Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions (and other thoughts on walking away)

I recently came across a job opening in an organization far outside of librarianship. It involved a lot of the things I was passionate about as a kid and am even more passionate about as an adult. This position was for a sailing non-profit organization that takes children out on the San Francisco bay to educate them about sailing, marine sciences, and more. For those of you who don’t know I love sailing, I love teaching, I love working with kids, and I am kind of a fanatic about oceanic conservation. Anyway, talking about my love for this job advertisement is not the point of this post. The point of this post is the following video…

What does this have to do with libraries you might ask? Well, I was thinking about, and have been thinking about budget cuts, checked-out librarians that refuse to retire, passionate and newer librarians who are dying to get the chance to do amazing work in libraries but can’t find job openings, ALA’s ludicrous and ineffectual institutionalization, ALA’s and state organization’s unwillingness to act as an advocate for librarianship, librarian’s unwillingness to fight for librarianship, library closures, library reductions in staff and money, libraries lack of ability (or refusal) to adapt to a changing information world, vendors that overcharge and under-deliver products and services that library patrons can’t or refuse to use, the hostile political environment of the people who claim that freedom isn’t free but someone else should pay for it, and all of the other systems in place that are working to keep libraries from getting ahead. So, my thought was… At what point do we become cool guys?

At what point to do we say forget all this, blow it all up, and walk away? Is it really worth it? There are many librarians who are having the same thoughts, Justin Hoenke also started questioning what is important, Tiffany Mair (who you should hire because she’s way better than me at everything) just had to apply for a job at Starbucks, and there many other amazing (typically younger and newer) librarians who have the passion and drive to fight for our profession but are questioning whether or not it’s all worth it. There are many days that I don’t think it is. There are many days that I want to blow it all up and walk away, but not today… Today, it’s worth it.

Of course, we’ll have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.

*added info- Roy Tennant wrote an exactly right response to this. His advice is what is keeping many of us here. So if you’re reading this (although if you are, you’re probably coming here from his blog) and you’re feeling the same way, read his advice because it will keep you sane. If I didn’t have the crew of the Think Tank and some great Library Friends to keep me sane I would have quit or killed someone by now. Also, working for an amazing organization helps 🙂

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24 thoughts on “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions (and other thoughts on walking away)

  1. I love this post. I never do want to walk away from Librarianship, but I get what you are saying and I love the way you said it.

  2. We don’t. Because no matter how awful and hard it is there are still people who need us. I fully expect to get my second 90 layoff notice in 2 years in May. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to lay down and take it. I’m going to fight for our services until the day they physically drag me from my glitterglue encrusted reference desk.

  3. I am familiar with this feeling, although I more often feel it in relationship to politics than my job. I wish I could tell young librarians to hang in there, but then, I feel I’ve been extraordinarily lucky professionally, so who am I to talk?

    Anything worth fighting for is going to be difficult and challenging and frustrating, right?

  4. i want to take the time to think about and respond to this but for now, i wanted to say… “I completely agree with you.”

    more soon, i hope.

  5. My feeling is that many newer librarians got into this field because of certain ideals we felt it represents. For some it’s a passion for understanding and sharing information, for others it’s about community, for still others it’s about organizing the world, etc. The point is to follow those ideals, not a particular organization. If you can meet the ideals of what got you interested in libraries, but get paid better and given more respect and generally be happier then go for it. One day libraries will become out-moded, but the ideals that make good librarians never will. Follow those ideals where the take you, if libraries can’t keep up it’s their loss not yours.

  6. I really don’t envy young librarians today. The economy has put recent graduates at a distinct disadvantage, and I don’t envy anyone who is presently looking for employment, or looking to move up. Anyone in that situation has my total sympathy.

    But if you have a job and you’re frustrated, I’d have to say, to some small degree, “been there, done that.” Frankly, ALA has never been a walk in the park. If anything, it has improved, as scary as that thought might be. Budget cuts? Yeah, been there. Same with “checked-out librarians that refuse to retire”. As for “libraries lack of ability (or refusal) to adapt to a changing information world”, at about your age I was trying to get libraries to wake up to the Internet and how it was going to change their world. Was I impatient? You betcha. Frustrated? Naturally. But in the end, thanks to some lucky breaks, I made a side business out of making the case. But then I was totally committed to my profession. I never considered leaving it.

    I guess in the end what I really want to say is to decide what really turns you on. For me, it is libraries. But for you it might be sailing, teaching, working with kids, and oceanic conservation. And that would not only be totally fine, but totally cool.

    But whatever you decide, I suggest you throw yourself completely into it, and deal with the inevitable struggles that will be required to become a success. This is likely to hold true for whatever path you choose — very little, if anything, is handed to us on a platter, which I’m certain you realize to have even written this post.

    In other words, commit totally to something and make it work. Whatever it takes. But don’t spend much time vacillating. As trite as it is, the rest of your life begins today.

    1. Thanks Roy, good words! i would ask that you write something about what you are saying here. There are many amazing librarians who are very close to leaving the profession for many reasons and need to know that others librarians with your kind of experience and background have gone through the same kinds of struggles in their careers and fought the good fight and came out ahead. Your response to my blog means a lot to me especially. Thank you!

    2. Roy…wonderful comment. I remember being with you and John, Ann, Carole, Holly, etc. in the early days introducing the Internet to librarians was a blast. I believe straight out that if you do not have passion for what you do find something you do have passion for doing. Sometimes toward the end of your career your passion is rewarded and you celebrate as I did. On the other hand, youth is an incredible period of time…anything is possible. Hang in their Patrick…I did and the ride was transforming.

  7. Patrick, I can so identify with this. I went through some challenges at a former place of work and at one point I just wondered, “Maybe libraries aren’t for me. Maybe I’m just too damn radical and won’t ever find a place.” But I’m glad I’ve been able to stick through it so far and still swinging, but we need so much to nurture the new and passionate within the profession so they don’t get crushed by the inertia already in place. I am still hopeful there are enough of us fighting the good fight that we’ll win out in the end. I agree with Will that it’s about our ideals and not our institutions. That’s where our future lies…

  8. Patrick Thank you for writing this post, it echos many of the thoughts going through my mind lately. Like many of us I’m deeply passionate about library issues, but I have other passions and I do sometimes wonder if my drive and talent might be more appreciated more useful somewhere else. I also have those moments (few and far between though they may be) where I feel that libraries deserve what’s happening to them right now because they refuse to adapt, to evolve and because they bitterly cling to bad practices and ideals even as those ideals are obviously failing them.

  9. Thanks for all the responses! Its very comforting to know that I’m so far from being alone in this. I would like to point out though, and it should have been stated more clearly in my post that my current job at SMCL is AMAZING!! And honestly, I would not still be a librarian if it wasn’t for my supportive administration, my amazing staff, and fantastic co-workers who really work to help me do whats important. I’m in one of the most forward thinking organizations that I have ever been a part of.

    My frustration stems from all the work that needs to be done in the profession as a whole that makes me feel like we are in a constant uphill battle. The more I get involved the more I realize that there just isn’t enough that I can do. What battle to I fight? DRM? Freedom of Information? The politics in both ALA and the public? Where do newish librarians start? Whats the most important fight we can pick and win? There’s just so much stacked against the profession right now that its very overwhelming.

  10. Patrick,
    Your post couldn’t be more timely for me. I saw it and felt a distinct sense of synchronicity and recognition. Thank you. And thank you too, to all who left comments.
    Oddly enough, this song keeps running through my head these days (but dang! my feet do feel tired some days):

    Keep up the good fight, peeps.

  11. Just reread my super overzealous comment. Coincidentally, I was listening to our beloved mayor cutting our budget as I read your post. So I may have been trying to psych myself up for 5 months worth of budget fight. Anyway, I guess I mean to say that I get what you mean, but I don’t know what else I would do if I was’t a librarian. So I keep pushing on, because it’s all I really have a passion for.

  12. Literally laughing out loud at the video. Great post-enjoyed what you wrote, you know I feel the same, and loved Roy’s letter. Had to link to it on my blog, it’s a must read

  13. Great post. What’s scary is to see new librarians look at older colleagues and decide to check-out as well. While, I think Roy Tennant has some useful advice, it may be much harder to enact, than to write a blog post.

  14. As challenging as it is for us new librarians (I hate to admit I maaaaay have been born the year Roy began in libraries, ahem), our older colleagues need us! They need to see our enthusiasm, new ideas, and relatively unjaded view of the profession. If not only to bring back memories of themselves when they first began their careers, but also to re-light the fire under them that was once there. Young librarians come in with new ideas, an ability to be flexible, and usually are pretty good at ‘going with the flow’. It may take some of our older and more seasoned counterparts to get used to this, and that is OK. Once the opportunities arise we can continue to work on them, and try to get them to see things from our POV. Eventually they will soften up and hopefully allow for some new ways of doing things. If this happens, I think we are making progress. We just have to keep working at it, or as our red headed Santa put it, we just have to put one foot in front of the other!

  15. Patrick thank you for this post. I am going to find a way to pass it on to some “young professionals” in my state, as well as Roy’s follow-up blog post.

    I’m most definitely still a newer young librarian (been in profession for four years, but still way under 30), but I have a guess I have a different perspective on struggling and frustration with current librarianship field (and I apologize in advance; this response turned into a monster)

    Most of the colleagues I interact with are over 40, yet because we ask hard questions in our region, challenge one another, and learn from one another, a lot of innovation and forward-thinking, has occurred [and most of these libraries are TINY, rural libraries!

    It’s a reciprocal relationship — old embraces new ideas; new embraces old ideas. Give and take. Take the parts that work and throw out the rest. Are there people dragging their feet, still sitting in 1965 librarianship? Heck yes! They make me sad, more than annoy me, as they are only hurting themselves and their communities.

    But people are jumping on the bandwagon, finally. It takes time and it’s hard work, but I honestly celebrate more when the 70yo librarian who’s been a director for 30+ years wants to learn about ereaders (who originally yelled, nope, not getting computers period in my library, no way, no how).

    I wonder if we were more encouraging of our colleagues who were dragging their feet, listened to the those who were apathetic, instead of getting frustrated or disenchanted, and at least attempted to address their concerns we might pull a few more along and reach that tipping point quicker. Could the technology innovation cycle also apply to libraries in some way (

    Maybe I’m highly unusual in that I want the richness of knowledge from library colleagues who have come before me in the last one-two generations, but I really do. We learn so much from the past, both good and bad.

    And struggle is hard, hard times are hard, but as Roy has pointed out and Stephen Abram pointed out on his blog ( these aren’t new struggles to our generation of librarians.

    I have my jaded days, but then a light bulb turns on in one of my librarians’ libraries in a multitude of different ways or I learn something new from an older librarian or teach one of them something, and I love our profession again.

    I think if we’re more open about our struggles, more open in dialogue with one another, listen to our status-quo colleagues who are dragging their feet, this all might turn out much more fruitful than just giving up on the profession (which I know many aren’t necessarily doing). Talking and interacting with many librarians is what keeps me going at work. Do people have other librarians not at the workplace or even region that they can connect with, be mentored by, talk to?

  16. Another echo for ‘love your post’. I’ve worked in libraries for 20 years and am about to finally complete my MLS. But wondering why the heck am I bothering. I drank the Kool-Aid of promises for opportunities closed to me w/o the precious piece of paper. Now that I’ve almost got it, libraries are closing, librarians laid-off. As a 50-something, I don’t hold a lot of hope for a rewarding job in or out of the library field. I should have taken all the thousands I’ve thrown at that degree & gone to a casino. Same odds of success either way.

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