Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"The Long Gray Line"

As young hipster librarians in Library Skool, we all heard about the "graying" of the library profession. We were assured again and again that there was an upcoming librarian shortage, when scads of librarians would retire, and that if we didn't step up to fill the void, we would have to start drilling for fresh librarians at an Alaskan wildlife preserve or make new librarians out of french fry oil or switch grass or something. Now that I'm a librarian, and I saw how competitive and cut-throat the job search was, I wondered when this massive drain would actually happen so that all my grad school pals could find gainful employment, as it was promised to us by all those lying bastards who took our money and force-fed us Belkin.

Because the job search was so Machiavellian (jump through this hoop of fire in your undies and sing Talking Book while we laugh at you and drink our champagne!), I was convinced that no one was retiring, ever. The generation of librarians before me had vampiric qualities of immortality and it was folly to think that they would ever give us young whippersnappers a chance. In fact, the last quarter I was in Library Skool, I chatted with an academic librarian and mentioned that I was going to be in the market for a job within the year, and she cut me off and snapped at me: "It won't be MY job! Because I'm going to stay here until I DIE AT MY DESK!" And yes, she really said that, people. I am not making that up for comic storytelling purposes.

Now that I work for a large urban library system, I can anecdotally tell you guys poised to graduate out there (and also those of you who are still looking for full-time or any-time librarian work) that the retiring IS happening. It may not seem like it, but it is true. It took me a while to see it, and I'll tell you why. Librarians retire quietly. No fanfare, no parties, no SEE YA SUCKAS as they leave for the last time after 30 or 40 years. No one has retired from my department yet, so I don't know how quiet people are about retiring within their own work units, but system-wide, people really keep retirement on the DL. For instance, there was a retirement scenario that happened today that is completely typical. In the late afternoon, an email appeared in everyone's inbox. It's from a department head and goes a little something like this: "Today is Loretta Buffy Omnibus' last day on the job, after 723 years of service to this library system. She has asked that we not make a fuss about her last day, but I wanted to send this email out to acknowledge her..." and then there are a few genuinely touching comments about all the work this person has done for the past millennium. Then, before the end of the work day, the retiree will send her own email saying "Goodbye, and thanks for everything!" and maybe a couple more sentences and that is IT. I always feel a little sad when I get these emails, because although they asked for no fuss to be made, I feel like their contribution to our profession deserves a fuss. A big, hairy, pulchritudinous fuss. I always hope that at least their co-workers all give them a hearty hug and applaud them out the door. If/when one of my co-workers retires, that's what I plan to do.

Maybe I feel so strongly about this because I am a sucker for celebrating. More likely, I feel like this because I have endured a couple of bad endings to jobs that I have had, and I know that it felt awful. For instance, after spending two years at the Suck Ass Job From Hades, I finally decided I needed to quit because crying before going to work in the morning out of quiet desperation and tedium just didn't seem like, well, quite the right fit for me. So I gave notice, and worked diligently through my last two weeks. On my last day, there was to be a bon voyage party for me in the lunchroom, with cake and punch and well wishes for me. Four people came. FOUR PEOPLE CAME. The rest of the staff just went right on working in their cubicles and ignored the two years I had given to that stinky poopy footface establishment. It was horrible. Because all my life, I have been eminently likeable, people. Co-workers always dig me. And I was nothing but sweetness and light and kitties and puppies and rainbows to all of those people. I mean, in hindsight I know it was because that place sucked the joy out of all who picked up a paycheck there, but at the time, it made me saaaaaad.

The story gets much more pathetic than this. So, at the end of my day that day, I packed up my desk, and I looked around. Quittin' time. Is anyone going to say anything to me? A good-night and good luck, perhaps? Anyone? Anyone? I stood up. Everyone typed diligently on their compooters, apparently staying late for yet another night. "Bye!" I say, giving them one last cheerful attempt at camaraderie. "Oh. Bye!" they all say back. No one gets up. They kind of wave at me from their desks, perhaps mad that I was getting out and they were left in this sweatshop of drudgery. I took my box o' desk items and left the building. I walked the two blocks to my car and got in, only to remember that I had left a favorite photo of mine pinned to the wall above my desk. Damn it, I had to go BACK IN. I walked the two blocks back, entered the building, walked down the hall, and turned into my now ex-office. Folks, here's the scene that I saw. My entire department, out of their seats, CARRYING MY DESK TO THE STORAGE CLOSET. I had not been gone for a half hour, and my desk was GONE. Everyone looked uncomfortable and embarrassed that I had come back to witness this (and it was a disturbingly jovial scene, I might add), but no one tried to explain it away. No one mentioned it. I walked over to the-artist-formerly-known-as-my-workspace, got my photo, and said "Bye, again!" and laughed my tinkly, carefree laugh as I walked out the door. Because honeys, I can SWEEP out of a room if I need to. And boy, did I need to.

So when I get these low-key retirement emails, I want these people to have some fanfare. I only gave two years of my life to that stoopid job, and I didn't really like what I was doing there all that much, but it felt bad to not be acknowledged. So how you gonna walk outta here after a bubzillion years with a five sentence email? It ain't right. It just ain't. Plus, you've got all these baby librarians that are nipping at your heels as you leave the occupation, and so my feeling is, have your friggin' MOMENT. Get all Celine and ride out of here in a bedazzled faux-Arab harem carriage that is carried by four hunky dudes in sequined Hammer pants and oiled waxed chests. You know you want to.

Kiss the rings, I'm out.
Librarian Girl


Anonymous said...

I ain't retiring any time soon, but you just WAIT until I finish grad skool next year. Bring on the Hammer pants!

tormentedlibrarian said...

You've been working at the wrong library--or at least in a bummer of a department! I remember a retirement (possibly two or three librarians ago) where there was serious discussion of a chocolate fountain.

Melinda said...


Fifteen years from now, library school administrators are still going to be spewing that same speech about all the impending retirements. And I will probably STILL be the youngest person on my staff, surrounded by colleagues who don't know what a flash drive is or how to attach a file to an email, and I'll swoop in on unsuspecting library school orientations and shout "Retire this, bitches!"

Oh, and I once left a job where, at my goodbye "party", I overheard one staff member say to another: "You just here for the cake, too?"

Lia said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lia said...

I'm sooo glad that someone has witnessed this supposed retirement trend that all library school faculty talk about with grave seriousness (all the while laughing behind our backs at the reality of the situation) and documented it!

Now that I know librarians do actually retire, perhaps, just perhaps I'm not throwing my money away with library school. *sigh*

(Perhaps a reason as to why no one really celebrates these retirements is that administration doesn't want anyone to know that there was a full-time librarian position that they will now be cutting to a half-time position or not filling at all. Wow, I'm being too pessimistic. Sorry!)