Thursday, November 15, 2012

You're Going to Piss People Off, by Kelly Jensen

"you wanna mess wit me?" is a Creative Commons licensed photo by Doramon

Whether you’re just joining or have been part of this profession for a while, we all have our goals. Ultimately, we want to provide as much as we can in the best possible way in order to make people happy, regardless of what our title or work place looks like.

Except no matter what you do and no matter how hard you work on something, you're sometimes going to piss people off at the same time, be it patrons or be it your colleagues. There is no way to be an effective change maker or advocate for yourself and services without making someone unhappy.

I'm a people pleaser. I hate when anybody is unhappy with me, and I go out of my way to ensure that what I do and what I think doesn't impact other people negatively. But when you're working with people, you're going to interact with people who are unhappy. Who will always be unhappy. And you're going to work with colleagues and other professionals who don't see what you're doing is as valuable as what they're doing. So when you step up and suggest a change, you're going to cause a scene.

You have to grow a pair and realize that none of those angry feelings relate to you personally at all. They are directed at something bigger, be it the fear of change or the fear of not understanding the value of what it is you're pursuing.

Ignorance is scary.

In my first position as a teen librarian, I had no shame in adding any book that sounded good to my collection, which served those in grades 6 – 12. Guess what? Six months into the job, I had an angry letter from a parent, suggesting one of the books her daughter checked out was completely inappropriate for a 12-year-old. How dare I purchase and promote such materials in the library?

The letter rattled me, as I had only been a professional librarian for, well, six months. Now I had an angry parent and if she had written me a letter, surely there were other people angry about how I was performing collection development.

I immediately assumed I was a terrible librarian. It had to be my fault her daughter borrowed something she shouldn't have. It was the collection I created, after all.


After reading and rereading the letter, I came to accept the problem was not me in the least. It was the parent not doing her job. It was the parent who allowed her daughter to check out material she wasn't comfortable with. I wrote a letter back, stating clearly that the teen area served all teens between 6th and 12th grade.

By relenting with one person who was pissed off at me, I'd in turn be doing a disservice to the rest of my patrons. Those books needed to be there to serve my entire diverse teen population.

Putting a firm foot down on your expertise and on your ethics will not only piss off patrons though. Eventually, you're going to piss off your own colleagues.

Enter ARCgate 2012.

I wrote a blog post talking about a situation that left youth librarians at a disadvantage when it came to picking up Advanced Reader Copies of forthcoming titles at the American Library Association convention. That single post caused a surge in hate comments, in angry Twitter rants, and at least two blog posts from well-known library-world bloggers. I was called selfish, greedy, and a host of other uncomplimentary things by people in my own field for standing up and speaking about something I believed in. That many others believed in, too.

I spent two weeks seeing my reputation and my words being torn apart and misconstrued. But through each new thing I read, I reminded myself over and over that I had said what I said because I believed in it. I reached out to those who could institute a change for the betterment of not just myself, but other librarians who felt the same way I did.

Change is happening.

My voice was heard.

These are two personal examples. I could talk about other times I pissed off parents with my collection development policy or about the time I told the area homeschool groups about our library's teen programs (which included a paranormal program that contradicted one group's very conservative beliefs) or about the time I quit a library job without a backup plan because the environment was not conducive to making me my best, personally or professionally. The thing is, no matter what role you're in and no matter how much or how little experience you have in the field, your beliefs and values are going to piss someone off somewhere.

To be as good as you want to be and to further your goals in providing the best service and experience as a librarian, you have to suck it up and stick to your beliefs.

That's not to say don't follow the rules. Just push against them as much as you need to. That's the only way change can happen. If it means pissing off one or two or six people for the betterment of a community? It's worth it.

Kelly Jensen is a librarian for teen/adult services at a public library. She tweets at @catagator and blogs at Stacked Books.


  1. This post comes at a perfect time for me as I just received an angry email from a parent about alien books. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Angry parent letters are the best, aren't they? But you gotta remember you're the professional and you serve an entire community, rather than just that one parent and child. Fortunately, your collection has more than just alien books (though if it was all alien books, then that's okay too since, well, the parent would know this, right?)

    2. What could a parent possibly have against ALIENS?

  2. Thank you. I needed to hear this too, as I've been pushing back a bit. I needed the reminder to stand strong.

  3. I try to remember that for every one person I piss off, that I make countless others happy (or at least neutral, ha!).

  4. This is a great read and feels important for where I am, creating and working on a school-library program for a middle and high school.