I’m just going to say it: Organizationally, professionally, philosophically–I think we in the business of libraries take ourselves way too seriously. That’s not to say that the work we do isn’t serious or important–it is, of course. But one can do serious and important work without taking it so seriously.
Finding the humor in any circumstance and laughing about it, especially as it pertains to ourselves, is not a sign of disregard or lack of commitment. It’s a sign that we have perspective and understand that many things in life are important–as important and more important than libraries.
Too often I’ve encountered attitudes in both the real world and the virtual world that suggest life or death consequences will result from the slightest miscalculation, misstep, or mistake. I think that’s why we generally take so few risks. There is little empathy for failure in the library world. We are so serious about getting whatever it is we are doing right that we fail to notice that maybe we shouldn’t even be doing whatever “it” is in the first place.
My experience has shown me that overall librarians and library workers have pretty great senses of humor…except when it comes to libraries or the library as a profession. Then not so much. I have been in situations where admitting a lack of knowledge or understanding about something related to libraries is the equivalent of professional suicide. I have overheard conversations at conferences that would suggest zero tolerance for anyone who does not extol the virtues of libraries with every waking breath.
Maybe that is because as a profession and as an institution, we get beat up occasionally, often. Maybe we believe we have to overcompensate for those who do not take us seriously and defend our work as important and not as easy as it seems to appear to others outside the profession.
But being serious does not convince anyone of the seriousness of anything. What convinces them are results. Libraries and librarians do achieve results. We can let our achievements speak to the seriousness of the institution and profession in a much more effective manner than our own, collective serious demeanor. Instead, we can exhibit the ability to see ourselves as others see us. And we can enjoy the joke, even when the joke is on us.
As with many of my posts, this one stems from something personal. The other day my husband made a comment that showed a lack of understanding about the internal operations of libraries. I went on a mini rant about how what he said was just not accurate and why. He looked at me until I said, “What?” And he said, “It’s just that you’re so serious about everything now. Why do you take everything so seriously?”
He’s right–I do. Whether it’s the profession I’ve chosen or something else that has brought about that change I cannot know for sure. But there is one thing I know for sure–I intend to lighten up.