Working Knowledge

A Monthly Column about Life on the Job

pergander21 By Mary Pergander
American Libraries Columnist

Mary Pergander is director of the Deerfield (Ill.) Public Library. Send comments or questions to

Column for May, 2008

Living the Dream

Take a moment to appreciate what you’ve got

Have you had the experience of telling a new acquaintance that you work in a library, and having them proclaim how lucky you are?
    I think it is taking a while for librarians to wake up and recognize that we are working in what others recognize as a dream career. Though certain misconceptions abound (“Wow, a job with no stress!”), we are nevertheless fortunate.
    In Easier Than You Think . . . Because Life Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard, author Richard Carlson titles a chapter “The Grass is Green Enough.” During my morning meditation time, I pondered his words, and recognized that we can apply that philosophy to librarianship and our own work.
    As librarians, we have familiar rants: low pay, poor budgets, crumbling buildings, dearth of technology, and little opportunity for advancement—just to begin the list. Stimulated by Carlson’s observations, however, I stopped to appreciate all that working in a library offers. Even given the broad variations of individual settings:

  • We get to work indoors regardless of weather, often in pleasant surroundings.
  • The world’s knowledge surrounds us, and the entire world of information is at our fingertips.
  • We work with interesting, intellectually stimulating people who generally share interests with us. We develop relationships with colleagues across the state and the nation, even around the world.
  • We get to sleep at night without interruption from the workplace (unless you are one of the few oncall librarians).
  • Our work brings us in contact with the edge of change in our society, enabling us to be early responders and adapt to what is coming—if we keep our minds open and flexible.
  • Many of us have opportunities to read, to watch, or listen to bestsellers or newly minted, well-respected works, at no cost to ourselves except the hours devoted to devouring them. Others have the honor of reviewing priceless historical items on a daily basis.
  • Whether serving patrons directly or in support services out of the public eye, the work we perform matters, and we make a difference in the lives of those served by our efforts.

    We may habitually focus on the unpleasant, difficult, or humiliating aspects of our professional lives. Those do exist. But I wonder how much of the good we simply take for granted in the library, or in any workplace. How much better might we serve ourselves by letting up on the relentless disappointments and focusing, if just once per day, on all that we love about our jobs, our profession, and the libraries in which we have the privilege to work? Contact me at, and let me know how you are living the dream.


Spring is the season of starting again. Renew your appreciation for the work you do and the career you have chosen. Find the aspects for which you are most thankful and recommit yourself. What do you like best about your job? What aspects do your nonlibrarian friends envy? Can you see why?

    (c) Copyright 2008 American Library Association