Becoming Impossible

Let’s start by acknowledging that this post isn’t going to yield any job offers—not for you and certainly not for me.

We’re going to be alright though. Despite our unfulfilled desires and our unpaid debts and the hazy uncertainty of a new career in a changing profession, we are going to be just fine. We’ve got each other. That claim may sound feeble or trite, but I have a lot of confidence in the truth of it.

I published my first article on HLS one year ago tomorrow. I read my first article here a year and a few months before that when, like many first-time readers, I was deciding whether or not to pursue a costly degree in library and information science. Since then, I’ve become convinced of something that may seem terribly obvious: community is important.

I am a man, and I’m white. Even apart from the way those unchosen facts affect the difficulty setting for my life, my perspective on the world is as limited as anyone else’s. The historically privileged status of people who look like me makes my voice less worthy of digital amplification than the voices of others. Yet I have been privileged anew by the opportunity to write and publish, to receive feedback from the community, to shape the writing of others. I am humbled by these honors.

I am grateful to the regular writers, the guest writers, and the many readers who publish their thoughts here.

They share their unique vantage points on the world, and I see the world differently when they do. Multi-gender, multi-ethnic, multi-background: the community that gathers here to hack our library and information science education has provided the best lessons I’ve learned during this time as a student. I am deeply thankful.

My time as a reader of and writer for HLS has not yielded only unmixed blessings though. Often and often, I have closed the browser window on the site only to find myself overwhelmed, stressed, and discouraged. I wonder sometimes if I am alone in feeling this way. Our archives reveal much emphasis on the job search: the dream and the pursuit, the interview (in its many forms) and the things we can do to stand out.

Too often though, standing out seems to imply standing above.

I don’t love that feeling. I don’t relish the idea that in order to have a fulfilling career that pays off my investment as a student of library an information science I’ll need to compete with and win against members of the community I’ve come to recognize as integral to my learning, my growth, and my success. Something about that kind of competitiveness doesn’t seem right to me.

We are here to hack library school. Let us never forget the fundamental truth that “school” is a communal place.

No one goes to school alone. We may be tutored alone, we may study alone, we may learn alone, but no one ever goes to school alone. Hacking our education, in library and information science or any other subject, can only be a group project. We are in this together, and we are better together. Whether we are acknowledging our blind spots, owning the necessity of our down-time, or advocating for our needs, we are at our best when we are engaging with our professional communities.

The most important lesson I’ve learned from my time in library school is that there are more important things than finding a library job. I don’t need a library job. I might want one—I might only think I want one. What I need is to bring my very best self to the work that is in front of me. I could spend my days churning out fresh cover letters to accompany the endless procession of applications that would be required to keep pace with the job postings that ricochet from one listserv to another. But that would mean that my work—at least a substantial part of my work, the focus of my daily efforts—would be applying for jobs. I’m not sure that’s the best use of my time. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not.

I have work to do already: personal projects that want attention, research that could yield published insights, contacts ready to become clients as soon as I begin meeting their needs. The old allure of a steady paycheck from a big institution is real, but so often the thing itself is only a mirage. There is other work to be done though; there are more productive ways to begin a career in library and information science than idly longing for the kind of jobs we fell in love with when first we learned to love libraries.

For those of you who have landed great internships or volunteer gigs that have positioned you to slip into fantastic library jobs: great! I am truly happy for you! But for those of you who haven’t been able to intern because you were busy working a full-time job: you’ve still got options. For those of you who volunteered in a role that gave you nothing but the conviction that you did not want to do that kind of work: all is not lost.

Whoever you are, if you’re reading this post, you’ve got options.

If you’re a professional now, then you know you have choices—either at your current workplace or at a new one (which you are probably far better positioned to transfer into than any of us still on the outside of the profession proper). If you’re a student, you have a community at your academic institution. If you’re a prospective student, you’re still a reader here, and this group of exceptionally (sometimes annoyingly) well-connected contributors is nothing if not willing to engage with you on the subject of making the most of your opportunities.

The problem with much of what we celebrate in library and information science is the same as the problem with much of what we celebrate in life: it’s not attainable for many of us because it’s not real for many of us. There are undoubtedly some people living out the idealized vision of a career in librarianship, but for those of us who aren’t, that vision can be stifling. We can feel as if we are failing as librarians—even failing as information professionals—if we work outside of a public, academic, or corporate institution with books lining the walls. But I firmly believe there is important work to do even if we don’t land full-time librarian positions, and we should be honored and proud to do that work.

There is more than one kind of meaningful career, and a meaningful career is only part of a meaningful life. 

When we fixate on the hiring statistics and the outlook, the hunt and the competition, a fulfilling career in library and information science can seem impossible. But experience has shown me that, quite contrary to expectation, we are all becoming impossible every day.

So put on your best butterfly suit and begin—in whatever way makes sense to you today. When you’re ready, please write about it here. Your story is part of our community story, and we’d love for you to tell us more.

tom-hart-flickr-square

Thanks for the cover image to Mr. Tom Hart, whose photography is kind of freaky—in a good way. (CC 2.0 BY)

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