Do What Makes You Mad

06/11/2013 § 7 Comments

In the library world, enthusiasm is not in short supply. I’d even go so far as to say that being excited about things is quickly becoming part of the new librarian stereotype, along with being 25, tattooed, pink-haired, and on a skateboard. Think about it—an abundance of library websites, blogs, and Twitter feeds focus on being clever, sharing new book finds, and poking fun at our profession. And while all this is great (and hilarious), I often wonder, where’s everybody’s indignation? Doesn’t something (other than rude patrons) make you mad?

I’ll go ahead and admit that I sometimes wonder why I’m in the library business at all. But then I meet people who remind me, like the 75-year-old woman who could hardly walk without breathing heavily who needed help applying for a job at Burger King. Unpack that one—digital illiteracy, elder care, unemployment, disability. That makes me mad. And when I get mad, I do what librarians do best—I start learning.

Of the five tracks my MLIS program offers (youth services, cataloging, management, reference, and technology), I originally chose to focus on technology because, honestly, I thought it would look amazing on my resume. But once I started working at a public library, everything I learned in my technology classes started to come into focus. Digital illiteracy became real to me, and I realized that my classes were preparing me to think about the big picture concerning the impact of new technologies on libraries, their patrons, and the world.

These classes and experiences prepared me to think critically about a topic that I hadn’t even realized mattered to me. They gave my studies a sense of purpose, and they reinforced the lessons I’d learned in core classes. And yes, as I predicted, they’re starting to make my resume look a lot better, too.

It is my advice, then, when designing your course of study, to specialize in something that makes you mad, something that will equip you with the skills to right the wrongs you see. I know that letting what makes you mad drive your decisions is usually a bad idea, but in this case, it makes sense. Enthusiasm wanes (Twilight, anyone?), but man, can people hold a grudge. And sometimes, that’s a good thing.

You don’t have to sink your teeth into an issue and never let go, but it’s not a bad idea to at least keep the issue where you can see it. Don’t ignore what you like—try tearing me away from display making, why don’t you—but don’t ignore what makes you mad, either. You may find something new to love.

What do you think fellow hackers? Is there enough indignation among library people? Is there anything that makes you mad?

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§ 7 Responses to Do What Makes You Mad

  • Alex says:

    Librarians’ meh attitudes towards things that should make them angry makes me angry. And our general apathy. It surprises and saddens me.

    Good post.

  • Among other reasons, I turned to librarianship after many years in customer service because I was so mad about how people wouldn’t try to find the answer for themselves, even when I (along with coworkers) tried so hard to make it easy and accessible for them. So many customers who asked for technical assistance or account information wanted it spoonfed to them, and sometimes even read aloud to them (yet didn’t seem to have this problem on their own time, such as when enjoying the complicated software product we supported). I want my community (okay, society at large, but I’ll settle for what I can get) to raise people from childhood that know how to find information — starting with basic literacy, curiosity, self-agency, informational literacy, and access to tools. Bingo: children’s services. Hopefully fewer completely helpless and entitled customers.

  • Casey McCoy says:

    I absolutely love this post as throughout the past year I have developed this “madness” that has blossomed into action. I come from a similar background as Remy with being frustrated in previous customer service positions and see a lot of the same attitudes in libraries and schools. If we each take the initiative to take action in our communities, then society at large will be greatly impacted after all! *high fives*

  • What gets me mad is seeing librarians who are invested mentally in the status quo and dismiss even the possibility of changing things up, even a little bit, even to improve services, even to make life easier for themselves. Job seekers, be sure to assess your institutional culture carefully.

  • Aidy So says:

    I like to get mad for the right reasons and this post truly represents the passion that we next-gen librarians need to have in order to improve the profession. There are so many variables in our society that have created what has become the digital divide, literacy gap, socio-economic inequalities and so on from the patron base that you see in a public library. So when we get mad, or passionate about making things better, it should push us to consider the right class to reinforce what needs to be learned in order to help those most vulnerable. I took a class on consumer health resources, because I knew that there was a gap between people receiving sound and objective medical information and everything else that can be found online. I learned ways that I could help individuals navigate those resources and the class really made a difference.

  • Aidy So says:

    @Michael, to add to that (I completely agree) what also makes me mad is the fear that some library professionals have of up-and-coming librarians and how that negates a critical opportunity for networking and mentoring.

  • I like the fact that you have the experience to give you an idea on what path you want to focus on. People gave me the strangest looks when I told them I wasn’t going back to school until I started working in my field. I have finally found a job, in my field, and I love it. Now in a few years I can finally tell myself that I am ready to go back and advance myself in four to six more years of learning

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