WILL UNWOUND #135: “Librarian Anger is Real” by Will ManleyJune 7, 2010
Our library news sources (print and online) have done an excellent job of reporting the carnage that budget cuts have made to libraries of all types in the past two years. You cannot open a library magazine without reading a news story about hours being cut, libraries being closed, services being curtailed, and librarians being laid off. To those of us who feel strongly that libraries are as important to America as police and fire departments, this news is tragic.
What the library news sources have not covered, however, is the human toll that these cuts are making in the lives of librarians and ultimately what it may be doing to our profession.
Our group therapy discussion last Thursday, which focused on the devastating personal effect that the cutbacks have had on librarians who have been laid off or who are on provisional layoff lists, hit a national network of nerves. Since Thursday, I have been inundated with e-mails from librarians who did not want to leave comments on our blog for fear of reprisal from supervisors and managers.
Personally, I think that fear is completely unwarranted, but on the other hand, many of these librarians at risk are in a very edgy state of dread. Some are moving toward the dark abyss of despair and despondency. There’s a lot of anger, paranoia, frustration, confusion, and depression out there. I really can’t see supervisors and managers combing through this blog to see the names of staff members who feel the need to vent or even rage about their feelings.
It just doesn’t make sense. Yes, this blog has thousands of readers, but those who have been laid off or who are on a lay off list are clearly entitled to vent their feelings. It’s perfectly understandable and can be very therapeutic for at risk librarians to use an interactive blog format to get out feelings that are not being reported in the library press. Managers and supervisors certainly understand this need.
Or do they? One of the main sources of anger for librarians on the layoff bubble, is that their managers don’t seem to care about them or their feelings. Skilled and experienced librarians are outraged that after years of loyal service to a library, the library seems not to care about their feelings. What are those feelings?
Let’s start with fear. Many of these at-risk librarians cannot bear to contemplate the future. One of the saddest e-mails I received was from a man who has been left dangling on a provisional lay off list for several months. The fear and uncertainty about what will happen to him and his family have taken their toll on his emotions. He’s had a series of anxiety attacks at his reference desk but is afraid to tell anyone at work about them. He is now under the care of a psychiatrist, and is on a Xanax prescription.
He basically said that his whole life is falling apart. He has been a librarian for 15 years, and knows that he won’t able to find another job because of all the layoffs in his state. One of the things that infuriates him the most is that his admin only seems to talk about numbers: revenue numbers, expenditure numbers, and layoff numbers. No one in his library is talking about HUMAN BEINGS (his caps). He then ended his e-mail by writing: I AM A HUMAN BEING. I AM NOT A SEARCH ENGINE.
There are other stories that will break your heart. There are many newer librarians who have worked hard to get a degree and an entry level job and who are now in an unemployment line with no prospects in sight. They are forced to make a decision as to whether they should spend time to search for a non-existent library position or just abandon librarianship all together and start their young professional lives over.
There are older librarians who are being pressured to take retirement incentive packages but who do not have the money to pay for retiree health insurance premiums. Add guilt to their range of emotions. They are terribly torn between making room for younger librarians and retiring prematurely. As one woman wrote: “I don’t want to end up living in trailer park because I had to sell my little house to pay for health insurance.” She added that she was certain that if she did retire they would just cut her position and not replace her with a younger person.
I even received e-mails from new MLS graduates who are resigning themselves to the fate that they will never get a truly professional entry level job. These librarians are angry at library school administrators and recruiters who painted a rosy employment picture for them to get them to plunk down their tuition money.
The angriest librarians, judging strictly from my e-mails, however, are those who are in mid-career. They are too old to start their professional lives over but too young to consider retirement. They have been loyal to their libraries, and now they feel betrayed and abandoned. They are angry and resentful and do not know where to turn.
The fundamental importance of a job and a career to a person’s sense of self worth and value cannot be overemphasized. Jobs can be the meaning of life for many people…especially in this country where the American work ethic is so strong and people identify themselves by their work. When you strip a person of his/her job, you are stripping that person of not just a means of economic support but of psychological strength. This is especially true in cases where people have dedicated their lives and devoted their energies to a single organization. It can be beyond crushing to discover that the loyalty given is not reciprocated and within a day or a week someone is expected to dump their personal belongings into a glad bag or cardboard box and head home with one’s tail between one’s legs. It’s humiliating and debilitating and can definitely lead to the dark abyss of mental illness. People are not numbers.
Reactions, anyone? If you are afraid to reveal your emotions or speak your mind, don’t be. Simply use an anonymous name. It’s very important for the library profession to begin talking about this issue. Exercise your freedom of expression. Speak your mind.
Here are some questions that might spur your thinking:
1. Are you starting to see anger and frustration among the people you work with?
2. Aren’t some librarians being a bit paranoid when they say that are afraid to express their opinions on a blog?
3. Do you worry about the future of our profession as it becomes marginalized by layoffs and cutbacks?
4. When administrators are put in the terrible dilemma of making cutbacks, are they right in divorcing human feelings from the cutback dilemma? Shouldn’t they focus strictly on dollars and sense and the fiduciary responsibility they have to taxpayers to balance their budgets?
5. Whom do you feel worse for: new MLS grads, entry level librarians, mid-career librarians, or librarians entering the retirement zone?
6. Do you feel that Library School enrollments will start making a sharp decline?
7. Anything else you’d like to put on the table?
REMEMBER THIS BLOG IS A GROUP EFFORT. THANKS FOR YOUR HELP. LIBRARIANS CARE ABOUT PEOPLE.