Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Free to Be... You and Me

I've been thinking a lot lately about what a big nerd I am. Admittedly, I've never played a Zelda game from beginning to end, and I've only seen a few episodes of "Doctor Who," but other than that I score pretty high in all the major nerd categories. Renaissance faires, comic books, video games, Star Wars AND Star Trek, MST3K... I'm sure you get the picture. The reason I've been thinking about it so much is because of the way embracing my nerd, both personally and professionally, has made life more interesting and a lot more fun.

You see, for a long time, I was the job. It wasn't just my profession; it was my life. Right out of graduate school, it made sense to eat, drink, breathe, and sleep librarianship. I had so much to learn that I hadn't gotten in my MLIS program that I didn't really have room in my life for much else. After those first couple of years I think it became a habit. Sure, there's always something new to learn, but after a while I realized I needed to start really bringing myself to work. Instead of being the person I thought I should be, I started to be me.

For example, on the walls of my first office, I put up safe prints: the movie poster for Breakfast at Tiffany's; Ansel Adams' Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley National Monument, California; and a cheap reproduction of Van Gogh's Irises. All of these are nice, and they're all things I like, but I'm not really passionate about any of them. My walls of my current office have: the "Usagi Yojimbo" anniversary poster; a Shel Silverstein poem; and a cheap reproduction of The Dog From Prague. And another thing, the window in my office door is covered with Chewbacca imagery.

Bringing "Nerd Jessica" to work along with "Educator Jessica," "Librarian Jessica," "Intellectual Jessica," and all the other Jessicas, has worked for me. I'm not exaggerating when I say that quite a few students, faculty, and staff have been known to stop by my office to see if I have any new Chewy images. Further, I think members of my community sense that I'm being genuine, and people respond to that. I've made many connections over my nerdly ways. Heck, just today a faculty member complimented me on my Hellboy figurine. All because I let my nerd flag fly.

My point is this: I'm a more successful member of my community, and therefore a better librarian, because I brought the rest of my personality to bear. I hope this way of thinking could work in any kind of library. I'm sure that it would be frowned upon if a law librarian wore his snarky t-shirts to the office, but admitting that he still listens to They Might Be Giants' Flood is showing personality just the same. There's a truism that goes something like: "Be yourself; nobody else is better qualified." To that, I'd like to add: "Besides, it's way more fun."

How about you? Do you let co-workers &/or classmates know about anything other than your librarian stuff?


  1. I'm still an MLIS student, but in our Social Media class this summer one of our best and most returned-to discussions was about the separation of personal and professional identities. I'm a big fan of letting them all meld, the way you're talking about here.

    When I worked as a teen library programming guy it was death to try and be fake about things. The people I dealt with had to know what kind of a comics nerd I was and that I had opinions (so they could show me the error of my ways). And it really helps develop a professional niche if you bring what you care about to work with you.

    Now that's me, and that's probably more public library focused. I went to a talk by Scott McCloud on the weekend and he said the best way for librarians to deal with comics is to let the comics-passionate folk do it. How does anyone know what you're good at if you're hiding your personality at home?

    Maybe the "real world" will crush this spirit out of me, but fuck it, I'm not going to leave myself behind just because I'm getting paid. (Though I'll probably try to refrain from cussing when I'm on the clock.)

  2. I am firmly in favor of letting your personal freak flag fly at work (within reason). I think a lot of library professionals have niche interests--there are a lot of nerds and geeks in the profession. Letting people know what you're into establishes your "cred" and makes you sort of a librarian of whatever your interests are.

    I'm into comics and science fiction and I think it's good to let people, patrons and coworkers alike, know that to a certain extent. I have a Batman figure on my desk and a Belle Pez dispenser, and I make signage with Doctor Who and superhero images. I think personalizing your space in a professional manner goes along way to being genuine and a "real person" to the patrons.

  3. @Librarianaut - Funny you mention social media, because it definitely carries over into my Twitter/Facebook/Google+ approach. I'm as likely to post an interesting Chronicle of Higher Ed piece as I am to post something about NyanCat.

    @Diana - I've got two Pez dispensers in my office: Chococat & Scrat (the sabertooth squirrel from Ice Age). Pez dispensers are another nerd thing I adore.

  4. You know, normally I would say "way to be!" but I've been thinking about this very topic a lot lately because of issues that have come up at my workplace. I can't get into a lot of detail, but I'm starting to feel that I need to put some more distance between me and my coworkers. Still, even with that in mind, there's no way I could abandon my nerd identity completely at work. I'm sure there is a happy medium - I just haven't found it yet.

  5. @Cari - sounds ominous, especially considering what I read on your blog. Hope all goes well.

    @Tom - Of course. Like speaks to like, after all.