Kristen Arnett: A Librarian’s Resolutions for the New Year
Basically, You Gotta Be Able to Joke About the Bad Stuff
Here I am, back at the circulation desk, after two magical weeks off doing nothing but sleeping and reading and traveling and drinking beer and hanging out way too late at the 7-Eleven. I started off the morning by waking up at the crack of dawn to open the library and groaning because I remembered all the work waiting for me: emails, reply-all emails, email forwards, webinars, conference calls, meeting invites for meetings that should actually be emails but instead will be two hours of everyone talking about their break. Aggrieved, I popped some Advil, unlocked the doors, and then unloaded an actual avalanche of newspapers that arrived during our hiatus. A patron hovered over my shoulder as I sifted, asking about an article he’d heard about a week ago, something having to do with politics, but what exactly? Not totally sure. By the time I’d sorted through dozens of them, covered in gray newsprint up to my elbows, he’d decided it wasn’t any of the newspapers we actually carry.
So I’m surrounded by piles of opened newspapers, eight o’clock in the morning, no coffee, blistering headache, not actually helping anybody. Definitely feeling bummed I wasn’t back home in bed. I popped a few more Advil. And I complained. And I frowned. And I bitched about it on Twitter dot com. And I thought to myself:
“Why the hell am I doing this?”If I can’t laugh when it comes to dealing with this stuff, I’m gonna drive myself crazy.
Sometimes… Oh buddy, sometimes it’s hard to remember. I mean, I know it’s only the second week of January, but already it feels like it’s been years. So I have gotta get my mind right. Damn it, it’s still a fresh new year. There’s still time to think, hard, about why it is that we choose to do anything. So here are some resolutions I’m making about librarianship that I plan on dragging with me through this beautiful new Year of Our Lord 2019. Because although I don’t always savor the bad parts of librarianship, there is plenty of stuff I do love about it.
Let some shit go: Here’s the thing about library work, it’s all in the details. It’s about finding the exact right thing, about perfectly answering the question, about finding the correct information. Sometimes… it just doesn’t work out that way. It just doesn’t come together. As a certified control freak, I struggle when this happens. And you know what? It’s fine. A former director of mine (shout out to Jonathan Miller, I miss you, buddy) once sat me down after I’d been stressed over not finding an ILL book for someone and very kindly reminded me that, hey, at the end of the day, it’s library work. Nobody is gonna die if you can’t answer a question. So I definitely need to remember this advice when I start to lose it over not being able to help someone the way I’d like. Not every search is going come up a winner, and that’s okay.
Find humor in things that would normally piss me off: There are always going to be patrons who yell at me because they’re in a bad mood, always going to be people shoving weird crap in the copy machine, always going to be messes to clean up in the public restroom, food rubbed into the carpet, missing items people say they’ve returned but are actually still in the back of the car, no money for anything so we can’t afford what patrons need, books shoved into weird places because people want to help “shelve,” somebody peeing on the side of the building. If I can’t laugh when it comes to dealing with this stuff, I’m gonna drive myself crazy. Laughing reminds me that these annoyances are a small fraction of what I actually deal with, that they are NOT the norm, and I am going be able to look back on them later and have a funny story to tell at a party, anyway. Life is too damn short not laugh at things. I want to laugh more this year. I have gotta laugh at some of the bad stuff, too.
Remember that I want to help people: This is really it, this is the thing I want to take with me into this new year. The fact that I chose this job not because of helping me, but because I wanted to help others. That I want to do that in any way I can, and sometimes that is going to mean doing it the way that a patron would want, not Kristen’s way. I need to constantly remind myself that public service is exactly that, it’s service, and service means being open to how others need assistance. I’m lucky to get to do what I do, lucky to be able to have this opportunity to interact with humanity and get a chance to love people, all kinds of people. I will remember that librarianship does not mean doing just the parts I like or that I am interested in; it’s about finding ways to share information. It’s about people.
So I’m putting away the Advil, finding a cup of coffee, and getting the newspapers squared away. Now I can focus on other things, try and breathe a little, remember that this is only the first day back of the new year and I’ve got plenty of time to work on these resolutions. And hey, if I screw up, I can come back to them again and again. I can work to be better, every day, and feel lucky that I get to do what I do.
And if I need a beer or two after work, then that’s cool, too. Cheers to that! Cheers to librarianship. And happy new year to all of you.