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In which I tell you how I was almost a Mover and a Shaker

Julie Jurgens is a friend of mine. When I read her post, ego, thy name is librarianship, I nodded along to a lot of what she said, but I didn’t feel it necessary to weigh in on the back and forth discussion that ensued (both in the comments, and in others’ response posts.) Part of why I didn’t post on the topic was because, after some unfortunate whining in the past about library-world controversies, (see: Michael Gorman. Go ahead, scroll back. Those posts are embarrassing, but still there for me to cringe at,) I told myself to stop commenting on issues if I didn’t think I was adding anything useful. Honestly, I thought the ensuing discussions covered pretty much anything I might have to say, so why add another voice just to restate already-stated viewpoints?

The other, and main reason I didn’t comment, was that I, myself, had a big old pat-on-the-back coming my way, so I really couldn’t complain about wanting attention or credit. You see, I had received an email saying:

As you probably already know, you’re pretty much a shoo-in as one of Library Journal’s 2013 Movers & Shakers—our annual group of worthy individuals making a difference in the library profession. You’ve been nominated and vetted by LJ’s staff, so it’s just a formality at this point before confirmation is made. You’ll be getting spotlight profiles in LJ’s March 15, 2013 issue where we announce this year’s group, with Movers & Shakers being the cover story of the issue.

So I really wasn’t in a position to want to be noticed. I was finally about to be! Well, until yesterday anyway, when I received an email saying, sorry, but I had not made the final cut. A full 3 weeks after that last email, where I was such a shoo-in, I got a terse, thanks for playing, good luck in the future email. *After* I had gotten the pictures taken. *After* I had done a lengthy phone interview with their reporter. *After* my nominators and references had also done lengthy interviews about me. The news just about crushed me.

I did email them back to tell them how I wish they would have let me know sooner, or kept me in the loop on the decision-making process, and asked about what I could have done to present myself as a better candidate. I received an apology about the late notice, and told that, although I have a slew of accomplishments, it would have been better to outline one noteworthy achievement.

Wait, what? So my history of innovation across the board is not worth as much as one, flashy, project?! But hold on, I’ll get to that in a bit, because I have A LOT to say about that, and what it means for our profession. Before I go there, I’d like to point out that I DO have single, note-worthy projects, and that I made an effort to discuss them, and provide specifics. The phone conversation with the reporter was a bit rambling though, and all the back and forth and chat kept pulling me away from the fairly comprehensive notes I had written up ahead of time. If they thought I needed to flesh any of my projects out, they only needed to ask.

I could have, for example, given them specifics on Barbara Arnett and I’s library search bookmarklet, which resulted in an article in a peer-reviewed journal, a national conference presentation, a paid workshop, and several regional conference talks. Oh, and it was also adapted and highlighted by the University of Michigan’s library system. I think that’s pretty cool.

I could have given more info about Twitter search RSS cheat sheet, a series of blog posts on hacking Twitter urls to create RSS feeds to keep track of various Twitter searches, after Twitter itself stopped supporting the feature. Those posts were retweeted, reblogged, and highlighted by The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog, among others.

I could go on, but I’m not going to. This post is already getting sprawling, and I have more to say. So I’ll let that point go for now, and get to what my real point is.

I don’t necessarily think I deserve awards (yet.) The truth of the matter is this. I’m good at my job. Scratch that. I’m *very* good at my job. Higher education, information access, technology: these are my passions. It’s not just work to me; it’s a career, a calling. And that’s the amazing thing about the library field, so many of us feel that way. It’s so cool to work with so many people who love their jobs so much. But there’s also something insidious going on. Judging from the responses to Julie’s post, there are so many of us who feel unknown, unappreciated. And I think that’s why I wanted an award. Not necessarily because it was really and truly my time to be honored (I’ve only been a librarian for 7 years, yanno) but because I feel like I need to be getting these sort of honors to keep up with my peers. We’re judging ourselves not necessarily by our accomplishments, but by who’s keynoting what conference, and who’s winning what award, and omg, we are so much better librarians then they are!

