Original photo by Bonnie Powers

This picture is only tangentially related to this post. I am the new kid on the block; however, this bridge is technically not part of that block. It a part of my view as I walk across another bridge from my parking space on City Island in Harrisburg to my job on Walnut Street. But I really like this shot, which I took yesterday morning on my way to work, and I wanted to show it off. So I did.

Starting a new job is always stressful in the most insignificant ways as well as in the big ways–in all ways under even the very best of circumstances and in the best jobs and workplaces. It’s those little things that cause a lot of the initial anxiety no matter where you work or who you work with. Until one learns the norms of their new work culture, one can make the most egregious errors or faux pas without ever knowing the difference.

From, is it okay to close my door sometimes to when is the mail delivered and picked up to where are the good places to eat to where do I get supplies to where is the bathroom, which door do I use to enter/exit the building, how do I use the microwave and with regard to the names, the titles, the roles, the protocol, the unwritten tribal customs–it takes a while to fit in.

But here’s the thing with the land of libraries–it’s a small, small world, at least in Pennsylvania. If you’ve come from another library system, chances are you will be able to connect the dots between yourself and at least ten other people right away-someone who knows someone who used to have your job, worked in your library, worked in your system, with a former colleague. And that creates an immediate sense of belonging. Even though (based on my experience) most public libraries are fiercely independent, they all relate to each other on an organizational level in a very collegial way and with a familiarity that is bred from shared concerns and common challenges. We are all in this together even though we protect the turf on which we stand until we stand on other turf. And then we say and do the same things because we know the language that is used among those that inhabit this world of wonderful, quirky, passionate, dedicated, obstinate, sometimes obtuse and often politically savvy people who are the citizens of what we call libraryland.

In moving from library to library within this world, one is never really quite the new kid on the block. Upon entering the world of libraries for the first time, however, well, that is a different story. You will be an outsider until you assimilate into the culture. You don’t have to accept the culture (and maybe shouldn’t) or become indoctrinated, but you have to understand it. Until you understand it, there is no hope of changing it in the ways it may need to be changed. You not only have to understand the culture, you have to respect it. Until you respect the culture of libraries, you can not even begin to gain for yourself the respect that is needed in order to be heard when you say and do the things that may make people shake their heads but end up making the biggest differences of all.

So, yeah. After two weeks on the job, I’m still the new kid on the block–I have a new street address. But I’ve been around the library block a few times now. Funny thing–an outsider eventually becomes an insider, and it happens gradually, over time. But an insider that thinks like an outsider can be so much more effective than an outsider who doesn’t even try to understand or respect the insiders. Sustainable change happens from the inside out. Embrace what is before you complain about what isn’t.

This new kid has learned a few things along the way around the block.