Here’s a complex and controversial topic: Just how much should you care about your library job? If you think that’s not so complex or controversial, consider this: many, if not most, of the librarians I have known during my (pretty long) career have been passionate about their work. Not just when they were newbies, either (although to be sure, this is one of the many good reasons for bringing new blood into an organization: the high energy and excitement the newly graduated bring to any library enterprise), but throughout their careers. So many of us are lifelong library believers: believers in research, the arrangement of and access to information, literacy, services to the differently abled, the solving of bibliographic mysteries…the list goes on and on, but the trait is common to many librarians. We love our work, we love what we do, and we believe in its innate worth.
But libraries themselves are complex and, at times, controversial operations. Seldom is any issue in a library so straightforwardly obvious to all that there is universal agreement, whether it is about policies, budgets, services, you name it—political realities govern most of what goes on. Library administrators generally answer to a higher authority—trustees, deans, and other governing bodies—who essentially direct what can and cannot be done. And sometimes that conflicts with what staff want.
So what do you do when decisions are made with which you don’t agree, or when services and policies are put in place that you don’t like, or when they’re not put in place when you fervently believe in them? You have choices, certainly. I remember the options described in my library school administration course: you can disagree in private, but you need to agree in public. If you find that you cannot agree in public, then you need to move on. And those choices make good professional sense—but I’m wondering how many of us are able to do that.
I’ve been in a host of situations like this during my career, and I’ve made different decisions at different times. Sometimes I reconciled myself to “disagreeing privately,” sometimes I worked within the organization to change that with which I didn’t agree, and sometimes I moved on. But what I’ve endeavored to do in every instance is not to become dispirited, not to become discouraged, and not to become dysfunctionally embittered. This can be very tough to achieve when you care so much about your work—and I do care and have always cared. I think I’m speaking for most librarians in this: we care!
It might, therefore, seem odd that I suggest we should care…just a little bit less. I’m not saying we should no longer be passionate about our work, but I am saying that when you care so passionately about something that can’t be done or can’t be changed, maybe you need to let go a little. Most everyone wants things to go the way they think they should go. The reality is that that is often not possible, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes you fight the good fight (in private), and for whatever reason, what you want to do can’t be done, or what you don’t want has to be done. In my humble opinion, the worst thing you can do, both for yourself and for your library, is to be irreconcilable about the issue and become a disgruntled malcontent. If you have to, please move on! Somehow. If you cannot move on physically/professionally (if you have to stay in the situation for family or financial reasons, for instance), then move on intellectually and emotionally. There is much wisdom in the saying, “Let go or be dragged.”
Why am I bringing this up? Oddly enough, it’s because I’m particularly happy in my work situation right now. I am working with, and being managed by, real, honest-to-God human beings who are decent, thoughtful, committed people, and I’m happier in my work than ever before. I’ve lived through some dark times, moved beyond them, and let them go. And having done so, I’d like to help anyone else who is going through the pain of being unhappy at work in any way I can. One way is to say that it really is okay—in fact, it’s necessary—to let go of some of your caring about the difficult situations and conflicting issues. Holding on is holding you back. It is enormously liberating to care just a little less, to focus your energy someplace else, and to find the joy in your life, wherever it may be.
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