I don't want to be in charge
June 7, 2011 7:50 AM   Subscribe

My library career is stuck. I want out. Where can I go? Special snowflake details within.

I have come to the conclusion that my job and I do not fit well together. I am currently the assistant director for public services at a fourth-tier law school. I supervise three librarians, and oversee all public services activity.

Except that I don't, really. I do my best to keep track of everything, send out notifications, communicate with vendors, but I invariably let things slip more often than they should. I am good at relating to people and working out personnel problems, but the rest of my job often escapes me. I feel guilty for doing a bad job, frustrated with myself, and worried that my boss wants me out. (It doesn't help that she quizzes me on every decision I make.)

I am fairly certain that one of my problems is ADHD. Unfortunately, the ADHD medication I tried triggered a hypomanic episode, resulting in my being diagnosed as bipolar II (where previously my diagnosis had been depressive/anxiety disorder). My doctor and I have been working on a medication cocktail, and I've come to a relatively stable point, but I'm worried (and so is she) that adding a different ADHD medication will upset the balance.

I need the money I make from this job. Demoting myself and taking a vast pay cut is not an option. I also don't want to take a career step back, though maybe I should get over that and just do it. I have applied for other jobs that don't require me to supervise, but have gotten little response.

Should I try changing careers? I'm very good at teaching, and have some resume experience to show it. But as the sole support of my family, I need to make money, and rarely does a teaching career pay well. I can't think of any other options. I'm so close to just quitting for my own mental health, which would be disastrous for us financially. I can't ask my boss for help or advice. Admitting to her that I'm overwhelmed will only cause her to think less of me.

I keep trying to tell myself there's no shame in acknowledging that supervising is not one of my strengths. But I don't know where to go from there. Ideas?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total)
You're an academic law librarian. There are lots of people that want that job, even if it is in a bottom of the barrel law school as you seem to make yours out to be.

Unfortunately, academic library sciences doesn't necessarily lend itself to doing all that many other things except possibly running a library somewhere else. Of course, library jobs are pretty hard to come by everywhere, and you've already got one of the better ones, so that doesn't strike me as a real solution.

The only alternate path I know of from your current position is into administration, and the people that get those jobs tend to be high fliers, even at the lower ranked/unranked schools, not people who are looking to get out of library science altogether.

Not everyone does a job that they love. Most people don't. Yours happens to be a pretty nice one, even if you don't like it, which is a lot more than a lot of people can say. I think that given your combination of previous career choices and current responsibilities, your best bet may well be to see if you can get your psych issues worked out to the point that you can stick with this.
posted by valkyryn at 8:01 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you interested in trying to stick this out? I wonder if getting an ADD coach would be helpful for you--this would be someone who would help you strategize about how to accomplish all of your work even without medicine. It might be worth a try.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:55 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Since you consider yourself a good teacher, can you transform your current position more into a teaching position? Can you start to think of your supervising role more as a teaching role? That's how I manage.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 10:19 AM on June 7, 2011

I would not make this decision right now. I think the real issue is that you are not in great mental health and are overwhelmed. Go to your boss and/or HR, and request 4 weeks off, either vaca, sick time, a combination, or unpaid if you must. Take a trip if you can so you don't stay in bed with the covers over your head. Go to the beach, read good books, play, watch movies, eat well. Once you have a chance to rest, go back and see how your job fits.
posted by theora55 at 10:25 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Plenty of academic law librarians teach the intro to legal research class that all the 1Ls have to take. Is there a way you could get involved there?

Also, reach out to your fellow law librarians. Are you going to AALL this year? (I am!) There are a few teaching how-to sessions, admittedly geared toward private firm librarians, but they're still a good place to start. At the very least you can be assured of some sympathetic ears.

Memail me if you want to chat.
posted by orrnyereg at 10:30 AM on June 7, 2011

Is it possible that you are working in a type of library job that just doesn't give you the enjoyment to fuel your daily work, so you are lacking in motivation to do those everyday tasks?

There are so many facets to librarianship that they don't really talk about in library school. They talk about public services vs. tech services, but what about solo librarian vs. administrator in larger library? They talk about school vs. academic vs. public vs. corporate, but what about small college vs. huge university, private school vs. public school, nonprofit vs. for-profit corporation, branch supervisor in large urban system vs. director in small suburban community? Supervising people vs. managing volunteers, or managing no one? Serving specific populations like very young kids, businesspeople, retired people, the mentally ill, etc., etc. etc.?

My example/trajectory: I came out of library school wanting to be a serials librarian because a) I liked periodicals and b) I liked cataloging. Turned down a serials librarian job because it was too far away. Took a half-time cataloging/half-time reference job--and discovered not only that I was good at both, but that I hated cataloging and thought reference and interlibrary loan were wonderful. Took an outreach medical librarian job out of desperation to get away from the previous job's location, and discovered that I love helping people and like the subject matter, and that I should not be a supervisor.. A virtual stranger at a conference, on hearing me talk about the fact that my grant was ending, said, "I bet you'd be great as an autonomous solo hospital librarian, you should look for that kind of job." A bell rang in my head: that's it. That's what I want. Yes, it took me two more jobs to get there (and it's sort of a weird hospital), but it's been worth it. It all had to happen in order to get me here.

