I heard about Christine Williams’ book Still a Man’s World on Twitter in the context of discussing how silencing within the profession of librarianship works. It was a fascinating read, and even though it was written almost 20 years ago, everything but the contemporary stats still seem relevant (at least in regards to librarianship).
The book talks about how gender works in four predominantly female jobs: librarian, elementary school teacher, social worker and nurse. There’s a chapter on how these professions became associated with women (previous to the late nineteenth century these were populated by men) but the bulk of it is a sociological analysis of what it’s like to be a male in these predominantly female professions, and how different it is from being a female in a male dominated profession.
One of the biggest differences comes in the form of the glass escalator for males. This is the phenomenon where you find far more male administrators and other higher-ups than you’d expect from the pure demographics. Part of this has to do with promoting men out of front-line jobs to get them into a zone where tradition says it “makes more sense” to have men (like as the principal of an elementary school rather than a kindergarten teacher). Some of this has to do with how the corporate structure of even these female dominated workplaces rewards a lifestyle that puts the job first ahead of any other life-considerations.
There’s a chapter on masculinity in these professions and how that’s seen as a rare and special thing that needs to be protected and rewarded, as compared with women in male jobs who have to assimilate themselves. There’s a need to show that despite doing women’s work we’re still masculine. Obviously, this is why so many male librarians are bearded. Another thing is how males tend to self-segregate into parts of the profession deemed a bit more acceptable. So a lot of male librarians tend towards the techie side of things, or academic libraries rather than being children’s librarians.
I think some things (in librarianship at least) have changed since the book was written. There were a lot more men getting library degrees in my classes than back in the early 1990s when the people were interviewed for this book. Also, it’s kind of cute how people talk about these professions as being easy to get a job in.
It probably isn’t the most rigorous academic book, though Williams does include an appendix on her methodology that gives the whole thing a bit more oomph than mere anecdote. A cursory look at Google Scholar sees the book cited a few hundred times and not in any obviously disparaging way.
In any case, I found it very interesting as one of these men working in a “female” profession. I know I get a lot more credit (from parents and employers, actual and potential) for working with kids than a female version of me would, and I think it’s good to be conscious of that kind of thing.
Today I started my new job. I’m now a professional youth librarian who does things like works full-time and performs storytimes and will be getting a Teen Advisory Group together and all the other cool things librarians get to do if they’re lucky. I’m excited about the possibilities (and am exceedingly aware of how lucky I am to have gotten full-time work straight out of finishing my MLIS).
One thing that’s a bit different from the last time I worked in a library is that I’m not going to be blogging specifically about where I work. It’s not a secret or anything. You can easily discover it for yourself. My name is Justin Unrau and I’m out there on the internet (usually with the same avatar). But I won’t be talking about the specifics of my day to day work the way I used to back at the cheese factory. (And yes, this means no stories of awesome encounters with library members or coworkers.)
The main reason for this is because I kind of feel like my audience here (such as it is) is made up more of fellow librarchivists these days, and these people have their own awesome stories in that vein. These librarchivists haven’t necessarily read the same books that I’ve been reading, and they might have a use for my reviews (such as they are). And they might find it useful to read about libraryboxes and piracy or storytime plans and whatever. The shift in audience means a shift in content, is what I’m saying.
I’m not saying I’ll stop cussing in my book reviews here (even in reviews of kids’ books). I’ll try to keep talking about things in the greater world of information that make fine upstanding librarians squirm. That’s all good. I’m just putting up a bit of separation to make it very very clear that my new employer is not responsible for, nor do they condone, anything I write here. I might write about programs that I create in my job (or for presentations at library conferences or what have you), but the writing here is done on my own time for my own professional/personal development.
I guess the big takeaway here is that if you are here for the book reviews, awesome. Those’ll stay the same. There’ll probably be weeklyish posts about more generally library-related topics interspersed with them. If you’re here for rollicking tales of customer service interactions, this isn’t the source it used to be (and truthfully hasn’t been in years). I suggest The Society for Librarians* Who Say Motherfucker if you are so inclined (though it does seem much more petty than I feel it used to be).
