Burnout. Fatigue. Dissatisfaction. Disillusionment. Spend time on any librarian social media channels and you’ll hear a lot of folks talking about being tired from all of the work they’re doing, all of the troubles they run into, and more. Add in the fact that a lot of libraries are changing to add more services (such as makerspaces) and are dealing with bigger social problems (such as homelessness and drug use), and you can understand why some people are talking about leaving the profession.
Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know Andrew Cano, a librarian and former president of a library state association who recently left the profession. We’ve had numerous email chats on the subject, and those conversations combined with what I’m reading online showed me that this is a real problem—one that needs to be discussed more in public. Andrew was more than happy to chat about this.
I MET YOU IN 2017 OR 2018 ON TWITTER, AND THEN YOU ASKED ME TO COME TO THE NEBRASKA LIBRARY ASSOCIATION (NLA) CONFERENCE TO GIVE A TALK. NOW HERE WE ARE, LESS THAN 1 1/2 YEARS LATER, AND YOU’VE LEFT LIBRARIES. WHAT HAPPENED?
The simplest way I can put it is that there were two parallel sets of circumstances happening simultaneously. In my paid work as an academic librarian, I was simply growing more unsatisfied with my role within my organization and was also growing disillusioned with traditional higher education. This led me to start looking for other opportunities, as I saw no long-term chance of fulfillment on the path I was on.
As president of the NLA, I grew dismayed with what I considered to be a militant resistance to any ideas that would help advance the association by a vocal minority who either did not realize or did not care that “the way we’ve always done things” had led to a decrease in membership, conference attendance, and overall engagement among members of the Nebraska library community and an unsustainable business model (the association is currently operating at a financial deficit). Furthermore, while I always welcome disagreement because it leads to the best decisions, I, to be frank, was repulsed by a discourse within the association that was dominated by slander and gossip, sadly reflecting what is happening in so many other aspects of our society.
Separately, I could have persisted in either of these sets of circumstances. When combined, though, they just became too much for me, and my service to both my employer and the NLA took too much of a toll on my physical and mental health, so I decided it was best for me to leave both.
Finally, I want to say that while I have left library employment, I have not really left libraries—I just love them too much. I am still a very active patron and still plan on being an activist for change. I also plan on continuing to nurture the many good relationships I developed in my time as a library employee; those relationships are very important to me.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY TO LIBRARIANS WHO ARE THINKING ABOUT LEAVING THE PROFESSION?
To librarians thinking about leaving the profession, I would say that there are a lot of paths out there that build upon the knowledge and experiences gained in the library profession, regardless of type of library worked. I would also caution them that potential employers may not immediately recognize the value that librarians bring to many lines of work. Consequently, I would encourage them to list all of the knowledge and skills gained through library work and organize them in a way that reflects just how they can be easily applied in a new profession. If possible, librarians should also try to pursue any additional training to enhance their existing skills or develop new ones. Most importantly, though, I would tell them to do what is best for them and their family and to not feel like they are stuck on any one path based on decisions made at a different stage of their life.
Read the full interview with Tjinder Singh here.
Over the past 3 years, I’ve talked to so many different and amazing librarians for this column. As I was preparing my list for this year, it hit me: Why not branch out a bit? This issue, you’ll see that all of the positive themes we’ve come to know and love when talking about librarians are right there with Tjinder Singh, the singer and songwriter for the British band Cornershop. You may remember Cornershop from its 1997 hit “Brimful of Asha.” The band, like all of the great libraries around the world, found its voice and over the years has continued to refine and grow it and deliver beautiful work to the world.
When I first approached Tjinder to be part of this column, there was a bit of worry inside of me that doing this may completely miss the mark with readers. But once Tjinder started talking about developing and running a record label of his own—specifically, doing everything yourself or asking your friends to teach you—my worries were eased. This is a very library-like way to approach things. And then it hit me that there’s a common thread connecting us all: We’re all here trying our best to give back to the world, figuring things out one step at a time.
THESE DAYS, YOU’RE RELEASING THE MUSIC YOU CREATE AS CORNERSHOP THROUGH AMPLE PLAY RECORDS, WHICH YOU STARTED WITH BAND MEMBER BENEDICT AYRES. HOW DID YOU TWO DECIDE TO CREATE YOUR OWN RECORD LABEL? WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO START IT? WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU’VE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY AS A TOTALLY INDEPENDENT RECORD LABEL?
We started our own record label, as we had been on all types of record labels, from independent to major, and decided they could not offer us much more than we knew, as we have always been in charge of how releases go. Starting the label was easy, but as time went by and the industry changed (e.g., digital sales), it meant we had to brush up on certain new ways of working. Our way of thinking was to treat artists the way we would want to be treated, and we think we managed that. In the smaller of cases, we learnt, like [Kurt] Vonnegut says, everybody wants to build but nobody wants to maintain. But overwhelmingly, it was a pleasure to work with most of our artists, who really put a lot of themselves in their releases.
LIBRARIANS ARE VERY USED TO THE “GET INVOLVED WITH EVERY BIT OF THE PROCESS” STYLE OF WORKING. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS APPROACH IS SO IMPORTANT? DO YOU THINK IT HELPS CREATE A CONNECTION BETWEEN YOU AS THE ARTISTS AND THE COMMUNITIES LISTENING TO YOUR MUSIC?
It’s very William Morris—do everything yourself or get your friends to teach you how. Benedict has a great background in vinyl manufacturing and production control, I worked in reception for small labels when moving to London, and we have both been through all of the other areas required for the running of a label. To process deliveries ourselves is important, as we know the process and realize how people will receive items. Plus, there is a sense of satisfaction in the smallest of orders, sometimes more than a few large boxes’ worth.
ANOTHER LIBRARY-ESQUE QUESTION: YOUR SONG “WHAT DOES THE HIPPIE HAVE IN HIS BAG?” FROM CORNERSHOP’S 2012 ALBUM URBAN TURBAN IS PAIRED WITH A CHILDREN’S BOOK THAT CAN BE PURCHASED FROM YOUR WEBSITE. HOW DID THIS UNLIKELY AND VERY AWESOME PAIRING COME TOGETHER?
I had started writing [based on] the idea at the early start of the century, and we were asked to do something related to childhood for the Manchester International Festival in conjunction with the BBC. So we did a workshop based on the “Hippie” song and video, which was very successful. We then had workshops with our librarian friend, Peter Baxter, who had helped us with workshops at Bolton School, after which some audio was used in the song recording itself. These workshops were loved by adults and children alike, and the song became a single with a booklet of the lyrics set to graphic illustrations by Nick Edwards, a longtime friend and our designer.