As of June 15, 2018 I have been a Library Director for three years. The last time I’ve been anything for this long was when I worked at a video game store in Pittsburgh, PA in the late 90’s. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed the jobs I’ve had along the way. Each one of them has been a good challenge. When I’ve moved on from a place of work, I’ve done so because I feel like I’ve either exhausted what I can do in that position or my family and I have decided to move because we wanted to live somewhere else. Like the video game store job back in the 90’s, I’m happy with the work I get to do at the Benson Memorial Library and am pretty good with the life we live in Titusville, PA. I’m always open to options that will provide a better life for my family, but at the moment this is the best possible path.
But none of that is the reason we’re here today. This post was inspired by a tweet from Sarah Houghton about a self-care panel for library staff that she’d like to host at the next ALA Conference. Her tweet got me thinking about self-care and the need to pay attention to my own mental and physical health. My last post Justin Hoenke Is A Human Being got me thinking about this and Sarah’s tweet inspired me to explore it further. So let’s dive into three years as a library director and how that looks from a physical and mental health standpoint.
WHERE I WAS AND WHERE I AM NOW
I came into this job thinking extremely democratically, from “the middle” as I liked to call it. I did not want to be a director who was on one side of the other. I did not want to micromanage things and I did not want to cede complete control. I wanted to hear many opinions and I wanted to have everyone involved. I think that this worked for a bit of time and also in that time I learned a lot about the people I worked with. I learned a lot about trust. I learned a lot about power struggles. I learned a lot about ulterior motives. There was, like everything in life, good and bad.
These days I think I keep things a bit more to myself and I don’t reach out as much. Sometimes this can be good: it leads me to think through a situation more, to trust my gut, and to make the tough decisions my own. Other times it is bad: I often feel alone and disconnected from most people, and I feel that my only friend at work is the actually library building/space/concept.
I’ll dig into more of that later when we get to the section titled “A FEW OTHER THINGS”.
I started this job as I entered into the second half of my thirties. Entering my thirties came with the realization that the high metabolism and average diet I had most of my life no longer mattered: I was going to have to watch what I eat and exercise more. I’ve been extremely up and down with this. Sometimes I am tracking every calorie, engaging in some kind of exercise multiple times per week, and eating very healthy. Other times (like right now) I am off the wagon, not watching what I eat and not getting up off my butt as much as I should.
I know that I have to watch my snacking while at work. I would define myself as a grazer, someone who likes to have smaller meals and snacks through the day and use that as my fuel. The limited food options in this town have changed what I eat. Our three grocery stores are either expensive because they’re the only game in town and they can charge whatever they want or they’re discount stores with limited options. There was also a period where I wasn’t making enough to fully support my family and had to rely on food stamps for groceries. This limited income and assistance really limited things. Another thing that effects me is the onslaught of snacks from coworkers has really thrown me off of my game. I appreciate these snacks very much, but it seems like they’ve come at me at a higher rate than any other library before.
Stress has a big effect on physical health. While I would not classify this library director job as super high stress, there is an added weight that comes with being the leader of a library. Staff rely on you to make good decisions, there’s a lot of Human Resources stuff that I need to perform that in larger libraries would be handled by an HR professional, you’re the face of the library in the community, and there’s also the need to lead the library and provide a positive vision for the future. Most days this can all be managed and juggled, but sometimes it is all just a bit too overwhelming.
In the Summer of 2017 I weaned myself off of Prozac. Simply stated I had had enough of living a life that I felt was muted. In the time that I was on Prozac I had learned valuable life skills and coping skills that allowed me to make this decision. I haven’t looked back and I feel like my life has been more enjoyable as a result of this decision.
But none of this is to say that has been easy. I think more so than my physical health that my mental health has been tried very much as a library director. There are days where I would like to stay in bed under the blankets and hide away from the world. There are days where I am up and ready to go well before I am scheduled to get into work and do things. I find that being a library director has exacerbated the manic qualities that I’ve known to be part of me for a long time. Every day is a new challenge and all I can hope is to every once in awhile achieve that balance I am constantly seeking.
A FEW OTHER THINGS
- OH LONESOME ME: As I stated above, I often find life as a Library Director to be very lonely. I am thinking about a lot decisions that need to be made to protect and carry on the library as a space and as an idea. Some of the decisions that I make, heck most of the decisions I make, are not fully understood by the staff. That’s understandable: I don’t or can’t tell them the full picture some of the time. There are just some decisions that need to be made by management. I understand why some larger librarians have Assistant Directors or small Executive Teams. Those lessen the feelings of loneliness that I sometimes feel as a director.
- THE MARATHON: There’s a need to pace yourself as a Library Director. I wish someone had told me that I can’t be everything to everyone as the Director. For the last few months I have been doing a very poor job at keeping pace as a full time library director. I have been pulling way too many 12 hours days, 2 nights a week, and so on and so forth. I did this to pitch in a bit and give some other employees some flexibility in their schedule and while I am glad to give them that at the same time I have realized that I cannot sacrifice my own health and well being. I need to pace myself and be more present in my day to day work. 8 hours days are good for a reason…12 hour days may have four more hours of work in them but in reality most of that “extra” work is a shitty quality.
- THIS MAGIC MOMENT: I have found it to be a tremendous idea to be present in the moment. As a Library Director for a small town library that means being involved in every part of the library that I can help with at that moment. Does a patron need help? Does the restroom need cleaned? What are some of the other little things that need attended to? Just because I’m a Library Director doesn’t mean that I should take myself out of the everyday moments that happen at a library. Instead, I feel like most library directors should try to put themselves in those everyday moments. When you’re able to understand why work is done a certain way then you are able to either make changes to it or keep it where it is at. I think libraries need to be flexible and part of that includes looking at all of the ways that the library works. Just because something has been done a certain way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. To keep the library around as a healthy and functioning space and idea, adaptations need to be made or things should be kept the way they are. Testing out and trying a bunch of the little everyday jobs helps you understand where to go. SO, in conclusion: clean those toilets if you have to. You may learn something.
- SCHOOL IS ALWAYS IN SESSION: The best part of being a Library Director for me is the ability to be in an environment where I am constantly learning. I was kind of bummed when my college years were over, as I thought that would be the end to most of my learning. I had to really challenge myself to learn more in the early parts of my career, but as a director I feel like every single day brings a new challenge where I have to level up as a librarian and as a person. I don’t mind this, and I recommend this kind of work for anyone that loves to learn and grow as a person.