Strategic Retreat or Shake Shit Up?

During Resolve to Rock, a lot of people wrote about trying to find balance. Trying not to overdraw their emotional energy professionally so that they have space and energy in their lives for. . .the rest of their lives. Brytani wrote about coming to terms with not having to do all the things, change all the things, win awards, be THE BEST LIBRARIAN THERE IS.


You’re already the best, pumpkin.



Brytani’s post struck a chord with Bryce, who blogged about how Librarian is what you do, not who you are.



All of this got me thinking about professional engagement as activism (of course it did. This is me).


To recap: Here at SU our objective has always been to make big changes by agitating on a grassroots level from within the bounds of our professional organizations. We see that children’s librarians don’t get paid particularly well, don’t get a lot of respect from other librarians, don’t get offered fancy speaking gigs, and aren’t seen as being on the cutting edge of librarianship. We wanted to change this. Why? 1) We deserve to get paid commensurate with our expertise, our hard work and the value we add to the community and the library. 2) We actually need that money for like, rent and student loan payments it turns out. 3) It’s pretty exhausting to be called to a vocation, or even put a lot of work into a job, when you’re not respected or paid well or taken seriously. In terms of winning awards or getting our names out there, look, a lot of people have to move for jobs. Shouldn’t they be able to live in a city they like? Doing a job that’s a best fit? Having a known name gets your application up to the top of some long lists.


TL;DR: It’s not about our egos. It’s not about throwing a fit because the library world prefers white dudes in tech to LITERALLY ANYONE ELSE no matter what they’re doing (I WILL THROW THAT FIT FOR YOU ANY TIME ANY WHERE. JUST ASK).


We’re not the only people worried about the system of awards and accolades in librarianship, BTW. Erin Leach (FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER YOU WON’T BE SORRY @erinaleach), who co-writes the brilliant blog Unified Library Scene with the equally brilliant Rachel Fleming (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER @RachelMFleming), has written a couple of posts on being respected and acclaimed, and the whole. . .rockstar. . .thing. If you Google “Rockstar Librarian” you will come across many well written, thoughtful articles (and at least one HILARIOUS one by one of the worst offenders of everything terrible about rockstar librarianship). This article is talking about putting on the middle class white costume for library interviews, but with very few tweaks it could be about trying to get “known” on the larger library scene. Also it’s so fracking incredible and you should stop reading my article and go read that one and if you don’t come back oh well. There’s a lot wrong with the system and there are a lot of us talking about it.



So, we agitate for change. It’s basically the point of the existence of this blog, although many other amazing things have come out of it. It’s not what everyone does.


Many people look at the system of professional accolades and think, as we do, that it is outdated, driven by the wrong priorities, racist and sexist. Their choice in the face of this is to refuse to participate in the profession at large. This has its benefits as a tactic. If everyone who is excluded stops trying to participate, The Profession is just a bunch of heterogeneous blowhards handing themselves the same awards over and over in a circle jerk. Eventually. Not that long from now. And then, what power will they really have? (I think a lot actually but I’ll get back to that)



Maybe you already have a great job that you love and are great at and you’re making enough money and you’re changing the lives of kids and families and you’re like, hoss, just being a children’s librarian is social justice activism and also I am knitting a sweater and baking scones and raising feminist kids and catching up on Parks and Rec so basically as a woman/queer/PoC/human defying the expectations of the racist heteronormative patriarchy and living my best life I am doing all the activism I can stomach so I’ll be over here DOING 8 STORYTIMES A WEEK if you need me. To that I say, amen and also, where do you find energy to finish sweaters?



Maybe you’re just fucking tired of it and you want to spend more time with your spouse/cats/fanfic than you do arguing about the seemingly insurmountable odds facing us as a profession. After all, it seems pretty straightforward until somebody argues with you against the Code of Conduct or Team Harpy or your pretty reasonable stance that your colleagues are professional equals and not simply a pool of potential sex partners.



So, people strategically retreat. They refuse to engage. They do great library work in their libraries and they go home to their lives and they don’t send any VERY LONG TEXT MESSAGES to their colleagues about how NO PROFESSIONALISM IS NOT FUCKING RUINING THE PROFESSION. I know y’all don’t need me to validate your life choices, but for real. This is legit. There are Reasons. Many people I love and respect and think are killer librarians are doing this and I don’t think it’s a worse choice than mine, or a better one. You ARE changing the profession. No, strike that, reverse it. You ARE THE PROFESSION.*


*(Here’s the thing: So are Those Guys. And Those Guys get speaking engagements and book deals and newspaper articles and professional magazine covers and that’s what the public and potential babylibs think we are and that’s why I think we need to, to quote Julie Jurgens out of context, burn it to the ground. Even if it’s a puppet monarchy circle jerk it still affects us. And that whole mentality has a certain glittery allure that convinces a LOT OF PEOPLE that we’re just having fun, y’all, and work should be fun and boys will be boys and blah blah blah repurposing rape culture language.


Rape culture.



