Monday, January 14, 2013

Thank You For Being a Friend*

Two years ago (exactly two years ago, in fact), a handful of blogging librarians I've always respected and admired and myself finally met all together in the same place. We'd been talking on and off for a while. It was at ALA Midwinter in San Diego, though, we finally could put faces to words. Aside from what we got out of that experience, what we really walked away with was a motto. All six of us women decided that, no matter what, we'd have one another's backs through this career. That we'd help out where we could and offer encouragement where necessary. We even created our own listserv for this, giving ourselves a nickname.

In those two years, there have been job changes. Shifts in responsibility. There's been experimentation. Publication. Leadership within professional organizations. Committee appointments. Devastating disappointments in any number of aspects of our lives -- personal and professional. Through it all though, that support has been there.

There are times that we've disagreed and vehemently. There are times we've collaborated across the miles to make awesome programs happen at our individual libraries. It's a safe space for what we need it to be. It's a place that, no matter what's going on anywhere else, we know we can share our hearts and our thoughts without judgment (because disagreement and playing devil's advocate on issues is not, in fact, judgment).


This weekend, one of the ladies sent an email just stating she couldn't do it anymore. That she was overwhelmed, stressed, sick over what she had to accomplish in a small amount of time but didn't think she could.

We rallied. We joined her in what she needed to do. We sent support. We told her how much what she's doing matters (it does, even if SHE isn't getting the recognition for it). Because we all know that she absolutely, positively can do it.

I was thinking about this in light of an incredible post from one of my all-time library heroes, Hi Miss Julie. If you haven't read it, go do so. Julie, like so many of us, works in the trenches. She's on the ground level providing incredible services for her patrons. As such, she hardly ever gets recognition for doing her job because, well, she's doing her job. But -- and this is the huge take away here -- everyone doing jobs like hers still deserves respect and admiration for what they're doing. Sure, it's not sexy to be a reader's advisor. It's not sexy to get sweaty doing a story time. It's not sexy to think that the ebook discussion and the entire fixation on making technology the means and ends of library service is boring or uninteresting or not even IMPORTANT. Wrapped in this is the gender discussion and her means of bringing that up is so important. I particularly commend Julie's ability to point out that it is so often men in our field who get rock star status. That few men are the ones on the floor "doing the dirty work."

I can't help but remember what it felt like when I brought up the issue of ARCs at ALA and being so belittled by a "big name" male librarian in our field for my insistence this was an important issue. I am a woman and wow, what an unimportant issue. Was I ever put in my place on that.

Julie's post highlights some of the women who inspire her on a daily basis for what they're doing. On a daily basis. The programs they're running. The thoughts they're having about ground-level librarianship. About sharing books with readers. It made me take a step back and think about this amazing community of support that exists in her world, and it made me think about the amazing community of support I have for myself, too. It made me think about how important and invaluable that system of support is. Because if it were not for the incredible female support systems I have in my life, I would not have been able to get to where I am right now. I mean that personally AND professionally.

It made me think about how much I hate when a woman I support and admire and want to succeed doesn't get what she deserves. Or worse, it made me think about how much I hate when she's disrespected or looked down upon for what she thinks or how she speaks. We talk about how great and supportive the book community is -- that includes librarians, it includes book bloggers, it includes teachers and so many more -- and it is. There are amazing individuals, amazing women, doing their things in this community. But how often are we standing up and cheering them on actively?

I think a lot of our support systems are private things. They're that way for many reasons -- I'd never publicly lay out who it is I turn to when I need x, y, or z. Yet it tears me apart to see those women who I support and cheer on and want to do so well fail to do so over and over again. Because what it is they're doing isn't "sexy" enough (and Julie makes an incredible point on this word, too, asking why it is THAT word means that something is innovative and I can't help wonder the gendered implications therein). Or because, you know, they're women and in a field where women "dominate," it should be men getting recognition.

I just want you to spend a couple minutes thinking about the books on the New York Times YA Bestsellers list, too. Who and what is there. Who and what is getting time and attention and in the end, money and support.

I've been thinking about this in relation to blogging culture, too. A lot of us do it because we love doing it. We love the record keeping for ourselves and we benefit by finding a community and then sharing things that resonate with us. But what happens when that is a one-way street? When, for example, a blog only exists for itself and yet benefits from the traffic other blogs deliver to it and the original blog never offers their traffic/readership back? In other words, they get all the recognition and don't take the time to offer back goods to those giving them the help.

I ask because I know how important it is for ME to link back to things I read. It's not about being egotistical here. It's about wanting a little recognition for doing something everyday that so few people are willing to commit to doing in the same way. So, it hurts when, say, an organization whose blog benefits from your audience doesn't refer traffic back to other blogs from which it may be inspired.

This week, another friend noted that she'd done a favor for someone and never got a thank you for doing it. That favor was something she didn't need to do, but the person who got it inevitably benefits from it and will benefit from it significantly. Though it seems like a tiny thing -- a thank you -- it is actually quite a large thing, especially knowing the implications of it.

It's a moment of being unrecognized for work.


Where I'm going with this post is here: why aren't we better supporting and recognizing the work we're doing on a daily basis? Why is it we don't stop and simply thank and offer a hand or a heart to those who are hitting the ground every single day doing their work in the best way they possibly can?

I'm not of the belief we need to reward every action and interaction -- I don't believe in a token culture. But what I do believe in is stepping back and recognizing those individuals who do things for you and for whom you offer what you can in return. More than that, though, we should take the time and effort to thank people for their time, for their efforts, for what it is they bring to the table each and every day, even if it's not the flashiest, not the "sexiest," and not the latest trend.

Most of the battle is getting out of bed and doing. Most of the battle is putting your foot through the door and your effort into your work.

Most of the battle is forgotten or ignored because it's easier to instead thrust recognition on the outliers.

So to end this post, all I have to say is this: thank you. You know who you are. And you can do it. I appreciate what you put into the world, and I appreciate what it is you give ME on a daily basis. And the reason I can't name you is because it is so many of you I can't begin. What you all give me matters. I read a million blogs. I star a million things. I am indebted to the intelligence of other librarians, of other bloggers, of other people in the book world. Without their savvy, their individual insights and perspectives, their support, their willingness to give and give and give without any expectation of return, I sure wouldn't be as interested in giving of myself or thinking about things outside of an echo chamber or, or, or . . .

Now you turn and do the same thing. Let someone know how special they are. How what they do matters. How you recognize them as individuals.


* You get the reference, right?

11 comments:

  1. Another deep and thoughtful post that looks with your sharp eye towards how we need to build each other up; support *and* recognize the realities of the role of gender in librarianship. Thanks for this.

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  2. What a great post! Seems like the beginning of the year is a great time to allow oneself to be introspective.

    You are right - I have a lot of mentors and peers that definitely keep me going when everything seems to be extra challenging.

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  3. I've been very impressed with Julie's post (thanks for publicizing it) and yours as well. It is difficult to not receive recognition when we do things and do them well. I need to do a better job of giving kudos, so thanks for the reminder.

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  4. "I can't help but remember what it felt like when I brought up the issue of ARCs at ALA and being so belittled by a "big name" male librarian in our field for my insistence this was an important issue. I am a woman and wow, what an unimportant issue. Was I ever put in my place on that."

    This was totally on my mind when I was writing my post. More than recognition, I think I'd like to be able to exist as a librarian without being belittled for loving books (paper books! The horror!) and working with kids. This is the same shit women have been dealing with forever, and it's the same reason early childhood educators make $20k a year and wind bag white male college profs make 80k a year: we don't value women's work, especially when that work involves children (and I include teens in with children here, although I don't normally).

    But you know what? Without children's departments, libraries would already be gone. So suck on that library ice cream flavor for a while.

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    Replies
    1. It is hilarious that someone who is best known for proposing a library flavored ice cream is an arbiter of what's important in our field.

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    2. I think about this ALL THE TIME. This particular example just highlights something that happens all the time but we don't see so obviously sometimes. And Anne, also sweatervest Sunday, let's not forget.

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  5. I've only recently discovered this blog and have read some of your posts about librarianship and of course books. I find it very interesting to get an insight to the daily life of an american librarian. It seems the challenges in the library field in the US and in Norway are pretty much the same. I regognize the male librarians being the "rock stars", feeling unappreciated and always having "the threat" of the new technology hanging over our shoulders. I think it's a great thing to back each other up like you do.
    I have to say I'm a bit curious to what a library flavored ice cream tastes like..

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  6. Great post Kelly! I am so grateful for all my library friends who keep me sane. It's hard not to feel like you're an island in this job and it's great to have people around you who support you!

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  7. :squishes: I did read this earlier, but completely forgot to reply. You know I love you something fierce! Thank YOU for always supporting me.

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  8. I know Julie personally, and I admire her dedication and love for her job, for books, and for the people she is serving.

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