While interviewing rural librarians and young adults for my dissertation over last summer, I had the most surprising conversation with one high school librarian. We’ll call her Mary to maintain confidentiality. Our interview turned to the topic of how our work with patrons has an impact on us. Being from the South, Mary had been raised in a conservative, Southern Baptist church for the majority of her life. While in this church, she had been taught a harsh and judgmental perspective regarding sexuality, gender identity, and non-traditional lifestyles. When Mary began working teens in a high school library, she carried these views and assumptions with her. However, as she started engaging more and more with her young patrons, Mary saw her views begin to change in major ways.
During the interview, Mary explained that she saw herself becoming more accepting and welcoming of those who lived and loved differently than she did. By interacting with her gay and transgendered high school patrons, she realized that the church that she had been a member of was flawed and destructive. Eventually, Mary broke away from this church and now sees herself as happier because of it. This turned into a very inspirational moment for me. Having also been raised in a Southern Baptist church, I knew exactly the type of mentality that exists in these churches and how challenging it can be, for some, to separate from church teachings. It is much easier to continue along in the highly critical and mentally harmful world in which you have been raised. Mary’s experience keeps coming back to my mind over and over again.
The more I thought about this interview, the more I realized that this is not a conversation that I recall ever having during my MLIS or PhD program or even through my research. In LIS, we talk a lot about the impact we have (or may potentially have) on our patrons, particularly the impact children and teen librarians have on young patrons. Yet, we rarely discuss or consider the impact of this work on ourselves. The librarian I interviewed had been directly and personally impacted by working with her high school patrons. Out of all my interviews with librarians, only Mary mentioned being changed through her work with youth.
After an admittedly cursory look at existing research about the impact of our work on ourselves, I have found little in the way of scholarly or even practitioner research. Most of what I found that somewhat relates are discussions about the impact on job satisfaction, workplace stress, and motivation. But I haven’t found anything about how our work as librarians impacts our personal lives. (Please prove me wrong! There must be something.) This is disappointing. Our everyday work with patrons, especially younger patrons, must and perhaps should have some sort of positive impact on our personal and professional lives. At the same time, I can think of several examples from my work in the library where interactions with patrons has not been the best and impacted my personal life in negative ways. Obviously, our work can have both a positive and negative impact of our personal and professional lives. Yet, why aren’t we talking and writing about this topic? More research is needed into the positive and negative impact of our work on ourselves. More conversation is needed. More questions are needed.
I am not a librarian, but it has crossed my mind more than once, I am an English teacher. My students pushed me in so many ways I didn’t think were possible. One of the biggest changes was in my reading style. Before, I would read only the things that I liked. So, I could only recommend what I liked. I know how it sounds, dumb. After a handful of students kept “bothering” me, I finally started to branch out and read books my students might like or had recommended to me. I regret not doing it sooner. I know there should be a line between personal life and professional life, but this was the best decision I ever made. I have been not only to recommend better books but pull passages for lessons that hit home with most of my students.