It’s nearing the end of the year, and I find myself reflecting on life, work, meaning, and income tax deductions. As I gather items to take to Goodwill, I’m thinking about what gives life meaning (it ain’t money, that’s for sure), and I realize that in addition to family, friends, and the rest of personal life, my work continues to give me pleasure, in addition to paying the mortgage.
I’m at a good place in work: I work for a couple of people I like and respect, they treat me and my colleagues as professionals, and I get to work with remarkable co-workers, students, and faculty in a stunningly beautiful setting. In addition, we’ve been interviewing a number of extraordinary new librarians for jobs in our department, and my hope for the future of librarianship has been renewed in meeting and talking with these incredibly talented, enjoyable people (one of them made me laugh so hard in the interview that I’m sure it added years to my life!). It is a joy to work in Widener Library and be able to help researchers find and use an astonishing array of materials in all sorts of formats. This past week especially has brought a lot of job satisfaction, since students were finishing up papers and needed a lot of research help. Talk about instant gratification: the desk at which I work is just outside the Widener stack entrance, and I worked with a number of students there helping them discover materials in the catalog and then locate where they’d be in the stacks. The students walk past this desk on their way out of the library, and having folks I’ve worked with stop by on their way out to say “thanks!” and “that was a lot easier than I thought it would be” makes my day, as I’m sure it makes the day of just about everyone who works in library public services.
This time of year also brings back memories from the past when I wasn’t in such a good place professionally. I’ve alluded before to a period some time ago when I was feeling jaded about library work, and, having read John Coleman’s Blue-Collar Journal, I decided to take some blue-collar jobs during vacations, to see just what it would be like. One job I took was in a toy factory, where I was assigned to pack toys for parcel post shipping. I got no training; I was just pointed at a counter with boxes, bubble wrap, and tape and told to pack toys and put the packed boxes on an assembly line that took them to the mailing dock. So I packed for about an hour, using quite a bit of bubble wrap to ensure that items were snugly packed, until suddenly the assembly line came to a stop. This was always a bad thing, I had been told, since it slowed production down, and the line only stopped when someone had done something dreadful. The roomful of we packers turned to the end of the line, where the supervisor was holding one package aloft, asking in doom-laden tones, “Who packed this box?!!!???” Yes, of course, I had packed it, and despite severely shaking knees, I owned up to it. The supervisor (a very tough lady) said to me, in front of about 70 other workers, “If you ever pack a box like this again I’ll rip your [female glands] off!”
The problem, of course, was that I’d used all that expensive bubble wrap. When I explained that I’d had no instruction in packing, the tough lady told someone to show me how to cut down a box to fit the size of the items being packed, the assembly line started up again, and I continued my short, vacation-long packing career chastened, but with a new skill (I can now cut down a box to tailor fit just about anything!). I’d learned more than just how to cut down a box. I’d learned how good I had it working in libraries, where I did get training, and where processes were explained and demonstrated before I had to undertake them. And I can honestly say that never in my long library career has any supervisor threatened to rip off any of my body parts. Of course, I’ve tried very hard not to give anyone cause for doing so, but I don’t think I’ve even come close to such a threat in library land, and I’m proud of that.
Whenever I’m feeling any frustration with work, I remember this incident (vividly) and count my blessings for being able to be a librarian. I strongly suspect that, once we have hired the new folks in my department, I’m going to be able to count more blessings at work. I’m looking forward to helping them get underway as research librarians at Harvard, and frankly, I’m really looking forward to learning from them, since we interviewed such a talented bunch.
So I hope that during whatever holidays you celebrate in the coming months, you get to take a bit of time to find joy in your work. And if you find yourself packing a box in a toy factory, take my advice: go easy on the bubble wrap.
Safe and happy holidays to everyone!
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