“But while the Clubs fiddle, Paris is burning, and will soon have no moments to even laugh at good intentions out of place.” (source)


The Romanovs fell, but they starved a lot of people first while their supporters threw lavish parties. Louis XVI lost his head, but Louis XVIII was welcomed back to Paris with open arms by those who wanted back into Versailles. So that’s maybe why I’m not sure disengagement will get the job done in the end. After all, the Romanovs had Rasputin to help them over the cliff. I just want a chance to be Rasputin.



This isn’t one of my traditional rants because I don’t really have a side (Except against Those Guys. That’s my side. Also pro-tacos. And black eyeliner). I notice that a lot of people are making a thoughtful choice that is different from the thoughtful choice I’ve made and I’m interested in that and I want to talk about it.


Also this is a pretty black and white portrayal of the options but there are a whole lot of other paths (at the library we have more than 50 shades of grey! Badum ching). Yes, John and Paul, I DO say I want a revolution and I DON’T want to just free my mind instead. But I also want happy, whole colleagues who can go into the trenches every day with clear eyes and open hearts. This means we each must follow our own paths to our best possible librarianship. Like God, all paths to revolution are equally valid. Whether we focus solely on our local community (which we MUST focus on) or also on our larger professional one, whether we conscientiously object to professional organizations or jump feet first into them and do a lot of obnoxious splashing, whether we limit our librarianship to work hours or spend more time than is good for us interacting with our PLN in our off time, or anywhere in between, we are in mutiny. We are evolving the profession and the world.



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7 thoughts on “Strategic Retreat or Shake Shit Up?

  1. Profile photo of Bryce KozlaBryce Kozla

    Hi Cory, you know I always love a good SU rant, though I’m confused by my and Brytani’s inclusion in it. I hope all of your dear readers don’t take away from this that either of us have stopped thinking or talking about what’s being said in/about The Profession, or that we’ve stopped writing long emails or DMs about it to our trusted members of our PLNs. Stepping back from So Complete Immersion You’re Taking Everything Personally and complete disengagement are two different things , and I would never personally advocate for the latter :)

    1. Profile photo of Cory EckertCory Eckert Post author

      I was trying to track the zeitgeist i was seeing of people, at different levels, saying “I’m reprioririzing and stepping back.” And your and Brytani’s posts were my favorites, and I think so highly of you both, that I wanted to start with, some of the smartest people I know are saying this so I’m thinking about it. But! I’m happy to edit in a caveat if you feel like that’s unclear. My brain is definitely taken up with midwinter and I was clarifying my thoughts as I wrote, so I’m always willing to go back through!

      I love you most.

      1. Profile photo of Bryce KozlaBryce Kozla

        I think if I can just add a disclaimer here that my choice to not follow conversations on Twitter as religiously as I used to is not even tangentially related to the starvation and decapitation of human beings, I’ll be good :)

        Overall I do like your points. I just know you guys do reach like 100 times the audience I do, so I wanted to make my own thoughts a little more clear. You’re good and I love you.

  2. Profile photo of BrytaniBrytani

    I completely agree that these are two different but equal routes to take. However, I think it needs to be said that not everyone has the ability to choose between them. Here I speak from the perspective of someone whose library system does not actively participate in professional organizations and whose position does not allow her to lead her teammates into doing so. I don’t know if I will ever get to go a national conference or sit on a committee or present or write articles on behalf of my library. If I ever do, then you will probably get to see me in my full glory because I am made of fight. I just think that a lot of people are in my same situation and I want everyone to be able to look at this in a different way, too. One that makes me feel better when I feel like I should be doing more.
    That is, you can focus on the impact you’re having on the profession, but you can also focus on your impact in your community and in the lives of your patrons. Right here, right now, from where I’m standing, the latter is so much more powerful and carries more meaning for me than the former.
    Maybe that would feel different if I had more options, but maybe it wouldn’t. I support you and Team SU all the way and cheer for you from my place at the sidelines.

    1. Profile photo of Cory EckertCory Eckert Post author

      This is so true, and thank you for pointing out my privilege. I’ve always worked for places that support and encourage my involvement. It’s absolutely a position a lot of people aren’t in, and the work they are doing in their communities is the essential librarianship and they are killing it. If you’re saving kids lives at home, to some degree the larger organizational work is gravy, except it might be the. . . gravy that lets us all keep doing our work? There’s something missing on that metaphor. Anyway, I want you to remember that you’re amazing blog and presence on Twitter and in the PLN is absolutely doing national work and being a part of the larger fight. Your voice is valuable and valued and it’s helping other librarians be better at their jobs.

      You are ALREADY THE BEST.

      1. Profile photo of BrytaniBrytani

        ” If you’re saving kids lives at home, to some degree the larger organizational work is gravy, except it might be the. . . gravy that lets us all keep doing our work? ”

        I think this is why our friendship is so amazing. I might not get to be the person who reaches a big audience, but I know the people who can and everyone who cares for the unheard is precious. So you guys go on killing it. I’ll be here finishing sweaters. 😉

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