NextGen to Middle Manager

There’s been a collection management changing of the guard and I’m back at the Weirdo Zeros, as I like to call them: UFOs, conspiracy theory, “hidden knowledge,” THE BOOK.

It’s also the Dewey home for Library and Information Sciences, where I ran across these gems while weeding:

Look at them baby librarians! So scrubbed yet so alternative, so edgy and keen, so very someone’s idea of the aughts that look more like the nineties, mall goths and awkward lady neckties. These titles bookend my time in library school: The NextGen Librarian’s Survival Guide was published in 2006 and You Don’t Look Like a Librarian was released in 2009.

The internet kept happening to the profession, and those of us who more or less grew up with it were learning what it means to be a librarian while simultaneously being forewarned and dazzled by something called Library 2.0—as if it were something separate, or new. We didn’t need a Second Life, it was all one thing. Why were we being sold something we already owned?

I remember class conversations encouraging navel-gazing, to challenge and embody stereotypes because raise your hand if you have a tattoo. What?! It was so weird, at the time and looking back now. I can hypothesize that I and others in our twenties weren’t actually the audience for those conversations or the above two books. But I think that we were. It’s confounding and delightful all at once.

Especially considering that now I am this:

Toward the end of 2017 I competed for and was hired as a Librarian III at Austin Public Library. Yes, this announcement is way late in coming. It’s also rather odd I haven’t said peep about our award-winning gonzo-bananas new Central Library yet. Honestly, I am still processing—what happened and what is still happening. It’s breakneck, burnout busy. It’s an amazing facility but it’s been a rough transition, even now, 18 months on, still doing triage and scrambling for our sea legs.

As Librarian III, I stayed with the same team of 18, and in many ways continue to do my previous job: all of the same reference activities and serving as the now official instead of de facto Technology Liaison with our IT group. I am the lead trainer and Troubleshooter in Chief for my team, stress-testing all the tech bits and wrangling documentation so everyone stays up to speed.

I have three direct reports, two of whom I hired and trained. With the sprawling tasks of supervision plus filling in at public service points after losing several positions, I had to give up most outreach and a few projects, plus get better at saying No—less the relaying it than feeling bad I can’t take on more.

In fact, one my largest challenges opportunities has been learning to delegate, despite having an interview prep card all about it:

While delegation remains a bugbear, I am getting better. It’s rewarding to watch my team grow and thrive, to serve as a sounding board and mentor, to celebrate success and practice diplomacy when engineering better outcomes or delivering bad news. I feel a genuine commitment to support them as professionals, wherever their careers may lead them.

That authentic deep caring, that empathy and trust makes it hard to serve up the occasional crap sandwich. In the end, I might make a better leader than a manager. My main goal is to hang onto being a librarian, to stay close to the work that still challenges and inspires me and (shucks, I’ll say it) changes people’s lives.

All three books are on display in my cube. They are certainly no longer shelf worthy, but I can’t bear to box them up to send to the pulper. “A library is not an archive,” or so goes the weeder’s mantra, and I fully agree. But this trio feels akin to personal history, a mushy warm spot square in my saccharine heart.

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