ASSOCIATES (vol. 10, no. 2, November 2003) -

Guest Editorial

When I started this editorial, I thought of writing about the librarian action figure (with amazing push button shushing action!). I thought it would make a great lead-in to talking about the continued fragile self-image and resulting lack of a sense of humour in some professionals about the whole librarian stereotype. But you've heard me rant about this before, and know how I feel about it, so instead let me take this theme one very personal step further. (Anyone who equates self-revelation with getting cooties is free to stop reading now. I won't mind.)

When I separated from my husband almost two years ago, frankly I didn't much like myself. I felt I had been very passive and dependent, and at the same time I had fought for respect and independence, and never found it. I was bitter about all the lost opportunities for growth and intimacy from being in a bad relationship I should have ended many years sooner if I'd been more honest and courageous. In short, I was hauling baggage, a truckload of it. I wanted to change more than my status; I wanted to change myself to someone I could like and respect, and find others who felt the same way. I wanted to enjoy life again.

I realized at about the same time that my job reflected my marriage. Oh, it wasn't nearly as destructive, but I'd burnt out the same way: by giving too much for too little acknowledgement, respect and praise, by not taking action in moving on in either my career or education, and the same issues I mentioned above applied here. I resented being discouraged from doing projects not related to my work (however reasonable that request was) which nevertheless enhanced my skills and abilities, when a positive "you go, girl!" attitude could have re-energized how I felt about my job and the work I was supposed to be getting done. I also kept getting the message that I just needed to focus on my job and take workshops whenever I felt I needed upgrading, or suggest projects appropriate and relevant to my current work as a library technician. Then I would somehow, magically, feel fulfilled, because, after all, I wasn't likely to go any further anyway. And of course, then they'd have to replace me. And why would I want to leave anyway? Didn't I like my work? Why would I want more?

Along with all this, I realized that what was really holding me back, both professionally and personally, was the negative internal dialogue I'd somehow managed to pick up, and the even more insidious feelings that went with it. It went something like, "You made a mistake. You're not perfect. Shame on you." Or, "You didn't persuade them about the rightness of your point of view. No-one takes you seriously." Or, "You never got your degree, and you never will, because you're not disciplined enough, and you keep procrastinating, so you don't deserve respect." Or, "You had fifteen things to get done on your list today, and you only managed seven. How pathetic." And so on.

Friends have been startled to find I have this going on inside. They see me as intelligent, confident and self-assured--at least in areas I'm knowledgeable in--and are amazed to find I have serious doubts and fears about moving on. I in my turn am amazed when people trust when I say or commit to something. I'm dreadfully unreliable. Really! Others say, "You're being too hard on yourself." And I am. That's the point. It's hard to stop. But it's a trap I'm determined to work my way out of.

I think a lot of otherwise intelligent people are in this trap. Why do we have so many staff members in libraries whose talents are obviously being underused otherwise? A few seem to get ahead even with various demands on their time. What's the difference between them and the others?

I honestly think it's nothing more complicated than the ability to know, accept and be confident (even over-confident) about who you are, and yet still want more: more challenges, more opportunities, more money (that'd be nice), more status (why not?), and more power to make things happen, to make a difference.

Recently I had dinner with a friend who was in town visiting clients. It struck me: here was this funny, smart guy who chose--yes, chose--to be discontented, even unhappy. He was living a typical suburban family life, never went out, and groused about it. For example, he wanted to go to Montreal for the jazz fest there, but wouldn't because his wife wasn't interested and yet he still wanted her with him. I wondered: was he just unhappy because he was content to live a quiet life, or couldn't be bothered to make the effort to do something different, and yet didn't want to admit it? Or was he so hemmed around with "shoulds" he'd trapped himself in a life he didn't want?

Either way, I think it's really sad. Now, I'm not advocating couples lead totally separate lives. It's important that they give each other regular opportunities to share interests and activities. This example just further illustrates that being discontented whether at work or home can come from not choosing to take the risks that might lead to fulfillment, always doing the "shoulds" instead of the "wants," or even admitting that we aren't who we think we are (or should be), so that we can move on to what we could be. In this case, the risk was a little marital discord if my friend chose to make his love for live music a more important part of his life. Or perhaps losing some cherished illusions about being a bon vivant urban sophisticate.

It's the same with the library action figure. (See, I did manage to sneak it in.) If you get past the glasses, the sensible shoes, the conservative clothes and the books, which really do represent a lot of librarians still, what's the root problem?

She's got shushing action. Ah, right. Shades of the tight-sphinctered pursed-lipped librarian image that we all want vanquished.

Frankly, I found it funny, as did many of my library technician friends and colleagues. What a hoot! Why? The manufacturers have obviously created a parody of the stereotypical librarian, knowing full-well that librarians are (mostly) not keeping things quiet. This is the fun, the joking, the "we've done good and moved on, thanks" action figure. Anyone who hasn't figured that out needs to get a sense of perspective, fast.

It is, in fact, a victory, because only people who "get" the joke would buy the figure (why would you buy it otherwise?), and guess what? The action figures--complete with a tiny stack of books, trading cards, a short history of libraries, and bookmarks--are presently sold out.

So although I do on the whole appreciate my present job, I'm going to quietly take a little action myself. And who knows where I'll end up?

Shush, now. We've got work to do.

Sylvia Skene
Library Technician

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