The Ups and Downs




It’s hard for me to stay positive all the time.  I’m not always rainbows, unicorns, and disco dancing.

In the past few months of my life, I’ve hit two points in my career as a librarian where I’ve thought about giving it up to be a mailman/house husband/professional video game tester*.  They’re well documented on Twitter.  Go ahead, search it out.  I wear my heart on my sleeve.

Last week’s journey to the depths of library depression came from two things:


I know David Lee King and Andy Woodworth weren’t out to get me with their posts**.  They’re both wonderful and brilliant dudes and have excellent things to say.  In fact, their posts really bring up some great ideas for libraries.  However, bringing up this library rockstar thing once again really bugged me.

There’s just something cocky that comes with the rockstar tag.  I don’t know what it exactly is and I don’t think I can perfectly capture it in this blog post but…well I guess it has a lot to do with ego.  This sense that you are everything and the world revolves around you.  I got a sense of that during my experiences at ALA 2010 and I did not like it at all.  I feel like that if we can bypass the rock star tag and all the trappings of it we can move on to bigger, better, and more productive things.  David Lee King is right…Why NOT “showcase” some of our fine staff a bit? But do we have to call it rock stars?   Can’t we just be awesome people?  Community supporters?  Very nice librarians?  Let’s not cut and paste a stereotype from another profession into our own.  Let’s create something that transcends rock star.


I’ve heard it pop up on Twitter many times.  “I’m never gonna be one of those librarians that shushes my patrons.”  Yeah, well I never thought I’d be that person either.***

Last week, the teen area at my library hit new highs.  With those awesome highs however came some not so awesome lows.  First up, the highs.  On average, we’ve been getting anywhere from 40-60 teens in our area between 2:15pm-4:45pm every day after school.  That’s a huge win.  They’re coming over to the library to use our computers, meet with their friends, work on school/personal stuff, and more.  We’re the community center for a large group of Portland teens. AWESOME!

On the other hand, I’m finding out that a recently renovated and state of the art teen library doesn’t go without its flaws as well.  Noise travels, there’s never enough room, things get damaged, and nothing is ever enough.  Just when you give the latest technology to teens there’s something that comes along that makes it void in an instant.  And there’s always a few teens that are just out to push buttons.  They want to see how you react.  They can smell your blood, dammit.

I’m not going to get into specifics because it doesn’t matter, but all in all what I’m trying to say is that with your ups you have your downs. Just when you think life is perfect and you’re riding the waves of success, the next minute you’re going back over the fine details to retool your methods.  It’s a hard game.  I really don’t want to play it all the time, but as much as I’d like to be a house husband whose main goal in life is to learn how to bake really awesome bread, I know I wouldn’t be 100% happy.  I’m a librarian because I want to have a positive impact on the people I interact with.  I want to make my community a stronger and happier place to live.  My mission isn’t done, so that baking bread and sleeping in till noon thing has to wait….for now.****






  1. Justin:

    I know how you feel. I am not a “rockstar” librarian, nor am I sure I want to be. I do want to be respected by my peers and want to be well liked, but to me it is more important that I know I am a good Librarian. I don’t necessarily need to adulation of others. But it would be nice.

    It is also important for the community to know your worth, and your school to know your worth. If praises are not being sung about you until the budget is cut, maybe thats too little too late? I think we should express to ourselves and to our community our worth.

  2. Brian Wilson and John Lennon (who I dearly loved) had some serious psychological problems, not great guys to want to emulate. As for the kids, I feel you pain. I use a lot of humor and mock despair when dealing with them. But then, they think of me as a hot mom, so I get some kind of weird respect.

  3. You’re part of the Library Illuminati, Justin! Nobody can touch you!

    I get frustrated and disillusioned sometimes too and what usually gets me out of it is thinking about all the other jobs in the world I could be doing. I am so damned lucky to care this much about a job that means something to me! I could be working a job that just runs out the time, but I’m doing what I love even if I don’t love it every day! How many people can say that? 🙂

    • DING!

      “I could be working a job that just runs out the time, but I’m doing what I love even if I don’t love it every day! How many people can say that?”

      Having a job you care about makes such a difference.

  4. Hey Justin! I said this on Twitter during the rockstar debate – for me, rockstars are isolated by their fame and so communicate by monologue rather than dialogue, that’s my (semantic) problem with the concept. The ego, and the fact that everytime they ask a question they have so many fans that they get 1000 answers, means they can never truly converse! Communication becomes one way.

