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Ask Me Why I Love My Job

by Larry Neal on January 23, 2015

My favorite library conference tchotchke of all time is a button I received from the PLA membership booth several years ago. It reads, “Ask me why I love my job!” Considering the fact that I would have proudly worn that button the first day I started working in a public library thirty-two years ago and would still do so today makes me feel very fortunate. Of course those who dare to ask the question need to be prepared to cut me off at some point (luckily for you, there’s an end to this column).

Like many of you, I did not come into this profession intentionally. My first job was in high school as a page at my local library with the goal of earning a little extra money to go on an exchange trip to Germany. During my college years, after stints at the circulation desk and then tech services, my library job was transformed into the “accidental technology manager” with facilities manager added shortly thereafter. A few years later I was recruited to an assistant director position and then ultimately
became a library director eight years ago.

I attribute several factors to the long-term enjoyment of my library career. First and foremost was having a great boss and mentor. Soon after I started, my supervisor, Christine Lind Hage, recognized that I brought skills that could be applied to a variety of other projects in the library. When I had an idea for implementing an innovation I had read about in the private sector, not only did she support and encourage me, I found that I had been lined up as a speaker on the national stage. Although I had completed a master’s degree in business administration, she was the one who wisely suggested that I go back to school for a library science degree if I wanted to have a job like hers someday.

Second, and closely related to benefiting from a great mentor, has been becoming a mentor myself. Although I always question who gets more out of the relationship, it has become a privilege to meet enthusiastic, talented up-and-coming professionals. This has happened through casual communications with people I have met over the years, through ALA’s Emerging Leaders program, and with employees in my library who are doing great things and can benefit from the extra encouragement that I received along the way.

The third thing that keeps me excited about libraries is the constant change. From technological innovations, automation of the catalog and materials handling, self-service, content creation, and the transition of libraries to learning spaces, it all keeps life challenging and interesting. I can’t imagine how boring life would be without the exciting innovations and changes that are an inherent part of working in today’s library world. These changes have allowed us to deliver services more efficiently, in more formats, and in ways that were never imagined thirty years ago.

Fourth are all of the amazing people I have come to meet over the years. Not only does this include my staff, Library Board, and Friends’ group, it is the many colleagues I have come to know in local, state, and national level professional organizations. Together we laugh, cry, collaborate, and help to figure out and shape the future of public library service. Needless to say, the amount of talent, creativity, and willingness to share in our profession is amazing.

The final factor that keeps me enthused about our profession is advocacy. The issues are often complex and far reaching, but the galvanizing effect of some of the funding
challenges, in particular, have brought out the best in our grassroots efforts and made the statement that libraries are worth fighting for and here for the long haul.

So enough about me; what about you? Would you wear an “Ask me why I love my job!” button?

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