Setting the Sail

A few weeks ago, working the circulation desk was becoming very difficult for me. Which is a bad thing, as a public services librarian. I’m certain that I was suffering a certain amount of public services burnout. What I wasn’t certain about at the time is how severe it was. Was I just fatigued and in a mood, or had there been a shift within me that makes this realm of librarianship no longer viable? Since it’s passed, I’m inclined to think the former more than the latter, but it was a troubling trend over that period. I was finding that I had to spend more of my time at the circulation desk doing emotional inventories and checking my behavior on the fly. This is not a sustainable way to spend my eight-to-twelve hours a week taking my turn as the face of the library.

I realized several years ago that I actually like people, generally, as a species. I know we’re in a dumpster fire period of American culture and history, right now, but in my day-to-day interactions with other humans I have a usually good feeling. I still have hope. Ninety-nine percent of people I interact with across the desk range from indifferent to pleasant in their behavior. Certainly, I wish 98% were less entitled, more informed, and better prepared, but there’s only so much I can expect.

I continue to be a public services librarian for a few reasons:

  1. I like that the day gets broken up with different activities.
  2. I like working closely with my student assistants.
  3. I like providing basic services because it is a noble and frequently disregarded part of our profession.
  4. I like my problems to be practical more than existential or theoretical.
  5. I like that, very occasionally, I can actually expose someone to a part of their college experiences that they otherwise may not have connected with.

I suppose that these reasons aren’t unique to public services, but they are my reasons for staying. So, when I have these periods of discontent or frustration with the daily realities and repetitiveness of the job it’s troubling.

I’m better, lately. We’re at the end of finals week for the Fall semester; our busiest week all year. With a full staff and a lot of student help we’ve gone through it swimmingly. There were no major meltdowns or other behavioral issues on either side of the desk.

I seem to remember my first academic year here to have been much more difficult that the first half of my second year has been. And it was. I came from a school at least 1/3 the size of where I currently am. There are international airport levels of foot traffic coming through this library: upwards of 3 million a year according to my safety officer. Take that patron volume, add my newness, a disorganized culture in User Services, and a personnel situation — let’s say, “in flux” — a personnel situation in flux. Then, add last winter’s ILS “upgrade” and you can imagine just how difficult it was.

Now, I’ve got a full staff that’s almost all employed here for less than a year, a year into the new ILS — which is still far from perfect — and better organization and with the same patron load and it all seems so much easier now.

Last spring by the run-up to finals I was in an emotional nadir and mentally exhausted. This winter, at the end of another semester. I feel good. Almost bored. I have a strong team that does not require me to spend as much time on the desk as before, although I still do my fair amount of desk hours. I’m not constantly trying to put my finger in the dyke. Things are going so well that I can spend time thinking about the future of my department — and my career — and if not make plans, at least set my sail in a particular direction.

I’m very hopeful for my near future. While nothing is ever perfect, I am secure in my position and confident in my team. Starting tomorrow afternoon I’m going to be taking four-and-a-half day mini vacation for my birthday weekend — the “big 4-0” — and when I come back to work next Tuesday I plan to recenter myself, buckle down on one outstanding project and build one or two others I have set for myself and really start making my talents known around here. 

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