Your Mileage May Vary

A clunker of a job to one person is a thrill ride to another

July 31, 2012


It’s a question every used car buyer has to answer: “Is it the years or the miles?” Am I better off buying that vintage Pontiac LeMans with the really cool styling or that stodgy-looking two-year-old Honda?

Looks can be deceiving. The vintage Pontiac was driven by a little old lady from Pasadena who used it once a week to pick up her friend Bertha on the way to Sunday services. The stodgy-looking two-year-old Honda, on the other hand, was owned by a guy who commuted 60 miles to work (each way) for the two years he had the car.

I bring this up because a new phrase is being thrown around these days in our profession: “library fatigue.” It’s a new term for an old set of symptoms that we used to call burnout. It is characterized by the following feelings:

  • Everyone who works here is a moron but me.
  • Library patrons are getting increasingly more stupid.
  • I’m sick of being told there is no money for a salary increase.
  • I’m sick of reading articles by the young technogeek librarians who say the library as we know it is obsolete. So why did they get their MLSes?
  • I’m sick of young whippersnapper librarians just out of library school calling me a dinosaur or a Luddite.
  • I’m sick of my director talking about empowerment when we supposedly have no money.
  • I’m sick of my director going out of town to every program or conference; he always returns with a shopping bag full of new ideas and then “empowers” us to implement them even though we have no money because he spent it all out of town.
  • I’m sick of the library paying big bucks to a high-powered consultant to tell us which branches to close because we have no money.
  • I’m sick of stereotypical librarians complaining about the librarian stereotype.
  • I’m sick of unemployed library school grads griping that they were hoodwinked by their library schools or ALA. Can’t wannabe librarians can’t do their own research?
  • I’m sick of everything going wrong in the library profession. Why isn’t ALA doing anything about it?

Let’s say the person suffering these pangs of library fatigue is 55 and has been a librarian for 35 years.

Now let’s say a 55-year-old person who got into the library profession five years ago as a “second chance” career still has the fires of library passion within her soul. She feels these things:

  • I love adapting to new technology and introducing it to people who do not own a computer.
  • I love children and I love dealing with their parents to develop lifelong library users.
  • I love using all my creativity to create wonderful services with limited resources.
  • I love rotating around to all the service areas in my library. It’s fun to experience the joys of working with a wide diversity of patrons.
  • I love taking on the challenge of finding win-win solutions for problems at the circulation desk.
  • I love dealing with homeless people and turning their lives around.
  • I love showing Tea Party people how productive their library tax dollars are.

The first 55-year-old librarian needs to retire—now! The second one needs to keep working.

It’s not the years that matter; it’s the mileage.

WILL MANLEY has furnished provocative commentary on librarianship for over 30 years and in nine books on the lighter side of library science. He blogs at Will Unwound.


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