The Loneliness of a Special Dumpster Librarian.

I just want someone to love me !
I just want someone to love me ! flickr photo by CJS*64 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own existence as a special library worker in an academic setting lately. I’m on the peer-review committee for librarians at work, so I’ve been reading about all the impactful work my impressive colleagues have been doing. It’s humbling. It also brings into focus the many ways people can be librarians and how the size of a department or organization greatly impacts ones job duties. It also often reflects the drastic changes to library staffing we’ve seen in the last decade. When I was hired as a librarian, my organization had 4 full time librarians, 3 full time staff, and 10 student employees. Now it’s 1 librarian, 1 staff, and a handful of students (COVID not permitting). I went from only doing reference and instruction to doing everything – cataloging, processing, collection development, reference, research support, data management, community building, and knowledge management.

That’s a lot.

And to some people this sounds absolutely bonkers and a recipe for failure because they’re kind of Dumpster Jobs that include everything but kitchen sink. And the trend for large libraries, in large systems to make untenable jobs with huge mandates is definitely a thing we need to collectively push back against. But on the other hand, for some organizations and positions it’s just a fact of life. Christina Pikas just wrote about it in her post “Dumpster Jobs, Coordinator Positions, and Special Library Normal Operations” and rarely have I felt so validated as a library worker. I’ve spent my entire career in special libraries, and around special library workers who are responsible for everything information related in their organization. Juggling so many disparate tasks to keep library services functioning while also advocating for your position’s existence, and satisfying organizational needs (that often change with the winds) is exhausting but also unavoidable. One reason I still value being a member of the Special Libraries Association is the community of other library workers in similar situations – the ones who understand what I’m trying to balance! When I talk to other library workers from more traditional environments, it’s more surprising than not when they understand my role and that until we get the resources to hire more staff I have to be a little bit of everything to everybody. (Oh and I hope I will carve out the time to develop some new models and programs to get the funding to get that staff!) So of course I expect that response. I am used to tempering my expectations and kind of ignoring some of the critiques about jobs like mine because they’re not really saying anything new and aren’t going to help libraries like mine.

Which is all to say, being a library worker in a small library or department presents challenges that are hard for library workers in more traditional, larger organizations to recognize. And I’m used to it. And yet still sometimes the reminders sting.

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