Why so serious?
For aspiring librarians, attitude is all-important. Many of us eat up our days doing internships and day jobs, writing papers, presenting at conferences, and networking our hearts out on Twitter. This kind of workload makes us run the risk of stress, frustration, disillusionment—even burnout, especially if we work in high-pressure public service jobs, fret over the dicey job market, or struggle with personal issues. How do we stay in love with the career we chose?
First, try not to agonize. The fate of the world does not rest on your shoulders. You need to work hard and do things you may not always enjoy doing, but you need not keel over from exhaustion every night to succeed professionally.
What do I myself do to hack my library school and job? Answer: I do not take myself seriously. I’m a perfectionist, so I take my work very seriously, but I see no reason to stifle my joie de vivre. And so I sip tea from a Shakespearean insults mug while manning the reference desk. Gotta enjoy the little things.
Clothing and accessories are little things that are among the easiest to enjoy. As a public library operative and occasional history presenter, I have never donned a business suit in my life, though I’ll bow to convention and dress up for interviews. Librarian Wardrobe showcases photos of librarians who bend traditional (read: archaic) expectations with Hagridesque beards, camo blouses, or book-patterned skirts. I get universal praise from patrons and coworkers whenever I don my Super Library Assistant t-shirt (note: HLS does not endorse particular products or companies)—and I have never yet met a supervisor or patron who doubts my caliber because I dare to exhibit panache. Quite the contrary. And even formal outfits can feature flared cuffs, extra pockets, unexpected colors or patterns. My point: if you’d like to dress “down,” find out if you’re allowed to, and do it! But if you’d like to dress “up,” do that instead! As the Librarian in Black says, “Be you!”
I am a firm believer that we can infuse humor into almost any context. When staffing the reference desk, I’ve put up a sign playfully imploring patrons to “please interrupt me” after too many patrons prefaced their question with “sorry to interrupt.” I put seniors, teens, and moms at ease and make them smile or laugh because of the inherent dorkiness of a logo likening the Man of Steel to a librarian. And for the occasional library class I teach, I draw inspiration from the Academic Librarian’s 2008 blog post “Humor in the Classroom, or Wherever.”
I enlivened one academic library instruction session (honestly, is it me or are most of these one-shot sessions painfully boring?) by playing this hilarious New Spice Guy video, setting the tone for the rest of the class. In that session, I also showed how wildcards can help us locate works by Shelby Foot#, should the searcher not be certain whether Shelby’s surname is spelled “Foote” or “Foots” (well, really the plural would be “Feet,” but my point stands).
Part of the job of librarians who work directly with users is to alleviate library anxiety and showcase the library not only as a resource but also as a third place. Humor goes a long way toward establishing our approachability and fracturing that stereotype of the aloof, timid, or passive librarian. Most importantly, humor works! No one will ever forget Boolean operators after a demonstration involving a tacky green St. Patrick’s Day hat and a red firefighter’s hat. Just be sure not to let style be the master of substance, and don’t poke fun at groups or individuals. And if you’re uncomfortable using humor—don’t! To thine own self be true.
Love your job. Even if you don’t love your workplace, savor those moments when you are thanked by a delighted patron, when you unjam that printer, set up that display, locate that resource, or key in that final bit of XML. Matching people and information—these are the small, daily victories that keep our passion for librarianship burning. (Well, that and these swell gifs at Librarian Problems!)
So hack away, fellow LIS folks, but remember to have fun with what you do. Coming to you from Tallahassee: “Enjoy the little things.”