Sally in Libraryland
August 1, 2016
Sally Decker Smith, Independent Library Consultant
A smart colleague once pointed out that, as library folk, we are members of a tribe.
As you may have heard, my husband and I are moving to Ohio, to be closer to our younger daughter and her family—she got tenure a couple of years ago, so we finally gave up any remaining shred of hope that they might come HERE. The other choice would have been to move closer to our elder daughter, but she and her husband are in Los Angeles, and who can afford that?
I will miss this Illinois library tribe more than I can say. Leaving Illinois wouldn’t be as hard if I did not revere this library community so completely. For my entire library career, the Illinois Library Association (ILA) has been with me every step of the way. Theirs was the first library conference I ever attended, they hosted the first program I ever presented, published the first professional writing I ever did, appointed me to the first committee I ever served on, and gave me the opportunity to meet countless colleagues and friends from all over the state. All of those things led to opportunities in the larger library world I could never have imagined.
In considering what to say here, my last chance to address so many of you at once, so many thoughts scrambled through my head (accompanied by the music the packing team is playing as I type) that I couldn’t begin to prioritize them. Therefore, in no particular order, I offer you…
THOUGHTS OF A RELOCATING LIBRARIAN
1. The staff in the ILA office are some of the hardest working, smartest, most dedicated people you will ever encounter in life. Compare ILA’s financial situation to any other state, and appreciate their genius in marketing iREAD all over the world. Be nice to them!
2. Get involved! Volunteer for a committee, or to help at an event. Talk to people at every opportunity, and enlarge your circle of colleagues/friends. Network actively. The more you put into ILA, the more you will get out of it!
3. It’s no secret that the current situation in Springfield is having an effect on all your libraries, yet you forge bravely ahead, doing all that you can to provide as much as you can for your patrons/members/users. If you need to make cutbacks, my advice is to be sure all those people know why—otherwise you risk the muttering that they’re paying their taxes, and they wonder what you’re DOING with all their money. Per capita grants are a larger chunk of the budget for smaller libraries than they are for larger ones, and often people outside your buildings don’t get that.
4. And as a corollary to #3—ILA has a legislative consultant (Derek Blaida) in Springfield who builds relationships, gathers information, and advocates for us there. He alerts us when action is needed, and lets us know if it worked. When you see a request that we should contact our legislators, PLEASE do it ASAP. It matters, and it makes a difference.
5. Non-political note: here is why I despise “stupid patron” stories. There should be no room in your head for that phrase, and every time you use it, you hear it, which only reinforces it. They come to us because THEY know we know something they don’t, and what’s stupid about that? I do not want to think that my lawyer tells her family over dinner about the stupid client who needed an explanation of the differences between a will and a trust, or that my orthopedist laughs when he tells people that I didn’t know a slipped disc could make my foot numb.
6. That said, there are stories we can share that illustrate the breadth of humanity with whom we deal every day. My favorite is not apocryphal—it happened to me. A woman approached the desk and said she was doing her son’s homework, and I was new enough that this surprised me. She went on to say it was a history report. My brain did that sorting spin thing it does when we’re getting into the right gear. When she said the topic was Kent State, it threw me a little, because for me, Kent State will always be a current event. And then she said, frustratedly, “I’ve looked in four atlases, and there IS no state called Kent.”
7. Ask yourself regularly if you work IN a library, or FOR a library. Quick way to tell: if you see a piece of paper on the floor, and walk by, possibly making a mental note to mention it to the janitor, you work IN a library. If you pick it up, you work FOR a library.
8. Please treat each other well. Territoriality in libraries happens a lot, and doesn’t do anyone any good. Every single function in any library is important, even if it’s not yours. If the Reference staff doesn’t understand why Circulation thinks something needs to be done a particular way, it behooves Ref to ask, and Circ to explain, and everyone will be better for the interaction.
9. As anyone I ever hired can attest, I point out that I cannot read the mind of the man I’ve been sleeping next to for forty-six years, so there is no reason for anyone else to think I can read theirs. If someone needs to know something you know, TELL THEM.
10. And appreciate each other, out loud and often. I do!
The work you do—whoever you are, whatever your job, whatever your sort of library is—is important to your communities. Every day you make a difference, whether or not it feels like it. Appreciate yourselves, knowing there are people who won’t realize for years how important you are to them.