Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Look where all this talking got us

A call for proposals got me thinking about professional identity and about the specialties within librarianship that we choose. This is a genuine 'in my feels' post, so it's short on facts and figures and long on feelings. Your mileage may truly vary and you should just forget about the grain of salt and take this with the whole shaker.

One of the things I've been thinking about is why people choose which area of librarianship to specialize in. When thinking about which area of librarianship to specialize in, our best self wants to find a specialty that aligns with our skills and our values and which has the capacity to challenge us over the course of our career. Our more practical self looks for a specialty that provides long-term stability (to the extent that such a thing is possible) and the opportunity for growth and advancement. Either way, we choose something or it chooses us and we build a community of practise within that specialty.

I chose to become a cataloger because cataloging made sense to me. It didn't at first and I was often reduced to tears when doing homework for my cataloging class. I couldn't make sense of the rules and I couldn't make the connection between the rules and the user's experience of the catalog. At some point, it finally clicked for me. And thirteen or so years ago, when I chose cataloging, I felt like I was choosing a specialty that was both challenging and that could provide long-term stability and an opportunity for growth.

The other thing I've been thinking about is how our specialties are (or aren't) tied to our professional identities. I'm a cataloger, yes, but I wonder how much of my professional identity is tied up in cataloging. I sometimes think not much, especially in comparison to my colleagues who are much more passionate (and knowledgeable!) about the nuts and bolts of cataloging. I don't think it makes me a bad cataloger so much as it makes me a person whose passions lie elsewhere.

I would like to believe that while cataloging informs my professional identity, it doesn't dominate it. I like talking about well-formed metadata, sure, but I also like talking about relationship and skill building. And I like talking about how we should center the user's experience of the library as part of how we choose to do our jobs. My professional identity has its roots in my experience of cataloger, Knowing the value of well-formed metadata on user experience is one thing, but knowing the labor involved in creating that well-formed metadata is another.

For a long time, I conflated my area of specialization and my professional identity. I felt like being a cataloger is who I am and what I bring to librarianship. And I spent a lot of time feeling badly about the fact that some of my colleagues know a lot more about the nuts and bolts of cataloging than I do. I felt badly that I wanted to think about relationships and user experience and skill building and advocacy. At some point, I realized that people are vast and contain multitudes and the one's professional identity doesn't have to be just about the area of librarianship you choose to specialize in.

I'm known for being a person who cares deeply about relationships and user experience and skill building and advocacy, anyway. Why not embrace that as my professional identity and use my experiences as a cataloger to inform these professional passions?

I feel compelled to leave you with a nugget of truth that you can apply to your own work. So here goes: What is the thing about librarianship that you're most passionate about but that you're afraid to pursue because it isn't in perfect alignment with the specialization of librarianship in which you work? What would life be like if, instead of being afraid to pursue that passion, you embraced it?

Stay positive,

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