    Parts of that also happens with some RockStar librarians (and needless to say I am NOT pointing the finger at Andy or David here!) – if you get 70 comments within the first 10 minutes of publishing a blog post, you’re never realistically going to engage with them all, let alone reply to the them. So the starryness makes you more remote – you’re certainly a giver (of awesome information, for example) but you need to take too, to make the experience communicative. (Incidentally, I think librarians as a tribe are actually pretty good at avoiding this – there are people I think of as absolute legends in the field, who are happy to take the time to converse with normal people like me, which is great. 🙂 )

    ON THE OTHER HAND, though, perhaps there is an argument for taking a few hits for the team to drag the profession forward. So a few people become slightly remote, a few more become uncomfortable with the labeling and the way it makes us feel (I’m a social media star, get me out of here! Oh no, wait…) – but as part of this process, we make inroads into misguided public perception of what we do, and the dynamic way many of us do it?

    I don’t know if I agree with that, just playing devil’s advocate. But generally, I think David’s point about show-casing the staff rather than the stuff is such a good one (where appropriate – God knows you couldn’t do it at every library) that it’s worth some troubling terminology…

    • “for me, rockstars are isolated by their fame and so communicate by monologue rather than dialogue, that’s my (semantic) problem with the concept. The ego, and the fact that everytime they ask a question they have so many fans that they get 1000 answers, means they can never truly converse! Communication becomes one way.”

      I totally agree with that. I see it a lot of times in bands/musicians, hence those “dreaded few albums” that every band releases. They just get to a point where everyone says yes and it’s easier to isolate yourself from the negative comments.

  5. Alright – first of all, Andy and I WERE out to get you! MWAHAHAHAHAHA! Ok, just kidding there.

    But – I DID see a sort of theme in your post – one of pushing buttons. I certainly can’t speak for Andy, but I know I tend to push people’s buttons all the time. Some of Andy’s recent posts have certainly done that, too.

    Here’s why I used Rockstar – “very nice librarians” don’t get on the news, don’t stir things up, don’t push their community’s buttons. Rockstars, politicians, authors, etc DO get noticed. They have something people want, and they market that – and themselves – just a bit. End result? They attract people to them (and their stuff). And sometimes push people’s buttons in the process.

    I don’t care what label is used, but I sure want people to be attracted to librarians, and their stuff, in that order. We are more important than our stuff.

    Keep thinking! Good stuff indeed.

    • Ha! I knew you are out to get me! Thanks for seeing some kind of theme in my post. I tend to just barf out words and never really edit.

      “Here’s why I used Rockstar – “very nice librarians” don’t get on the news”

      I totally, 100% see your point here. It’s a weird culture we live in these days where it takes a lot to get noticed. I’m just hoping, fingers crossed, that some librarians don’t just see the rock star thing as an excuse to become some bloated, out of touch celebrity that may bring focus to our profession but also may bring a negative light to it as well.

      Thanks for kicking my brain and getting me to think. The tough times in life are, well, tough but I always come out of it a lot happier.

  6. 40-60 teens? Wow that is awesome. And of course they want you to prove, that like all grown ups, you really hate teenagers. But you don’t. As I told someone recently, I love being a librarian and I refuse to let the job interfere with that.

  7. I think it’s a good thing for librarians to be known in their communities. Librarians are already little local celebrities because many of us have public jobs, so when people see us out and about they recognize us from the library. That could lead to programs and partnerships between the library and other community orgs, which is always awesome.

    Rockstar, to me, implies someone known on a national scale. Usually the only that level of recognition within the Library World comes only from other Librarians, so I have a hard time seeing the benefit of “fame” in that regard. If there is some kind of national “Rockstar Spokesperson”, I would have a hard time seeing them as a librarian since they spend all their time marketing and not doing library work.

    For what it’s worth, I prefer to think of librarians as “Pillars of the Community” instead of Rockstars. Rockstars are people to be admired from afar, Pillars of the Community work with everyone for everyone.

  8. I totally get where you’re coming from. I cringe when I hear the term rockstar librarian, or, even worse, celebrity librarian. Rockstar is a dated term. It conjures up images of aging rockstars. And celebrity librarian? Celebrity no longer refers to someone who’s achieved fame for a special talent. It now refers to Paris, Lindsay, and Jersey Shore-like reality stars.

    I read this quote in a recent David Lebovitz post that seems relevant to the discussion:

    “I’m not sure how this fascination with being a chef came to be as it’s really ‘grunt’ work and there’s nothing at all glamorous about it; no matter how many tattoos you have or how much you swear at underlings, there’s still a ton of work involved and no way you’re going to get through it by the end of your shift.”

    Showcase your staff? Absolutely. Call yourself a rockstar? Uh, not so much. We’re LIBRARIANS. If we were meant to be rockstars in the true sense of the word, then we wouldn’t have to work so hard to get the attention. Is it a coincidence that this discussion is a male-centered one??

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