One is the Loneliest Number

Yesterday, as I was going through my email, I came across a solicitation from a microfilm reader vendor with whom I’ve had several conversations.  Included in the email was a list of libraries in the region who have installed new readers.  This is important to me because our library’s reader did what all hardware eventually does.  It died.  We were lucky enough to receive from our local history museum a digital reader to use on indefinite loan.  Unfortunately, the software drivers are no longer being updated for it, and the available ones only work with Windows 98 (it hurts to even admit this).  So, when I saw that a library directed by a friend of mine and with a comparable budget had installed a new reader, I had to get the lowdown.

I called my friend, a woman who has been working in libraries for years and who moved into her directorship at the same time as I moved into mine.  It’s very safe to say that the experience she has had is absolutely nothing like mine.  While I’ve found only support and encouragement from my board and staff, she has had to struggle at every turn.  When I got her on the phone and benignly asked “how are you?” she replied “Not good at all.”

“Not good at all.”  To hear those words from a library employee means that something terribly, terribly awful is wrong.  To say that our job is easy is totally false.  In general, however, people are envious of library employees and rightfully so.  At the same time, like any work environment, when it gets bad, it gets really, really bad.

This is especially true for library directors.  We’re the mediators – the middlemen – the pivot points.  We’re the enforcers – the diplomats – the place where the buck stops and the place where the shit hits.  Of course, we love these things – the responsibility, the challenge, the opportunity.  But when the shit hits, and as in the case of my friend, continues to hit for two years, it’s hard to deal with.  Because often no one else in the immediate vicinity can fully understand the pain and pressure, directing in a hostile environment is a terribly isolating and lonely ordeal.  Honestly, directing on a good day can be isolating and lonely, so imagine it when the board actively undermines your authority and employees treat you like the enemy and blatantly disregard and disrespect you.

Honestly, I didn’t have great advice for my friend.  I listened for an hour (and eventually asked her about the microfilm reader), pointed her to some state level resources and recommended talking to a labor lawyer.  Then I reminded her that our job is inherently lonely, suffering in silence is not necessary and not healthy, and there is support just a phone call away.

Make sure you are consciously aware of your support structure in the good times so that you are ready when the bad times inevitably roll in.

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