Anyway, now that I’m not jobhunting I hope to make the blog better. I’ve got plans for zine workshops, lego, science fiction and circuit-bending and I’ll share them with you. I’m going to try to make my book reviews a bit more helpful too. Thanks for reading.
I read Jeff Schmidt’s book Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives because of a conversation between a bunch of newly-/almost-graduated librarchivists I know talking about the terrible job prospects in our chosen field. Now, a week from being done with my library schooling, the book was an interesting perspective what this training had prepared me for and how.
The big thesis of Disciplined Minds is that the main difference between a professional and a nonprofessional is that non-professionals are only allowed to do non-creative things, while professionals do the creative work. This is often why people engage in the paper chase for degrees; they want to be able to do the fulfilling interesting parts of the job, not just the rote mundane things. But creative people don’t necessarily do things that their superiors want them to do, which is why they need to be professionally trained; they need to be trusted that they won’t act against the system’s interests. The book talks about how professional training is designed to make professionals into reliable servants of the hierarchical system of society’s status quo.
These students scramble to figure out the rules of the game in their university graduate department or professional school, and then they literally compete to adjust themselves appropriately. Being not merely adjustable, but self-adjusting, they are good students in the eyes of the faculty. For the same reason they will be good professionals in the eyes of their employers. These students do not simply refrain from acts of insubordination, such as challenging the training institution’s agenda or criticizing the ways that agenda reflects the needs of the larger system. Rather, they enthusiastically embrace the system of professional qualification and defend the qualifying examination. The personal strategy of these skilled submissives is to play the game: to use the qualifying examination to demonstrate on the system’s terms that they are “good” (that is, well-adapted), to be certified with a credential and to get a job with a new set of rules to submit to. In short this means integrating themselves into the system, being dwarfed by it but surviving, if not as independent forces for change in society, then at least as well-fed biological entities serving the status quo.
Jeff Schmidt draws a lot of his examples from the world of physics academia, which is his background, and I have to say that the worlds he describes are much harsher than whatever I experienced in either of my professional degrees (neither of which had certification/qualifying exams like passing the bar or whatever). But it’s still there. The first term core is really crappy at our school, filled with busy-work that serves little purpose but to ensure that you’re capable of following orders and engaging in alienated labour (work that you feel no connection to).
And then there’s the job hunt. Trying to convince people that you will be a good employee is a recipe for soul-crushing. From the book:
It is vital to the system that the losers serve the hierarchy respectfully, and not sabotage it, when they find themselves with jobs that have lower social status than the society of “unlimited opportunity” had led them to expect… Those who say “That’s life” should understand that there is nothing natural about a system that kills the spirit of large numbers of people by first putting them in a position where they need opportunity, then promising them virtually unlimited opportunity and finally making them losers.
That about sums up what it’s like looking for a library job in the current system.
I’d like to think that in general librarians are different than the professionals Schmidt describes, but I can see how we are inculcated with certain values that will help us be good workers in systems, not necessarily good individual thinkers. Librarchivism does seem to have a better focus on its social benefit to society than Physics though. And the hum of free-speech and preserving institutional memory ideals in the background does influence how we’re taught. I have friends who are beginning their training to become teachers this fall, and I’m really interested to see how their professional training experiences match up to mine (and each others’ since they’re going to different universities).
The final section of Schmidt’s book is about how to be a radical professional, and the emphasis there is on identifying as a challenger of the status quo first, not as a professional. This means having solidarity with non-professionals and challenging for what is better for society and the people we serve than our bosses. I like to think that’s part of librarianship anyway, but am not completely naïve. I’m glad I have colleagues who are more radical than me to challenge me to not just get swept up in politics as usual as I try to be an employed librarian.
All in all, a fascinating book. I’d love to see a more contemporary book like this (which is from 2000) written in the smaller-scale Canadian system.
On Saturday I head to Ontario to interview Canadian librarians who’ve been involved with IFLA. While I’m not looking forward to transcribing these interviews, it’s all kinds of neat that we got grant money to send me to talk to people. I probably wouldn’t have been aware of the intricacies of high-level organizational politics without this project.
