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Critical reading and a new kind of library for me

I’ve mentioned the work of Project Information Literacy several times here, and last fall I had the pleasure of working with a friend and colleague to apply some of what we learned from their Provocation Series in her English Composition class. We engaged the students in critical reading about QAnon and the Satanic Panics of the past. It was a blast, and I wrote a guest post about it which you can find at the ACRL Community and Junior Colleges Section blog: “Critical Reading Partnership Inspired by Project Information Literacy.” Check out other “Practical PIL” examples on their website.

Those of you who have been with me here at Nocturnal Librarian for some time know I’ve worked in public and academic (private and community college) libraries over the time I’ve written this blog. When I was just twenty-one and a senior in college and then a new graduate, I also worked in records and archives management at a college alumni association. Each of these jobs was different but the common thread has been connecting people with information. I love doing that. I’m the person in the Zoom gathering who is always popping links into the chat when folks mention a book or a movie or a website or an article.

Last spring I began to notice how much of my work was not primarily about connecting people with information. And also that my greatest moments of satisfaction weren’t due to my job, but to other things I am involved in, some related to work (like open education stuff, or connecting with science librarians), some not (like volunteering, relationships, or prayer).

In November, after many months of reflection, I took a job in my community’s hospital. On paper it seems like an illogical step — I was a library director, had taken steps to “move up” and take on more responsibility with each new job, had successfully managed people, projects, budgets, and resources, made a good salary. Why take an hourly job in the hospital radiology department? Well for one thing, the core of the work is still connecting people with information. My area is “image services” also known as the image library (it was once literally a film library). I look up and send people’s radiology images (x rays, CT or PET scans, ultrasounds, etc.) where they need to go so they can get the care they need. I work with health care providers and with patients and I’m using a lot of my reference skills. I felt drawn to healthcare (in part because of my participation in the Covid Alliance Senior Support Team of NH), and I’m enjoying learning about a whole new-to-me field.

More importantly, at least to me, is that I am able to be more available for my family, for the movements I engage with to work for a more just, equitable, sustainable world, and even for myself. I work four days. That means I have a whole extra day each week to be present for the people I love, the things I believe in, the “work” I really care about. Which, it turns out, isn’t always the work I do for money. Also, I had reached a point where my sense of who I am and what I stand for had become wrapped up in my professional identity in ways that didn’t make sense. I attended a webinar led by Br. David Vryhof of SSJE early in the fall where he talked about “disordered attachments” and why they make us unhappy:

“. . . an unhealthy attachment is when we cling to some idea or some person or some thing and we come to believe that our lives will not be happy or meaningful without this thing. And so we must have it. And that’s a sign of a disordered attachment.”

He’s a monk in an Episcopalian order, but that idea may sound familiar to you Buddhists out there.

It rang true for me.

The work of Fobazi Ettarh and Kaetrena Davis Kendrick also influenced my decision. I heard both of them speak at ACRL 2019 and followed their work since. I understood work life balance and the need to be a supportive manager, but I had also bought into the idea that I needed to put others before myself to be a good boss and librarian. It turns out capitalism primes us for that, but that’s a story for another time (I’m reading up on this topic, so stay tuned for a blog post over at bookconscious). Ettarh and Kendrick helped me see that it’s not selfish to think of your own well being, and that you can’t be much help to others if you aren’t taking care of yourself. And that “vocational awe” intensifies the sense of having to “serve” as a librarian rather than seeing it simply as a job, and as just one piece of who we are as people. Because work isn’t who we are, even if we like our work, or find it rewarding. Nothing wrong with that, unless we stop critiquing it, or develop a disordered attachment to it. For me undoing that meant changing jobs. Maybe for someone else it is simply a matter of shifting priorities or being more intentional about time spent in different aspects of life.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. I hope you’ll stay with me for new perspectives from a different kind of library.

About Deb Baker

Deb Baker is a writer and insatiable reader, and library director at a community college. She muses about library issues at The Nocturnal Librarian (https://thenocturnallibrarian.com/) and blogs about books, reading, and life at bookconscious (http://bookconscious.wordpress.com/). Her family includes two awesome offspring, a husband, and the cat who adopted them. And a crazy rescue kitten.

4 responses to “Critical reading and a new kind of library for me

  1. Deb, congratulations for letting go of unhealthy attachments. I know of what you speak. Did that when I quit being the Society Photographer in New Orleans. Brava!

  2. bwhite929 ⋅

    Great to hear of this next chapter. Would love to catch up some time soon.

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