Good for You is not Bad for Me

I’ve written variations on this post before, and then I’ve usually deleted them. I was inspired to write by the recent announcement of the Library Journal Movers and Shakers 2014, but it probably relates in a way to all forms of prominent recognition in the field of librarianship, whether it’s big speaking gigs, popular blogs or Twitter accounts, or whatever.

My own response to the Movers and Shakers list is the same as it’s always been. I look through the list to see if there’s anyone I know in case I want to send a congratulatory email. There’s rarely anyone I know, and for the past few years usually not anyone I’ve even heard of. Once I find out there’s no one I know on the list, I might click through on a few profiles, but that’s about it. People seem happy to win the award and it will possibly help them in their careers. That’s all fine by me. Good for them.

Sometimes there are responses I find puzzling. Envy, resentment, a large helping of why-not-meism. It’s as if good for them somehow becomes bad for others. There might be another round or criticism this year, and there have certainly been some in the past. I’ve only seen dribs and drabs, because I don’t frequent the virtual locations where people spend their time complaining about stuff like this. But some of the stuff that has seeped into my bubble is hard to take seriously because it seems so motivated by resentment.

Some people resent that the particular winners won the award, with the implication that what they did wasn’t that great, or it wasn’t the “real” library work that we hardworking librarians too busy to showboat do “in the trenches,” the metaphor implying that working in a library is somehow akin to standing in a muddy hole in the ground hoping not to get shot by enemy combatants. Since I rarely read through them, I don’t even know what most of the people did to get rewarded. I assume it’s flashy programs or popular library promotions or something like that. I don’t really care what they did. Unless I know them personally or work with them in some capacity, what they did has no affect on me whatsoever. The underlying assumption is that what I do is just as worthy of recognition as what they did, and if the world was fair I’d win awards, too. What is there to say to that? A lot of life’s frustrations come from the conflict between reality and our expectations of reality. If we absolutely can’t change that reality, it’s foolish not to change our expectations.

Some people resent the winners because, supposedly, the thing they’re really best at is self-promotion. Possibly. On the other hand, talented self-promotion can’t be the only thing that distinguishes most of the award winners from everyone else. The M&S award winners all seem to have done something new that affected other people in positive ways. Maybe they’re great at promoting that thing, but they still did whatever thing they’re promoting. To expand this some, the big name librarians are often big names because they’re really good at promoting their expertise into speaking and writing opportunities. But still, they have that expertise, or at least had it at one point. I can’t be resentful that they’re better at self-promotion than me, because I really don’t care whether they’re well known or not. Their popularity takes nothing away from me.

The hard truth that a lot of us don’t want to accept is that we’re just not that special, and in particular we don’t have the drive and talent to promote ourselves into the librarianship stratosphere. I’ve accepted that truth about myself, because I don’t care about library fame. The professional recognition that matters to me is the kind that affects my life. Becoming a Mover and Shaker might make things better for me, although I don’t see how. But not being one doesn’t take anything away from me. What recognition other people get doesn’t help or harm me. Even if I cared that wouldn’t make me any more capable of that self-promotion. I could put myself up for an award, but I don’t want one. It doesn’t help that some of the most creative things I’ve done in libraries I couldn’t talk about in public anyway. Nevertheless, it’s likely that even if I really, really wanted an award, I probably wouldn’t get one, at the very least because I’m not willing to make the effort to promote myself in that way. I can live with that just fine.

The only thing I might find irritating is if some award winner came up to me and said something like, “I’m a Library Journal Mover and Shaker, which means I’m great and you have to pay attention to me.” Actually, I take that back. I wouldn’t find that so much irritating as amusing, and everyone could use a good laugh. I just can’t imagine a situation in which that would happen. I guess another potential irritant would be if I was competing against an award winner for a job, and the only reason they got it over me was that they had the award. Again, I can’t see that happening. Generally, what’s good for them isn’t bad for me.

So congratulations to all the award winners and the famous librarians and the like. Good for you. Best of luck and all that. Now back to work.

[I realized after writing this is similar in some ways to my post on wandering free and easy last year. Maybe it’s something about the approaching spring that brings on these moods.]