Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff…Sort of

small stuffAs professionals in the field of Librarianship we all know that the past few years have been more challenging for most of us than any other time in recent history. We are constantly asked to do more with less in an effort to prove our existence is relevant, important and dare we say, necessary.  We are asked to justify everything so that our budgets aren’t continually slashed, our staff is not decreased and our doors remain open to those who need us most. It can be increasingly difficult to remain both positive about our careers and flexible enough to handle the ever changing daily landscape. I know we’ve all been there in some capacity and I personally have come away with the firm belief that just about the only constant in this field is the need for us all to remain both positive and flexible at all times. These are not just key words on a resume or cover letter. They are the real deal. Actual words to live by.

I have worked for the largest library system in Georgia for going on eight years now. I started my path here at a large, extremely busy branch library technically as a Young Adult Librarian. What I really ended up doing more of however was Adult Reference Services. This suited me just fine. I was good at it. I enjoyed it. And most of all, I felt that our patrons sincerely appreciated my knowledge of our online and print resources and my ability to teach them how to access these things for themselves. Parents, students and seniors would all seek me out when they needed assistance finding their next favorite author, the best databases to use for their research paper or how to use and download library books to the new Kindle they just got for Christmas. And the looks on their faces when they would realize they could in fact do most of these tasks at home in their pajamas was priceless! I thought I had found my niche and was working in an environment that best utilized my skills. Even as it became increasingly obvious that things were changing: light bulbs weren’t getting changed, not as many new materials were being ordered, programming money was no more, I continued to believe that I was staying the course towards the next step of Librarianship within our system, gradually working my way up the ladder to management, administration, who knows? The future was bright!

But all of the sudden that next rung on the ladder, that next level of professional Librarianship within our system was phased out. Well, no worries, I’ll just skip a step. I know I’m ready, willing and able; I just have to wait for an opening. But openings were few and far between. A hiring freeze was declared. And then came the day that I received a phone call from the Interim Director’s office requesting a meeting with me. What could this be about? I had heard rumors of transfers happening but somehow I didn’t feel worried about it. It was definitely one of those “Well, that won’t happen to me” moments. But sure enough, that’s exactly what was happening to me. I was asked to move to a tiny branch I’d never been to, never met anyone from, and to become the Children’s Librarian there. I was absolutely 100% stunned. Children’s Librarian? Me? I’ve never led a storytime in my life! I’ve never planned Summer Reading programs! I am the least craftsy person in the world! Surely this is a mistake? Nope.

I had 48 hours to pack up my stuff and relocate my professional life. I have never felt more out of control of my own career path. It was scary, upsetting and definitely infuriating at times. I had a plan and it had been derailed. And worst of all, there was nothing I could do about it. So, I put on a brave face and tried to make the best of it. And much to my surprise it hasn’t been half bad. I have learned a lot in my current position. I am a self-taught storytimer, crafter and teacher of sorts. I still feel a tad self-conscious sometimes when I try out something new, but I have learned not to let it get me down. Preschoolers are easily amused even if the only thing you’ve had time to plan for them is a quick story and a coloring sheet. I have increased our programming and developed community relationships. I do miss the amount of Reference work I had been doing, we just don’t get a lot of that at this location, and I worry that those skills are getting rusty. But being in a smaller branch has its perks in addition to its downsides, and one of them, or so I thought, was that the manager I had at the time was planning to retire soon. I found myself assuming I was being groomed to fill her shoes. My career train was back on track after all and now I had gained all this new experience to add to my skill set! Everything will work out in the end! I could totally run this branch! BOO YA!

Wrong again. After almost two years of being without a manager and feeling like I had been doing both jobs in an effort to prove my worth to the powers that be, when the time came to finally fill the position they went with someone else. I was absolutely 100% stunned. Again. Derailed, again. Where had I gone wrong? I know I have the ability to do the job, the support of my coworkers and patrons. What’s missing?

Well, truth be told at this point I still don’t know. And having to stay positive and flexible through staff reductions, budget slashes, hours reductions, the constant scheduling changes and the impending fear of yet more transfers has proven to be the most difficult challenge I have yet to face in my career. But still I carry on. Just as we all do. We all have to find the aspects of our jobs that keep us coming back every day and focus on those things even more than ever. I am good at my job. I am a necessary part of this organization. I touch people’s lives on a daily basis who truly appreciate the fact that I am here. The stuff that keeps me coming back and moving forward in the best way I know how is, in fact, the small stuff. I may not have made any huge leaps and bounds in my career…yet…and that wasn’t part of my original plan. But the work I do is important. The people I help matter. And at the end of the day, that’s the stuff that makes it all worth it.

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Author:Mary Clarendon Inman

Mary Clarendon (or MC as she is more commonly known because her name is too long to be shouted easily) has been a professional librarian since 2005. After receiving her MLIS from Louisiana State University (LSU) in 2004, she and her husband moved to Atlanta (ironically to Inman Park where they were quickly reassured they were no relation and they did not, in fact, “own the park”) where she began making the horrendous commute to the Gwinnett County Public Library System. After two years of fighting traffic, MC made the move to the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System to serve as a Young Adult / Reference Librarian at the Buckhead Branch and also as the AFPLS Social Media go-to gal. Sadly the traffic was still just as horrendous. In 2012 she was moved to the Hapeville Branch as the Children’s Librarian / Assistant Manager where she currently serves. Traffic was greatly improved. As she continues to fight the good fight on a daily basis, she also patiently awaits her big break on Broadway in a Tony-award winning musical, or a Library Manager position, whichever comes first. She’ll keep you posted.

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