While I’m gone (till the 27th of June) I’ve actually got two other jobs I’ll be working on as well. One of them is a professional experience project, which will be fulfilling my final three credits of my MLIS. It’s a project combining YA services and techy WordPress hosting/moderation stuff, so kind of a perfect storm for my abilities and interests.
The last job I’ve got, and the one I’m being paid for is creating videos on topics like “How to make a book trailer” and “Reference interviews with teens.” We’ve got people in another department at UBC providing good equipment and technical knowhow so my main job is supposed to be scripting and storyboarding, but I’m going to be able to sneak in at least a book trailer or two as well, I hope.
I finished up my last class on Thursday and now the rest of the summer is a (busy) victory lap. I’m pretty excited about it. And hopeful I’ll be able to parlay all this experience into a job for September somehow.
It is an honor and a privilege to be speaking to you today. Because at most commencements, you can talk about following your dream and keep your passion alive. But most of the people you’re talking to are going to build careers sending and receiving e-mail, composing Powerpoint slides, and generating Excel spreadsheets. “Click strong! Thank you very much.”
But you? You have gone to school to pursue a creative vision, and have now acquired the skills to do so. This puts you miles ahead of most recent college graduates, who have yet to realize that skills exist, and that skills matter. Expertise matters. The important work that you build your reputation on – you can’t just Google it. You don’t cut and paste it from Wikipedia. You roll up your sleeves, and bring all your creativity and meaningful skills to bear on the problem of building something.
I haven’t graduated from library school yet, and I’ve never gone to the graduation ceremonies from my previous degrees, so maybe I’m not one to talk about inspiring speeches. But the implication that people who work with spreadsheets and email (and debugging websites) are less deserving of inspiration than design graduates irks me. It irks me even though I’m guilty of it too.
One of the things that gets to me about library work is the lack of creation in it. I mean, yes we work on databases and finding aids and displays and information literacy lessons, which all require being creative, and sure, I can talk the talk about librarians facilitating knowledge creation in a community, but usually that kind of stuff feels hollow to me. It’s just so much rhetoric to make librarians feel better about ourselves, like the debates about professionalism we have at school. I mean, I’m all over being passionate about librarianship; being awesome is great in whatever field you’re in. I don’t want to get kicked out of the cool librarians club I haven’t even joined yet, but I can’t be the only one who finds it kind of natural that creating something that gets collected by a library is better than being the collector.
But. I learned today that I might be heading out to rural Australia next month to train the staff from a health services library system in using Koha. Which I’m kind of excited about. There is expertise involved there too, stuff I’ve gone to school for and have a bit of talent in. It’s an opportunity to go somewhere and see some more stuff. Take me away from nitpicking a website and I can remember I’ve got some passion for this kind of work. I may not be a “creative professional” deserving of an inspirational speech, but as far as day jobs go, this can be a pretty good one.
It’s also kind of great to work at a place that values my abilities and trusts me to go out as their representative into the world. I’ve been here less than two months and I’m still a student, but I’ll get to go on a business trip (inshallah) like I’m a person with a real job. I don’t know how much I want to be a person with a real job, but it’s kind of fun to pretend. Pretending’s part of creation, isn’t it?
Lisa Chamberlain’s Slackonomics is a book about Generation X and how they live differently than the boomers before them. The thing that makes it different from all the books on the subject from 10-15 years ago is that this one is looking at these GenXers all grown up and in charge of things instead of being the youngsters whose apathy would prove to be the death of civilization.
The subtitle of the book is “Generation X in the Age of Creative Destruction,” referring to the economic bubble collapses we’ve been undergoing in the last ten years (dotcom, subprime mortgages). These collapses are different from previous downturns because they aren’t cyclical but systemic. Or something. The thesis is that though Gen X grew up with the greed motivation of the 80s they also saw how the 90s recession could fuck that all up. They’ve seen terrifying highs and dizzying lows and now they’re 40 and are the people who’ll get us through, past the boomers’ “me me me” motivations.
It was an interesting book, especially when Sean’s been talking about his Helmet Generation stuff recently. As I see it, my immediate cohort we’re sort of the cusp between the Gen Xers and the Helmeteers, and I think I feel more affinity for the Xes.
