Not giving up, just moving on

On May 15, Instagram told me that five years ago I graduated with my Master’s of Library and Information Science degree. July will mark fifteen years since getting my first library job. June 5 will mark my three year anniversary at UNLV. Last year at this time, my ambition was to one day be a library dean at a little private four-year university someplace. Today, I’d rather get out of libraries altogether. Chuck it. I’m done.

Last summer my personal life went through an upheaval that sent me down a dark path in my mental health in which both medication and suicide were being considered. By winter break my depression was so profound that I’d go to work (the only place away from the source of my problem) and just collapse into a crippling malaise. I couldn’t do anything but the most basic parts of my job. It was noticed, obviously, that the department head wasn’t really functioning. And there were discussions with my boss and our HR representative. I got my FMLA paperwork filed acknowledging my mental health issues, but the damage was done. Since then, no aspect of my performance has been seen by my boss as adequate and was even “written up” for one incident.

By mid -January 2020 my mental health condition had become to improve significantly, and the problem in my personal life was remedied. But right on its heels was the professional fallout from my nadir period. I had achieved equilibrium at home, but now had no psychological security at work. My anxiety went into overdrive and things got a whole different kind of serious. Amid all of this was COVID-19. Our library closed in mid-March, and I’ve been working from home since.

My goal in the new situation was to use it as a period of professional reset, but as time went on, my boss continued to treat me dismissively, micromanaging every aspect of my work, critical of everything I did no matter the effort or quality of my work. I’m told I’m wrong when I take initiative, and told I’m wrong when I wait to react to situations. I was so desperate that I filled out an EthicsPoint complaint about her, complete with documentation, claiming a hostile work environment. The thing about HR, though, they’re not your friend. They’re there to protect the organization, not you. So the complaint didn’t solve anything, and likely cemented my position. I’m not performing so poorly to get fired, but I can’t make any satisfactory improvement. I’m hopeless and I’ve lost all ambition.

I’ve learned a few things in all of this. I don’t have the aptitude for leadership. I’m a much better functionary than a leader. I’d be a good No. 2 executing someone else’s vision, but as the boss I’m lacking. Also, I have no business in a tenure track position or in a large research library. At best, in my current skill set I could be an assistant manager at a small four-year teaching institution or at a public library. I’ve also learned that I’m just burned out of public services. It’s been fifteen years and who knows how many years in retail. I’m just done with it.

Where does that leave me? I need to find a position in which I can build on my natural skills. I’m process and detail oriented. The vagaries of public service have proved to be something I can’t master, even though I’ve enjoyed the variety of work it provided. If I’m going to stay in libraries at all I need to be in a back-of-house position where I make use of the aptitudes I do have. When I first started this journey I thought I’d be a cataloger, but by the time I took the classes in library school I decided that I wanted to work in Access Services. Now, probably seven years past those classes, I no longer have those skills. I’ve also started to become interested in data. I don’t have those skills either.

I need to reskill. No matter what I do I need to reskill. Whether my new job is inside of libraries or outside of libraries I need to retrain myself for the next phase of my life. I’m only 41. I have probably 30 years of a working life left if I can stay reasonably healthy. When I say “outside of libraries” I mean it. One of the many things I’m over in this profession is the fetishization of librarianship. The notion of “librarian” as identity. I used to be proud to call myself “librarian.” But now, it’s just my job. And what I want, really, is a J-O-B. I want a steady 40-hour a week job that allows my family to live a comfortable life.

I’ve been seriously looking at getting into mortgage loan processing, recently. That seems like an excellent job for me. It’s detail and process oriented. It helps people, and it pays decently. With the proper certifications it will pay as much or more than I’m making now, and it won’t take years of classes to get that certification. Yes, it’s still working with the public, but it’s the kind of public service that I like. They come to you with a specific problem. You guide them through how to solve the problem, and if they don’t have what they need to accomplish their goal then there is a path for how they try again later.

Similarly, my therapist has been promoting medical coding and paralegal as good paths for me, too. High demand. Detail and process oriented. Don’t need years of school for certification. I don’t need a job that requires a master’s degree. Just one that can keep food on our table after my wife retires in three years. And I certainly don’t need a job that others think means I’m trying to change the world.

The two great successes I’ve had in my career are in rebuilding the consortium lending practices for UMSL and in hiring 5/6 of my team at UNLV. None of those are “librarian” accomplishments. I’m surrounded by talented and productive professional librarians whose papers you may have read or presentations you may have attended. The fact is that I’m just not one of them. My ambitions are all domestically oriented. I want a job that provides a comfortable life for myself, my wife, and our cats. That allows us to take vacations and keeps us insured. That provides us with the time and income to pursue our hobbies. I don’t need to be a librarian to do that. And, mostly, lately, I’d rather not be.

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