Four Years Gone: Looking Backwards and Forwards

By Michael W. Harris

The “fishbowl” at my old library at The University of Colorado Boulder.

Almost two years ago I wrote a post entitled “On Rage Quits and Academia” that was part of a trend of “quit lit” about academics leaving academia. The reasons for their exit and taking to the internet to talk about it varied, but for many of them it was because of the exploitation of the working underclass of higher education commonly called adjuncts.

I was an adjunct, it is certainly why I left, and that was the experience I wrote about in that post. However, now that it has been almost four years since I left the adjunct life, and three years since I finished sending off the last of my applications to library schools, I would like to reflect upon what I didn’t really talk about before: why libraries are the right place for me.

This is not to say that I wasn’t “cut out” for being a professor and that as a librarian I am a “failed academic.” Far from it, I do just as much teaching now in any given week as I did when I was adjunct teaching, but I also do more fulfilling teaching, more cooperative work with students and faculty, and feel like I am actually educating my students on useful skills and ideas. All of which is infinitely better than what I was doing while adjuncting.

As I mentioned in my “Rage Quit” post, the instruction I was doing as an adjunct was the worst kind of teaching. It was conveyer belt, low-skilled teaching. I was making assignments easy to grade for me, which made them less interesting and educational for the students. My classes were designed to “teach to the test,” and while I introduced ideas to my students, I rarely had the chance to dig into them in a meaningful way that might give a student deeper insights into the them.

In a very Marxian sense, I was alienated from my labor.

Now, though, I am teaching students about “information literacy.” Doing so gives me the chance to talk with students about how academic authority it constructed, why we have to be careful consumers of information and treat sources with skepticism, why copyright is important, and how, even as students, they are entering into a millennia old conversation with people who came before them. I tell them that they have a voice in the conversation that is just as valuable…as long as they conduct careful and thoughtful research. And in the process, I am helping them to navigate the world of knowledge that is there for the taking.

So it was that three years ago I made this choice, to become a librarian instead of going back to academia. However, some have assumed that I will eventually go back, including many of the faculty I have met at my new job. Once they learn that I have a PhD and am still actively doing musicology research, they assume that I am just waiting to make the leap back. But, I tell them, that is not the plan. I got my library degree for a reason.

Three years ago, in the first few months after I jumped into libraries, I found I was happier in my work and looked forward to waking up in a way I had not felt in a while. That is why I decided to start applying to library schools. And the relief and recovery I felt back in 2014 when I left the adjunct life is not unlike that which I have felt recently in my new job. You almost don’t realize just how much you need a change of scenery until you make the change.

Now, two and a half years later, Masters of Science in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives Management in hand…where do I go from here? I have recently come to realize that my life is a series of me zigging while life zags. I started my undergrad as a Physics major only to come out the other side with a bassoon performance degree. I make the plunge into the music performance route only to end up with a case of tendonitis. I obtained a PhD in musicology only to graduate into a horrible job market and leap at the chance to work in libraries. I get a library degree with an archives concentration and become a subject and research instruction librarian

Part me thinks that I should just stop planning ahead!

However, now that I am out of library school, you have probably noticed the uptick in my blog posting because getting back to writing and posting regularly was always an aspect of my post-LIS school plans. Part of the reason is that I have always enjoyed the act of writing and editing, informed by no small measure of my experience in writing my dissertation (as much of a struggle as that was). But the other part is the path not taken three years ago, for, along with library schools, I also applied to a music journalism program at the University of Southern California.

I was torn between the two paths, libraries and music journalism, but decided not to pursue the latter because I was afraid that I didn’t have what it took to hustle for jobs in such an industry. But, now that I have a measure of stability in my life as a librarian, I want to see what can happen with my writing, a side gig to make some extra money. What the kids these days call a “side hustle” (certainly wouldn’t hurt with my student loan repayments!). That is what this blog is for. Practicing my writing, getting better at crafting ideas into words quickly. And, hopefully, eventually getting a bit of notice that can lead to paying gigs and maybe even a book in the future.

But until then, I am going to keep writing these rants and rambles, and eventually some reviews as well. And I am also going to continue to work in libraries because I truly love it. I love seeing a student’s eyes when I show them how to search effectively. I love that they actually learn useful skills that compliment what they learn in their regular classrooms. I love partnering with faculty in their courses. And I relish the chance to work one-on-one with students as they take a vague idea and turn it into a research question.

So, I have plans for this year and the years ahead. Hopefully this time when I zig, my life will zig with me.

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