Selected points from LIScareer’s Characteristics of Emotionally Unhealthy Libraries
- No meetings (“We don’t have time for meetings” or “Too many meetings waste everyone’s time”)
- Too many meetings, meetings are long, and are not well facilitated
- Imposition of one person’s views on the rest of the library
- Lack of communication between divisions, lack of mechanisms for communication
- Culture is dominated by a few negative personalities that “act out” their own personal agendas or decrease staff morale.
- Complaints are ignored or are used against the staff member who complains.
- Library administration not held responsible by stakeholders
- Lack of respect for the staff by the library administration
Some day when I become a librarian I’ll sure want to avoid a workplace with any of these characteristics. Happily, at the bottom of the list are some questions to ask in interviews that might help determine what kind of work culture you’d be getting into.
I got my letter about the disciplinary hearing at work today. Also heard from the union guy who pointed out that they aren’t running this discipline under a grievance or the Respectful Workplace clauses in our agreement, but under Article 13 which is simply: Discipline. So I don’t get to have any witnesses, don’t actually get told what I did wrong and it’s happening at 9pm for some reason. I’ll be heading from work to a boardroom to get rubbed out maybe? Who the fuck knows. The whole thing is real goddamned ominous.
It’s actually really shitty that they’re doing it under this Discipline thing because there’s no guideline in that clause about how it’s supposed to go. So it’ll be me and four people in a room and they’re “investigating” the complaint. I’m worried that even though there’s no rule I’ve broken that they’ll just newspeak everything and I’ll get mad and everything will go wrong. Nobody will understand that they’re wrong. Or they won’t fucking care and I’ll be fired.
So I breathe in and out and remember it doesn’t fucking matter.
Fun times today at work with the safety orientation. It was all “lift with your legs,” “don’t lean off stepladders,” “tell people when you open trap doors behind them,” and “you can’t do an effective eyewash in a regular tap because it will be too cold for your eye over 20 minutes.” Plus there was a trunk monkey and horror stories of wading pool supervisors being set upon by feral 11-year-olds.
Of course paying much attention to that was kind of hard since management announced the dreaded library staff restructuring via email this morning. Between now and October all of the part-time packages are getting reposted in a grand ol’ free-for-all. Nobody gets to keep their current packages of hours/days. Everybody then reapplies for the new restructured (ie fewer guaranteed hours) packages across the board. So there’s no way in fuck I’ll be getting 17-28.5 hours/week anymore. I’ve heard that jobs downtown tend to get fewer applicants so I might be able to stay downtown, though I might be reassigned to a branch (ideally someplace close to home).
But there’s also the little fact that not only am I basically the most recent LSA3 to start working downtown, I haven’t worked enough hours as an LSA3 to be guaranteed a position as a 3. In the reapplication process I still count as a page. So as I understand it, I could conceivably end up being busted back down to bookstacker. Unless I get up to 800 hours (or whatever the seniority number is) before the reorganization happens, in which case I would have to get an LSA3 position, though it will undoubtedly be fewer hours than I get now. A coworker said he thinks they’ll need all the warm bodies they can get in the LSA3 positions so I probably don’t need to worry.
It’s good that the idea winter will return gives me more angst than this whole job-in-flux issue, isn’t it? I think it’s the proper perspective. I mean, this’ll work out fine; I’ll come out of this mess with a job and a bit less money but the snow will always return, vindictive and jealous of my petty victories in the frolicsome days.
I don’t know exactly why my regular Saturday shift begins at 9:15 with a break at 9:45. I suppose there’s a reason for it somewhere but it’s odd. Note I didn’t say “I’m sure” because I do work for the city. Right now we’re only allowed to have three people on-desk at a time, meaning one person at least is banished into the lightless cells at any given time. This is so we don’t appear to be inefficient in our department and have our hours cut back in these “tough economic times.” Supposedly if there is to be a cutting back of hours everyone’s positions are re-posted and it is a horrible seniority-based free for all to grab something resembling your job. I hope that doesn’t happen.