Lost in Librarianship: Where I Wonder Where and If I Still Belong

I posed a thought today to Twitter that I was basically thinking about blogging (this post!) about not feeling like I belong anywhere in librarianship anymore and wondered if I should do that because, well, it’s depressing. I got a lot of feedback from others encouraging me to write it, so here it is.

If this seems a little rambly, I apologize. I mean, it’s still *my* blog, but, I’m putting this out there in a sort of mental dump after a long day.

A little background: I came up in librarianship in instruction. I loved to teach and that moment when students get it. Like, when it clicks. When what I was teaching mattered. I built great relationships with students (some I still know!) I made lots of friends in the profession. Yes, I’m an extrovert, but I also just love librarianship and love meeting and working with lots of other librarians. I moved into a coordinator position, then middle management. In middle management, I learned to advocate for the people who worked for me while also still being a part of the management team. That there is a tricky balance. Middle management is a lot of fun. But then a whole lot changed in my life and I looked into some director positions and ended up in the one I have. So, as some of my friends say, I crossed over to the dark side.

I’m an administrator.

But does this mean I’m not a librarian?

When you meet new people, they will inevitably say to you, “So, what do you do?” Ever since I’ve been a library director, I stumble on that a bit. I mean, sometimes I still say librarian (because people *know* or think they know what that is), but it feels slightly disingenuous. If I say “Library Director,” they usually just say, “ah” or “oh.” End of discussion. What do you mean? Being a library director is AMAZING! (As an aside, my son says I’m like the principal at the library and that makes my job relatable to him. So, there you have it.) I love it! But, I have felt a bit of this identity crisis for a few years now. Like, what *am* I now? I mean, I still feel like I’m a part of librarianship, but what part?

I still talk to lots of my old instruction pals. I still stay fairly involved in information literacy stuff. I see lots of old friends at conferences. So, it feels somewhat the same. But then? It’s not. Like, I see things now from a different perspective. A lot of the time, friends or old colleagues will now say, “but you’re the director, what do you think?” Well, I don’t always see things like I used to see them. I see the community we are trying to serve and what we are trying to build. Some of my closest conference buddies from Twitter are in totally different fields of librarianship. That is usually pretty great because we don’t spend every minute of every day hashing out work/professional stuff. I love that. We also give each other entirely different perspectives. There is, essentially, no preaching to the choir in that group. We challenge each other, support each other, and talk about a million things other than librarianship.

This takes me to conferences and the like. I’ve been to about a billion ALA annuals and midwinters, ACRLs, and plenty of other things. My favorite annual meeting right now is my meeting of other library directors in our consortium. It’s honest. It’s great. It’s confidential. It’s a whole room full of amazing mentors. I still love ACRL with all of my heart. It was always my favorite conference (plus the people who work for ACRL are the bees knees.) But, increasingly at every ALA conference, I feel like I am totally out of place. Where are my people? Where do I belong?

I go to some management related things and some are OK, but I don’t know if they’re worth belonging to/traveling to ALA for. Those events, talks, whatever, have not yet as an administrator given me a sense of community. I had community as an instruction librarian. Where is it now?  I feel like half the time I hear another director or dean say something, I want to respond with, but WHY? or WHY NOT? I want to push the boundaries and ask questions, but feel too timid (SHUT UP IMPOSTER’S SYNDROME). I feel like I don’t have enough experience to sit at the big kids’ table of my “peers” of administrators, but I’m like an administrative pariah in my old instruction circles (I kid. I think they’d still have me.)

True story: I have been mulling this whole feelings dump/blog post over since I sat with a group of several librarians at a bar at midwinter and there was a whole lot of library director bashing. I thought, I should be somewhere else. It was a little uncomfortable. Then I thought about how many times *I* probably did that at a conference. Why do we underestimate and disparage our leaders so much?

I digress.

Now, I have found a few like-minded peers. Thank goodness. I mean, I’d be nuts already without them. But, is there more to library administration than a handful of friends that I trust? Again, where is the community?

Do we need to make one?

So, maybe what I’m trying to do is put myself out there and say, out loud, that I feel a little lost. I am looking for my peers…my community. New(ish) library directors or other administrators who don’t always feel like they belong, don’t know which circles they should be floating in, don’t always feel like they can identify anymore as librarians. But, they love what they do. They love libraries. They want to move them forward/change them in positive ways, make connections. Where are the people who want to say the difficult stuff out loud? Move our libraries into positive directions and share the good and bad with each other in an honest, and not condescending, not competitive, way. Build each other up?

Am I the only one in administration who feels like this? Also, am I still a librarian?

How about we have a meet up at #alaac16 to discuss? 🙂

8 thoughts on “Lost in Librarianship: Where I Wonder Where and If I Still Belong

  1. You’re not alone! As I moved up from library staff to library to manager, I felt disconnected from the public – and helping people was the whole reason I got into the profession. One thing that helps is scheduling 10% of my time on a public service desk.

    Your feeling resonates with a lot of library administrators. I’m going to point to your post from our blog for library leaders (Library Lost & Found). And please, come on over and talk to fellow administrators there! We’d love to have a guest post from you.

  2. I was Youth Services Librarian for about ten years. It was fancy. Everyone wants you to be loud and be the center of attention and do amazing and headline grabbing worthy things.

    Now I am a library director. I love this job! I get to think about other things and have more of an impact. But I feel lonely. When I wrestle with a grant or with a budget issue I don’t feel like I have anyone to talk to. When I solve what seems like a minor problem to some but is actually a major problem to me I can’t tweet about it and get anyone to respond and say “you know I think about that too!”. Gone are those youth services days where everything was fancy. Now it is a life of loneliness.

  3. Thanks for this post – this is something I have been struggling with for several years (although I am sort of a middle-manager – a library director but at a branch campus). Because we are so small, I still do a lot of work on the front lines, and enjoy being able to experience both sides. However, where I really struggle is in terms of professional organizations and affiliation. When I had a very specific job (archivist, digital librarian) there were plenty of divisions, sections, etc.) I’m still interested in those things but my day-to-day work has nothing to do with those topics, really. But I also don’t want to spend all my time talking about management either.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *