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On ego, teaching, and trousers.

It’s been a wonderful week of self-conscious (in a good way) dialogue about librarians in the blogosphere, librarians in their daily work, and librarians of the boy and girl sorts.

While I know I’m not the target of her reflection (I have nothing to the so called celebrity of the bloggers she’s referencing), Hi Miss Julie's honest, insightful post about the intersections, or lack of intersections, between popularity, creative librarianship, and gender, got me thinking about what the hell I'm doing here on tumblr.

For those faint of self-interested blog posts, this one’s all about me. Things I’m good at, even things I like about myself. You’ve been warned.

Approaching this blog’s second birthday, if we honor such things, I think it’s worth saying I had no idea I would find a voice on the internet. I had not a clue #tumblarians would happen or I’d be receiving fan mail in my ask box and inbox. This has been pretty satisfying stuff for the unassuming (psh, sure) ego. I like my share of attention, but I didn’t expect to find it online. TheLifeguardLibrarian approaches 10k followers. I won’t pretend I’m not all smiles over the idea, but another part of me can’t stop saying, ‘well, shit! why?!’

Here’s where HMJ’s post makes me nervous: I’m incredibly under-qualified to have a voice in the librarian community. No, I’m not selling myself short here. I have qualifications and sound experience. In my prior position, I did quite a few innovative programs and created a collection for at-risk teenagers. But since then, I’ve been chugging through my current position, keeping academic librarian hoop-dreams. Will I be a good librarian? I don’t know yet! Whenever I see a new message notification, I wonder if I’m about to be called out.

What I do know, more certainly, is I’m good at using tumblr. To HMJ’s point, “As a children’s librarian, if you write more about how you use books with children than you do about the books and authors themselves, you don’t get as much notice.” Yep. I can put up a quote on TheLifeguardLibrarian or a classroom example on Dear Library, and we can place bets on the first to twenty notes. Dear Library probably won’t make it at all. At least it wouldn’t have before I amassed this following.

I gained traction here baiting followers. I used popular or unique quotes and images. I finally got into the #lit tag. Using that base as my soap box, I piped up my tiny, shrill internet voice (h/t Daniel on that phrase), and pushed #libraries #librarians. And the snowball rolled.

So what? Where’s the good work? The service? The librarianship?

Thankfully that came along, as I began to see the community grow—librarians, and students, and allies of the profession, started a dialogue. The community was also able to engage the population outside of librarianship, which is crucial to our profession  moving forward. And no, this was not solely due to me, but I had a significant role in it.

All that, and I get to ALA and my ego is lost. I’m still not a librarian, or at least the librarian I want/hope to be. I have no proof of my worth since I left work with teens. I have no examples of success, no colleagues to vouch for my innovations in the field.

I’m not whining, I’m just reflecting. I wonder what I think after I ‘make it.’ I want to be a teaching librarian. Will that validate what I’m doing here? Perhaps a bit more. Every time I have to redirect an ask to Daniel or Erin, I feel a touch of phoney—not that shouldn’t enable networking between professionals, just that so often I’m looked to as an authority when too often my answer is “gosh, I don’t know!” Or maybe I just don’t know yet. 

When I get there, don’t let me away with glossing over it here. Make me report out, ask for specifics, demand a demonstration of my librarianship. Don’t let the ego run on followers and fan mail. I want to be proud of my work online, and off. These are my most selfish thoughts!

Now briefly, about men.

I’m a middle class white American girl. I have no brothers, and I was raised like my father’s son. My sister and I were taught mental and physical toughness. Our family had enough, but not too much. We were taught to work for what we wanted—I work, I earn, I buy a car or a computer. I’m smart, funny, and I love being in the classroom. No one can shut me up. I’ll challenge classmates or the professor. I’m attractive, by societal standards. I’m no knock-out, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable or been made to feel that my appearance is sub-par. I’m physically fit and strong. I have a black belt in karate and played sports at the collegiate level.

It took me a long, long time to come around on feminism.

Why? Well, why would I have? If I wanted to say something, I said it. If I wanted to do something, I did it. It took me a long time to open up these big blue eyes and realize that not everyone, including my cultural peers, had the same opportunities. I resented weak women. What’s wrong with you? Speak up. I didn’t trust women in positions of authority. I thought they’d eventually lose their edge to emotion.

I, of course, was wrong. But I was young and ignorant. I didn’t recognize that without being blessed by any one the qualities I spelled out above, my life would have been a lot harder, much sooner. Lots of school, friends, professors, and five years in a major city have enlightened me to the pervasive tragedy of injustice and inequality in all areas of the human experience. I both participate in these structures which reinforce injustice and inequality, as well as find myself limited by them.

And here it is again, in my profession. It was something I was immediately sensitive to on beginning library school. I saw leadership positions filled by men, while the profession was driven by women. I saw classes geared towards positions of power or prestige—management, academic libraries, tech, archives—with double, even triple the ‘usual’ number of male students. 

Once again though, my confidence and competitiveness thrived in those environments. I beg for a fight, I always have. But that’s because I’ve been well prepared for it and it’s frankly just in my personality. My initial reaction to Nicholas Schiller's response to HMJ was my usual combative style. What good is silence? I am woman! Let me at the fight!

I’ve backed off that since yesterday. Some silence is good, even powerful. Allowing space for more voices is necessary. I can only hope we hear those voices when they arrive. We may not invite them to keynote conference sessions, but perhaps we’ll find them in concurrent sessions and start recognizing their worth away from the main stage.

I love the men I’ve met in the profession. I think they’re doing good work. I think their following is well deserved. I want women to feel welcome to the discussion. I want them to find avenues to leadership and recognition. I want to get there myself.

Conflicts arise by a perceived scarcity of resources or virtues. There is no scarcity of recognition or limit to success. There is no set definition of success either. There is room and opportunity for everyone. Let’s keep doing good work and keep the dialogue open.

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  1. intrepidheroine reblogged this from thepinakes
  2. oplibearian reblogged this from thelifeguardlibrarian
  3. thepinakes reblogged this from thelifeguardlibrarian and added:
    When I first read this post by Kate, I commented “you’re a better librarian that you know,” which, while I believe is...
  4. darkangelaod reblogged this from thelifeguardlibrarian
  5. thepinakes said: You’re a better librarian than you know.
  6. academicmermaid said: You’re such a fantastic writer, an excellent tumblogger (if one could say that), and, I’m sure, a class-A librarian. I’m curious, though: what does “making it” mean to you?
  7. thelifeguardlibrarian posted this