Friday, 8 July 2011

My two year librariversary

Two years ago today, I decided to become a librarian. This milestone seems to invite a self-reflective post about what I’ve done, what I’ve learned, and where I’m going in Year Three. And so, WARNING: this post offers no useful insights into anything except myself. It’s an onanistic exercise that I don’t expect will offer anything to anyone. Normal service will be resumed shortly. 

Borges' Library of Babel. My favourite short story.
  • Finished my dissertation and thereby gained my Masters degree
  • Got a Distinction in aforementioned Masters degree
  • Moved into my own flat and lived on my own for the first time
  • Survived a year in my first professional post
  • (Survived a week living on an Army base as part of my training!)
  • Took over as Acting Manager (managing a whole friggin’ library)
  • Had two articles published on The Guardian’s Comment is Free
  • Had an article published in CILIP Update
  • Became a member of Voices for the Library
  • Campaigned for North Yorkshire’s libraries (met MPs, talked at community meetings, helped out local campaign groups)
  • Did several interviews for BBC Radio
  • Presented at the CILIP Library and Information History Group Conference
  • Helped to run a stall at the Hay Festival
  • Co-presented a workshop at the New Professionals Conference
  • Met dozens of awesome library folk and other tweeters

    It feels great to have accomplished so much but it’s also overwhelming. If someone had told me one year ago that I was going to do all the things listed above, I would never have believed them. In a self-congratulatory, egocentric way, I’m amazed that I’ve been able to do all those things. In particular, the campaigning, the activism, and the interacting with people (so many people!) are things that I never would have believed I could do. 

    Part of this is to do with self-definition and self-identity. It’s only since I decided to become a librarian two years ago that I’ve really put my skills to use. But my identity – the Simon I see in my head – was forged in the wilderness years of 16-22 when I came to define myself as a gawky, socially-inept, eternally-confused philosophy student who had vague dreams of making a living by writing but who otherwise had no place in a world of materialism and banality. This was a childish expression of individuality and egoism: the youthful belief that one is unique and that no-one else could possibly feel the same way about reality. Nevertheless, that is the identity that was created and that I still project onto myself today. And so, the point I’m trying laboriously to make, is that the Simon in my head – Simon the geek, Simon the philosopher, Simon the (dare I say) loser – doesn’t match the Simon who is the progenitor of the accomplishments listed above – Simon the librarian, Simon the activist, Simon the (dare I say) success. 

    So along with the sense of pride at the accomplishments of Year Two, there’s a strange cognitive dissonance whereby, on a logical level, I have evidence of what I’m capable of but on an emotional level, I don’t feel capable to have done those things. Mingled with all this, there’s the odd recurring fear that in my transition from Simon-the-loser to Simon-the-success something valuable has been lost: some indefinable quality – perhaps innocence, perhaps potential – that has been lost as I have ‘regenerated’. 

    The big eye-opener lesson of last year therefore is that I am more capable than I ever thought. What now? Where am I going and what am I doing? This kind of self-reflection is also kind of terrifying. It feels like the bar has now been set for what I can achieve and there’s a certain amount of egocentric internal pressure to either match or surpass the accomplishments of Year Two. 

    As my writing about digital libraries suggests, I’d like to find a job working with digital libraries, repositories, or electronic collection management, ideally in an academic library where my work can help academic research. I want to continue writing: about library-related stuff and it would also be nice to pick up my fiction writing which has somewhat fallen by the wayside. I want to continue my library activism: I was nervous when I first joined Voices for the Library but it’s become one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. 

    Broadly speaking, I want to continue doing what I’m doing. I love librarianship and I’m happy working at it. Immediately after that graduate trainee interview two years ago today, I knew that this was what I wanted to do and I readjusted the course of my life to do it but I never expected it to be so rewarding and so fulfilling. A profession that lets me help people, that allows me to meet inspiring people, that gives me access to amazing books and amazing technology, that gives me the opportunity to write and have people read what I write, that lets me be logical, organised, and pedantic. Who could ask for more than that?

    On to Year Three...


    SarahJIson said...

    Happy librariversary Simon! Pleasure to meet you at the New Professionals Conference, and I'm really pleased you've had such an encouraging and fulfilling start to your library career you've achieved so much. Hope this next year for you is amazing, and full of new experiences and opportunities.

    thewikiman said...

    This is, officially, a Great Post. No apology needed, I really enjoyed it. It should serve as an inspiration for people.

    I feel like I've been very aware of your evolution because I think my first contact with you was your New Profs submission from way back. It seems to be me that - and this may be a gross over-simplification, for which I apologise before going ahead with anyway - you've moved from the realm of the philosopher to the realm of the, I dunno, actualist? You've recallibrated your world view to fit better with the world of work in which you've found yourself, I reckon. I can see, therefore, what you mean by a feeling that something might have been lost. But you've adapted to your environment and become very successful, how cool is that? It's like someone who can hold their breath for 20 minutes finding themselves in a jungle - you can contine deploying the breath holding skills to limited effect, or you can put that on the back-burner, but have it there subtly informing your vine-hacking, tiger-skinning skills, as you have done. :)

    Basically for me, your NPC2010 proposal was the work of someone trying to mould the world to fit your ideals, and everying since has been the work of someone adjusting the way THEY mould to the world and thriving because of it. I don't see this as a compromise either - I see it as practical and flexible and all the stuff we tell people we are in job interviews.

    I'm sorry, this is incredibly presumtuous and rude of me to just analyse you on your blog - feel free not to publish this comment (or delete it if its auto-published). But I've been really struck by how much of a change has occured in the time I've been in contact with you, and that list of achievements is extraordinary for one year innit. I'm not sure how much value there is in trying to out-do yourself in Year 3 - this is bound to be a huge year because it's where everything started. Just be chuffed. Nice one sir! :)

    Maria Giovanna De Simone said...

    Such an inspiring post Simon, thank you, indeed.

    Ankova said...

    Excellent Post. I've followed your blog and career ever since I messaged you on facebook about the MA at MMU. I'm thrilled it's going well for you - keep going, it's inspiring.

    schammond said...

    This is a smashing post Simon, I love the mix of personal and professional. I think Ned's endorsement is spot on too. You've inspired me so I hope you don't mind if I steal your idea and blog my tortuous route to librarianship!
    Hope to bump into you again soon.

    Simon Barron said...

    Thanks everyone. I'm overwhelmed by such a positive response to such a personal post. Yet more proof, as if proof were needed, that I've chosen the right profession.

    Ned: those comments are really perceptive. It totally articulates something that I hadn't considered but seems so true. For me, the process has involved discovering which skills are transferable and which aren't (eg. breath-holding). To be philosophy-Simon again for a moment, I feel a lot more like a Heideggerian Being-in-the-World now.

    Here's to lots more years with you awesome people!

    Simon Barron said...

    Oh and Sarah: I think I'll see you at the DREaM launch conference in a couple of weeks.

    Gary Green said...

    Blimey, Simon. What a successful and productive year and so early on in your career. Well done! Keep it up. :-)

    Laura Steel said...

    Wow, that is an impressive set of achievements for only 2 years! Inspiring. :-)

    woodsiegirl said...

    Agree with above comments, this is a fantastic post. Really chimes with a lot of how I feel about my past couple of years in librarianship too.

    And that really is an impressive list of achievements for so early in your career! I wouldn't worry too much about outdoing yourself in Year 3 - just keep going as you are, it's clearly working for you :)

    library2.0 said...

    Many congrats Simon on a great post. Best of luck for the future.

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