This is not to say that everyone who keynotes, or everyone who wins an award, sucks. The truth is, it’s a competitive field because there are so many passionate, motivated, ambitious people doing awesome things. But come on, you know you do it too. If 50 people are Movers & Shakers, you’ll scan the list and find the couple that seem a bit weak, or perhaps undeserving in your eyes, and you’ll compare yourself to them, not the 48 awesomepants ones. And you’ll say, wtf?! THEY are a Mover and a Shaker, and *I’M* not?!

As a profession, we’ve gotten a bit high school, I think. We get mad at the “cool kids” and we get caught up in pettiness. Which is human. But the good news is, there’s a solution. Library Journal is a magazine. They want to sell subscriptions, and they’re going to do it with things like Movers & Shakers, and highlighting people they think will sell copies. Same thing with keynoters. They’ll pick names they can advertise. I’m hurt that I was told my history of accomplishments don’t add up to one campaign to get a library flavor of ice cream. (I’m not trying to pick on Andy here, by the way. He’s a friend of mine, and a cool dude. I could mention a lot of other examples, but I happen to know he can handle my mentioning him, while maybe other people would get pissed. Andy’s got thick skin. Plus no one’s disparaging ice cream. We all scream for ice cream, right?) But I just finished my third masters degree. I’ve got two peer-reviewed articles and two national conference talks under my belt. I’ve actively contributed to the world of library technology. What message are we sending future librarians when we push them to elevator-talk themselves into a little box? To make themselves wholly into brands, and funnel their career away from daily contributions to their employers, their communities, and their profession, in order to focus on one or two projects they can tack their name on and get noticed?

I don’t like it.

I’m sad. I’ve put myself out there a few times (ALA Emerging Leaders rejected me too, boo hoo.) Rejection is hard, and it STINGS. But here’s the thing. I had a rough year last year. I did, in fact, take some time off of professional endeavors in order to finish my latest degree, and to find a new job in order to get out of a somewhat unpleasant work situation. So this probably shouldn’t have been my year to be a Mover and Shaker anyway. I’m letting it go. I’m letting all of last year’s work problems go. This post was my final purge of all the crappy feelings.

On Monday, I start my new job as Web Services Librarian and Assistant Professor at the College of Staten Island. I’m incredibly excited to be joining the ranks of the City University of New York, because I know their libraries are full of amazing people (like Stephen Francoeur, for example, whose career I’ve followed for years!) I will be creating a new website for them, and I’m both scared shitless, and ridiculously excited. I HAVE SO MANY IDEAS, U GUIZE! I’m going to get involved with code4lib, a group I’ve followed at a distance for a long time, but been intimidated to join, because I know how smart and amazing they are. I’m going to renew my commitment to local groups like NJLA and Metro, and hopefully get involved with my new New York library community through NYLA. And I’m going to start focusing on my other niche communities, like IT in higher ed, by getting involved with Educause. And I’m going to let the rest go. If there are people in the library community I think are all fluff and no substance, I’m not going to let them get to me, even if they are winning awards. I’m going to treat them like I treat comment trolls, and ignore them. Unfollow. Disengage. I need to stop gauging my value by others. You can’t keep up with the Joneses. You don’t need to.

PS- I wish you could use an animated gif to title a blog post. Because if I could, this would have been the title of this post:

This entry was posted in awards, career, honors, Movers and Shakers, rant, Val Forrestal. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to In which I tell you how I was almost a Mover and a Shaker

  1. Terrific post and very brave. I have often noticed that the Movers and Shakers are folks who are doing one innovative, interesting thing. And lots of times, librarians in small library systems who have the time and freedom to try out a crazy idea and just see if it works, without the bureaucracy that a lot of us face are the ones who make the cut.And for that reason, it’s a bit slanted against librarians who are simply fantastic – but just oh, so busy, holding down the fort and doing the day-to-day grind of librarianship.

