I am what I often call a “late onset librarian”. The first half of my working life saw me first doing fairly tedious and unchallenging administrative jobs in order to devote all of my free time to music. So while my school friends were studying at university and then climbing the career ladder, I was not! I was practising hard, doing shows six nights a week, getting around town and playing, and getting known where I could.
Over time music started to more or less pay the bills, so eventually the fulltime job went west and all my income came from music. This was often a hand to mouth time, and I can say honestly that money has always been short for me. I worked largely as a music publisher working with some of New Zealand’s foremost song writers and composers, with supplementary income from performance, booking and playing on television music recording sessions, music copying (pre computers), and anything else I could turn my hand to in order to pay the bills. This included house cleaning, working in the antique shop of some entertainment colleagues, and scoring for a TV quiz show. Finally I sought a regular income, finally free of constant money worries, and I joined the Navy Band.
After children, there was music teaching and any music related administration I could pick up, as well as ploughing through two university degrees before settling on librarianship as the profession of my future. This to me was much like music in many ways – a profession not motivated by profit and one that people turn to simply for the job satisfaction that it brings. Like music, most people don’t work in libraries with the expectation of ever being wealthy. In many instances, a living wage is still a long way off for library staff. But librarianship is one of the last true community service roles.
After trying a few different fields within librarianship, the day I started working in a community library 12 years ago was the day I knew that I had found where I wanted to work out my career. And 20 odd years after my school friends, I started to climb the career ladder too.
When I left my last role I was a community library manager – a role I loved. I now manage libraries across two districts, which is a big task, and I am paid well for this role. For the first time in what is scarily close to 40 years of working I am finally earning a decent salary and am actually able to save some money. So I should be ecstatic right? As a late starter in the library profession, I’ve made big career leaps in a relatively short time (15 years).
Well here’s the thing. The profession has started to dishearten me. It’s eating itself alive, and the values and ethics that we, as a profession espouse, are being forgotten as we corporatise our services and as many of our senior managers step too far back from the coal face and lose touch with our core services and values. There are indeed pressures on library managers to meet targets, keep numbers up, and to keep reinventing ourselves in the constant fight to prove our relevance.
But if you peel back these core services and values of librarianship, they exist simply to provide access to information to our customers, no matter what sector we work in. And the public library sector in particular is best summed up by these words from Caitlin Moran who wrote, “A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life-raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”
And this is the institution that I fell so hard for, and also the one that I find myself falling out of love with, as the key reasons for our existence are diminished.
So what next for me? The questions I ask myself are, do I switch to another career? Do I even have time to do that once more? More to the point, do I have the energy? What I love most about libraries is the passion of the staff who work in them to, in some small way, improve the lives of the people they serve. And as I watch the life slowly being sucked out my colleagues, and their enthusiasm visibly ebbing, I think with deep regret that when I’ve achieved what I want to in my current role, it just might be time for a change. The love affair may well be ending.