You don't mention how many library jobs you have had, but I wonder if you are someone who came out of library school with some assumptions about what would make a great job for you, and just never had a chance to challenge those assumptions.

Every job teaches you something. You can do any job for a short period of time, even if you're not quite qualified for it, even if there's something awful about it. Every job leads to new contacts and new friends who can be instrumental in helping you figure yourself out and find the next job. And every job opens up your idea of a) what you might love to do, b) what you hate doing, and c) what you're really good at, until you find what's actually right for you.

Not knowing where you are or what kinds of library jobs are available in your area, my advice is kind of general: look for something else in librarianship, or peripherally-related to librarianship if that's what comes up, or even adding on a volunteer job of some kind if you absolutely feel you cannot leave your current job. You say you get along well with people and have skill in teaching. Remember that there are a LOT of opportunities to teach in librarianship; you could even take a job that has never involved teaching before with the intent of doing more of that, or take your current job more in that direction. (Electronic services librarian who does workshops on searching various databases...developing a "library skills" class for a department or population with whom your library has not worked much in the past...reference librarian doing presentations for the public on how to find types of information on the web...school librarian teaching information literacy...all this is not just "bibliographic instruction" but OUTREACH, which is a totally underused strategy in all kinds of libraries, IMO.)

tl;dr but my point is: you feel stuck in your library job, and I think that indicates you need more perspective. Disregarding mental health issues for the moment, if you want to stay in librarianship, the answer is to get more experiences in the field and discover what you SHOULD be doing.
posted by gillyflower at 2:15 PM on June 7, 2011

Unfortunately, academic library sciences doesn't necessarily lend itself to doing all that many other things except possibly running a library somewhere else.

I'm going to respectfully disagree with this one, for a couple of reasons. If you don't want to be a librarian any more, there are jobs out there that will allow you to stretch a similar skill set. No doubt, though, they will take a lot of looking.

First of all, I really think you need to talk to your supervisor or your HR person about your medical issues (not in detail! just enough to let them know that you are working on things so they don't fire you while you're still working things out). She quite possibly already thinks 'less' of you for letting major parts of your job slip by you.

Take a little while (vacation, set aside time each day, whatever) to really meditate on your job. What do you like about it? What don't you like, besides being in charge? Is there an easy fix that you can make which will make your life easier?

I really, really, REALLY urge you to make lists for work tasks. I'm prone to the attention-deficit side of things myself (I've noticed good reference librarians often are) and organization is a must. Set deadlines, and ask others to help keep you accountable. Talk to your therapist about this, as I'm sure he/she has other great suggestions.

Make a decision. Do you want to continue in librarianship? If you do want to stay in library land, you could work at a corporate library (law or otherwise, and no, you don't always need the JD for that), you could work for a vendor, you could work at a K-12 school library or something which gives you a much different audience to work with.

Law students are stressful people! I really did not miss the student interaction part of my job when I left the law library where I worked. You may feel more stressed by the environment than you realize, especially given that finals just (thank god) ended. Another environment might really help, as might moving away from supervisory roles.

Start making plans now to cut back on your expenditures and perhaps look for a second job to add income (subbing at the local public library on weekends?). You may find yourself out of a job, either involuntarily if you don't let them know about your mental health issues or voluntarily if you up and quit one day. Try not to let that be financial catastrophe for you and your family.

Keep up with the therapy and the meds pretty much no matter what else is going on. It can be way too easy for librarians, stereotypically female and people-pleasers, to let other priorities get ahead of their own well-being. That would be a disaster for you.

Finally, if you aren't cut out to be a librarian, admit it. You might actually have been a fine librarian all your career but can't manage it now. You might have been a fine non-supervisory librarian but moving into administration may have been the wrong move. In any case, you might not be able to find an academic librarian job that pays what you currently make, but do keep looking for jobs that require research analysis skills or data management skills or teaching skills or whatever.

Just make a plan (with the help of your therapist, time, meds, etc), because your guilt-induced paralysis is helping neither you nor your organization.

I have lots of ideas about things you can do, as you can see from this epic! I hope that you are able to pick and choose from all this advice whatever will work best for you. Good luck.
posted by librarylis at 8:36 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

You've fallen into the trap laid by library schools and the entire library field: You're (presumably) a good librarian who is not management material, but who is now in a management position. This is the case with 75% of the library managers I've had the displeasure of working for.

Unfortunately, you've also nixed most possible solution. Can't take drugs, can't leave the job, can't move into something you're actually good at or qualified for.

I'd continue looking to move. There are library jobs around the country for people who are willing to relocate. The problem is that, as a director, many people will see you as overqualified for a simple librarian position. They will also fear that you'll leave for greener pastures as soon as a management position opens up nearby. You'll need to address that in your cover letter.

Good luck, and thank you for realizing that this job isn't a good fit and choosing to do something about it, rather than just doing a mediocre job and collecting your paycheck for the rest of your life.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:56 AM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

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