. I'll do what it takes to get a personally satisfying job. I'm well aware that I am going to leave Portland - an amazing city that has been my home for four years now. There is a strong reality that I'll have to live in a much less glamorous part of the county. Maybe even Kansas.
Except for who we vote for and what we choose to do with our money, we have very little control over the state of the economy. So let's try and focus on what we do have control over: ourselves. What can we do to stop library closings? Advocate, advocate, advocate. One of the things that most attracted me to the idea of becoming a librarian/information professional was the activism that seemed to go hand in hand with the position. Librarians fight for the right of the patron, for the privacy of the patron, for the access of the patron. Well - now is the time to fight for ourselves!
Here is a great link to librarian.net, with a list of single-link library advocacy sites.
And here is link to contact your elected representatives to ensure that libraries get in on the Jobs for Main Street Act.
What else can we do? Accept change. I feel like a lot of the hand wringing that librarians are doing is not only over the state of the economy, but also the fact that libraries are quickly changing. Well - if we want to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our communities, we are going to have to change. The mission of a library - from my prospective - is to connect an individual with information. If the format of the information is changing, than the format of the library will change too.
I don't intend to sound insensitive to the very real fears people are experiencing out there - although I am sure that I am coming off that way. For those who have been laid off or lost jobs - I'm sorry. Bad things happen to really really good people. I wish you the best and hope you are quickly on your feet.
I know I am in a very lucky position - I'm a young student without a family, mortgage, car, pets. I'm highly mobile and I have grown up using the technology that libraries now employ. But these are my skills and attributes that I have to take advantage of. This is something that we all should do, especially in this day and age of volatility, look at what we bring to the table and how to use those skills to our advantage.
I write all of this after attending a quarterly staff meeting at the library where I work - and while it was pretty mundane, it was also pretty exciting as well. The library where I work - before I started working here nine months ago - has gone through a lot of the same troubles that most libraries have gonethrough. Between lay offs, retirements and hiring freezes the staff here is half to a third of what it was before this great recession.
Yet here we are today still working - albeit a bit harder. Not only are we surviving, but we are thriving. The amazing library staff is working on building the resources for a mobile library, we are opening up a 24 hour study space for the students, we are outreaching to the different academic departments and schools within the university and applying for competitive grants to secure our funding into the future. And with the wage/hire freeze lifted - there is hope for more job opportunities.
What I guess it all boils down to - for me (this is my blog so I'm allowed a bit of selfishness) - is that I am the future and this is my reality. In a way, I am glad to have entered library school in 2009 - it means that I am a blank slate. I don't know what it was like when budgets were flush and things were easier. I am cutting my teeth when the industry is facing some of it's worst challenges than ever before. And I'm going to be a better librarian for it.
Let me know what you think. Am I too harsh? Too idealistic? Too Unrealistic? I would love to read your thoughts...