Thursday, February 25, 2016

“The only people for me are the mad ones”: On Finding Role Models Where You Least Expect Them, by Shanna Hollich


There was a hashtag recently making the rounds on Twitter about the wayward, winding path so many of us have taken before becoming librarians: #BeforetheMLIS. Before deciding to go back to school for my MLIS, I had been: a linguistics and philosophy double major; an overachieving undergrad presenting at conferences/having papers published/teaching freshman-level courses/assuming I would be an academic forever; a cognitive science PhD dropout; a legal assistant specializing in personal injury and Social Security Disability; a tax consultant going toe-to-toe with IRS agents every day; and a worker of many, many odd jobs, from counting cash in a vault in Hersheypark to stocking magazines and trade paperbacks in Wal-Marts and drug stores all across the tri-county area.

Which is to say that I did not always know I wanted to be a librarian. I stumbled into it, as so many of us stumble into so many things. To be honest, I’ve never had any clue exactly what it is I’m doing here. So I looked to others as examples.

In graduate school, this was easy. I had awesome, engaged professors who really cared about their students. I had fellow students who were rock stars in their own right, scoring fabulous internships and working full-time jobs in libraries already and yet still willing to answer all of my questions. Having been an academic for so long, I was comfortable within the confines of school. These were my people. I knew how things worked here.

And then I graduated. And I had to get a job. And I did (lucky me!). And then… I had never felt so alone in my life.

I started my career as a school librarian, and I spent all day practicing solo. I was the only library professional in my entire building. Nobody knew what I was supposed to be doing except me. All of the sudden I was in charge, I was making the rules, and I would be held accountable for them.

Then, just as I thought I might be getting the hang of things, my family moved to another state, and I had to start all over. I transitioned into public libraries and thought: huzzah! I would be working in a whole BUILDING full of librarians! Librarians who had been doing this so much longer than me, who knew what they were doing, and who could lead and guide me towards new librarian adventures.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy.

People are BUSY. My bosses and coworkers serve as role models as much as they are able, but they have jobs to do, too. Their jobs and their interests don’t always align with my personal goals. I’m focused on diversity initiatives, individual rights, social justice issues, and how to make the library a dynamic and passionate (and yes, political) community space. But I live in a rural area where we are doing the best we can with an aging and conservative population, and a view of librarianship that rarely strays from the traditional. It’s a great library, and I work with great people, but I found myself wanting more: more engagement, more passion, more creative thinking, more crazy ideas. Where were the really radical role models, the ones thinking outside the box, the ones trying outrageous things and sometimes failing, the ones for me, the mad ones?

I found them on Twitter.

I call these people my “role models,” but most of them have never even heard of me and would be surprised to find themselves listed in this blog post. Nevertheless, the ideas they write about, the causes they signal boost, and the library values that they champion influence me a great deal. They inspire my thinking, they assuage my doubts, and they show me that there are many, many different ways to be a librarian, and most importantly that someday when I least expect it, I may find I’ve even forged my own. A shortlist of my amazing Twitter librarian role models includes: @olinj (owner of this fabulous blog), @rdlankes, @jacobsberg, @michael_perry_7, and @flexlibris. They work in very different environments, they have very different views on librarianship, and they’re all rock stars to me.

So I encourage you to go off and find your own mad ones. Maybe Twitter isn’t for you. Maybe you’ll find your mad ones at conferences, at meet-ups at the pub, or (if you’re lucky!) in your very own office building. These mentors might be your bosses, sure, but they might be your peers, or your neighbors, or people you only know through words on a computer screen. The mentor relationship need not necessarily be a formal one. Everyone we meet has something to teach us about ourselves and the world around us. Keep your eyes open, ask for help when you need it, and find your mentors where you least expect them. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find ones who are mad in the same way that you are.

Shanna Hollich is a Technical Services Assistant at a public library in Gettysburg, PA and an Editorial Assistant for ALCTS News. She makes things. You can find her at or on Twitter @srhlib.

(quote in title from On the Road, by Jack Kerouac)

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