There seems to be some small protest over my last post, where I said libraries have civic functions and can’t be run like businesses and aren’t the high tech, high stress environments of big corporations, or something like that. Whatever I said. Anyway, there was a voice of protest from "Stressed out public librarian": "public libraries are governed by taxpayers in cities with huge budget deficits. Their staff is being cut because libraries are lower on the totem pole than police and fire services. In the meantime those larger numbers of unemployed people coming to libraries are being served by smaller and smaller staffs. If you think that makes for a low-stress environment I invite you to work a day at my reference desk." I’ll decline the offer to work at your reference desk, but not because of the stress. Perhaps it’s all relative, but let’s be honest. How stressful is library work?
So staff is being cut because libraries are considered less important than police or fire services. That makes sense to me. If one had to choose between public safety and public Internet access, the choice is easy enough. Library work is still less stressful than, say, running into a burning building. I submit it’s also less stressful in many ways than the sort of highly paid, highly demanding "work" that Time was talking about. I’m sure there are librarians like this, but I’ve yet to run across any librarians who have to pull all-nighters a couple of times a week to meet project deadlines, or are required to be in three cities in six days delivering presentations and sales calls. Any work can be stressful, but library work in general is considerably easier than a lot of other professional employment. If library work had the same sorts of demands and challenges, we’d be paid more. If you’re terribly stressed, then you’re probably just doing it wrong.
Another commenter agreed with "Stressed out public librarian": "Staff size is getting cut to the bone, floor plans are being opened up i.e. no more reference desk, ‘easy’ self checkout replacingcirc desks, etc. The real kicker is that management has moved all tech services out into public areas so that we will be available to the public on an adhoc basis. Guess what the director’s top two complaints are: 1)You are not paying enough attention to the public and your response time is slow because you have your nose stuck in a book and 2)Your time in getting materials processed is dropping off. Both of these have to turn around. It would be nice to quit, but economically, that ain’t going to happen for a long, long time. You are right AL, there is no stress here, we just jet off to martini filled conferences comped by our employers three or four times a year."
I think this was supposed to show how removed the AL is from the daily drudgery of some librarians’ existence, but the whiff of resentment is strong. I’ve said before, please don’t hate me because I’m successful. If you wanted to work hard for a job where you get to travel around and have people buy you martinis, you could do it, too. But you’d rather whine. Yes, yes, it sounds like the director is an idiot. But again, is this the same sort of stress? So you go to work, put up with idiotic decisions, and go home. Sounds dull and annoying, certainly, but compared to a lot of work, including the sort of "work" Time considers worth discussing, this is pretty easy stuff.
As with the weather, librarians complain about work rather than doing anything about it. There could be many reasons for this inaction, but one of them is probably a lack of entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurs have to go hustle up work. It’s stressful because there is no dependable paycheck. If they want to be paid, they have to go make work happen, which often means working very long hours on short term projects where people demand results or you don’t get paid. If you’re so stressed, try going out and changing your life and making a living in the considerably more cutthroat private sector. Oh, you don’t want to do that? I don’t blame you. Try dealing with billable hours or having your paycheck depend on meeting sales quotas or having to go out and actually find projects on a weekly basis. Some of my acquaintances would look at the complaint and laugh. "Oh, you have to catalog books and answer reference questions, and your boss is dumb? You poor baby!"
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go out into that cutthroat world, either, though it’s not because I don’t think I could handle it. I could handle it, and I have complete confidence I’d be successful. I prefer to work in libraries because I think libraries have a higher and better purpose than moving a widget nobody really needs or wants.
The work isn’t stressful; you’re just stressed. And whatever stress you have, apparently it’s less stressful to show up at the library and complain about idiots every day than to get up the gumption to change your work or your life. Don’t get stressed, get angry, and fight to make a better library or move on somewhere else. If everyone fought to make a better workplace, battled the corporate drone manques and the non-librarians trying to run the show, and made their libraries the models of civic institutions they should be, we’d all be better off.