  2. val says:

    Thank you all so much for your comments and kind words. I was incredibly moved and humbled by the response to this post. I’ve said this elsewhere, but I want to put it on the record here, as well… I think the winners of this award, past and future, should be incredibly proud of themselves and their achievement(s). It was in no way my intention to cast aspersions on the award. I just want us all to be a little less hard on ourselves 😉

  3. Bobbi says:

    Hi Valerie, I am so sorry this happened to you. You have handled this with a grace that LJ does not deserve after their treatment of you. I had no idea this sort of thing happened, thank you for bringing it our attention. I am also baffled at their explanation. I guess we must remember LJ in business to make money and controversy often sells better than the good and obvious.

  4. Jessamyn says:

    Serious bungle by LJ. I have no idea why they’d give you a “You may have already won” heads-up but that was not cool on their part, not at all. Agree with Lauren that NYLA would be a great place to be appreciated and meet other great folks. So sorry this happened to you.

  5. pollyalida says:

    What Lauren said – look forward to you joining NYLA!

  6. Lauren says:

    Please join NYLA, the organization is looking for people like you. The people who do the work. Please also consider joining Urban Librarians Unite, we are looking for awesome people like you too!

  7. Anonymous says:

    As the person who wrote your nomination & spoke glowingly to the reporter from LJ- no one worked harder to get you recognized. I feel badly that you feel bad & how LJ handled the decision. I would not conflate these feelings w Julie’s post- you are recognized statewide & nationally as a library leader. Those who know you know your worth. Lock & load at the job! – Laverne

  8. Andromeda says:

    I spent ages being too intimidated to get involved in code4lib, finally got over myself, and SO GLAD I DID. Yes, there will be people who are fluent in tech you know nothing about. But you’ll know stuff they don’t sometimes too. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb or uneducated; it means tech is too big for anyone to know it all. In my experience people have been friendly, supportive, and fun. Anyway, I look forward to seeing you in IRC 🙂

  9. Anonymous says:

    “We’re judging ourselves not necessarily by our accomplishments, but by who’s keynoting what conference, and who’s winning what award, and omg, we are so much better librarians then they are!”Thanks for this. I’ve been at a career crossroads for a few years now after being rejected for a promotion (my dream job) and finding that many of my peers fit into the bright, shiny, rock-star category while I still prefer talking about books than talking about Drupal. I can’t tell you how heartening it was to read your words, and feel validation for the great work I do, on a small scale, each day.

  10. Anne Clark says:

    Wow, I can’t believe it. Seems dumb to have exactly 50 every year, doesn’t it? Even the Newbery can have as many Honors (or none at all) as the committee wishes…

  11. val says:

    @Daniel You are too kind! The way Twitter responded today humbled me, and made me realize that the real thing of value in any career is the respect you have among your peers and your community. And I honestly can’t express how moved I am by everyone’s kind words. Librarianship is an amazing profession, and that’s only emphasized by how passionate we all are about it!!!

  12. val says:

    @sarahjeanne I’ve got to credit Julie for starting this conversation. I do think it’s a worthwhile one to have, especially given the chord it’s struck with people.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Ditto what Daniel Ransom said, and I’ll add that I am thrilled that you plan to get more involved with NJLA. Good luck with the new job!

  14. You’re a mover and a shaker, as far as I’m concerned. You’ve consistently posted about interesting ideas, your published articles have been good contributions to the profession, and your new position sounds excellent and a good reward for your continuing contributions to the field.I’m sorry they left you out, but you are definitely valued by your peers.

  15. sarahjeanne says:

    Great post. I’m so glad this stuff is being talked about lately–I definitely feel that there are a lot of amazing librarians out there who are way too busy to focus on the more theoretical things that get a lot of attention. As I’ve said before, I love that Nancy Pearl is still probably the MOST famous librarian, and she’s famous for her amazing book lists and reviews.

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