Sunday, October 31, 2010

There were giants in those days

Seven of us youth services-oriented Central Library folks went out for drinks after work last night. We drank, ate pub fries, and regaled each other with hilarious and affectionate anecdotes of some of the larger-than-life librarians who retired in the past year. In fact, a major theme of the evening was the halcyon days of LAPL, when the Library Punch at holidays parties was spiked, when Fairfax and WLA branches had regular staff softball matches, when a branch might decide not to charge its needy patrons overdue fees and no one in Admin would notice, and when eccentricity and - more to the point - initiative and creativity were not only tolerated but celebrated.

This could have devolved into a pity party. 2010 has been one of the hardest years in LAPL's history, with retirements, lay-offs, and a hiring freeze leading to chronic staff shortages and reduced public hours. We all have increased workloads and responsibilities, and more uncertainty and turmoil are in the cards for the next few months.

And yet... our little group at Casey's Pub laughed, drank, marveled at the Librarians of Yore, and went home in (for me, anyway) rare good spirits. It reminded me that when I first began working at LAPL as a "student librarian," we were in dark times. The devastating Central Library fire of 1986 had destroyed much of that collection and rendered our historic building unusable, and all the Central Library staff had to be farmed out to branches. And then the budget woes of the late 80s/early 90s hit and we were slammed with a years-long hiring freeze and greatly reduced book budgets.

But we had fun! Sure, there were grim, inflexible, or downright scary supervisors ready to squelch us, but our institutional culture still had enough freewheeling flexibility (and staff members) left over from the 70s to allow for all kinds of weirdness and joy to flourish.

A great swelling of bureaucratic control and risk aversion over the next couple decades has led to a culture of distrust and cynicism among many workers. An uprising of hope when we got a new City Librarian was almost extinguished by the horrible budget woes that hit us over the past couple years. And now, as I said, we are overworked and facing a future as a newly lean and vastly altered library system.

Maybe it was my unorthodox but strangely satisfying dinner of Strongbow cider and fried potato wedges last night, but I'm feeling optimistic. Back in the late 80s, we took responsibility for our own sense of joy and accomplishment in our work. We didn't wait for Administration to make things easy for us, but rather worked hard and made time for fun, even if it had to happen after work. A sense of humor was practically a requirement for the job.

I start to hyperventilate when I contemplate the monumental tasks and challenges facing me, the Youth Services department, and in fact the whole library system in the coming year. But the very fact that we're going to have to be strong and self-reliant to even survive, much less flourish, makes me know we can do it.

The beleaguered, exhausted LAPL staff of the last few months is destined to be the next wave of glorious Library Legends. Our grace under pressure, our style and savoir faire, our unrelenting willingness to see the absurdity and humor in any situation - these will help us create a new LAPL that not only gives the best service possible to our communities but is actually an amazing and energizing place to work.

Less pity parties, more pubs! Celebrate the past, laugh at the present, and welcome the future!

And please, draw me another pint of that cider...


  1. To misquote Housman:

    "Shoulder the sky, my [librarians], and drink your ale!"

  2. The Admin staff should join you at the pub.

  3. Oh, absolutely yes to both suggestions!

  4. Sorry to have missed it. You are right, it is overwhelming but your words have inspired me to do the not only do the best job possible but to enjoy what I do.Thanks Eva.

  5. There's nothing quite so great for lifting one spirits as a night out with librarians! So, huzzah to that. The chance to do so when I was in L.A. was rare, but I cherished every opportunity to meet and greet with fellow book lovers. And yes... those tales of the long-ago spiked punch bowls were indeed legendary.

    I've been struggling to come up with a post that expresses my feeling that we will be entering a new Golden Age of Libraries, despite all the naysayers and doom and gloom that seem so prevalent at the moment. It's easy to do legendary level work when you have a beautiful budget and a supportive (rather than fearful) administration. New librarians are coming into things in a demanding job market, and yet... library use nationwide is up, up, up, and we live in an information age, where information use is more complex and more crucial than ever. Those of us who have the opportunity to do so will be shaping the future of libraries in a way that will be felt for decades to come, I am sure of it.

  6. Such an inspiring post! Thanks for reminding us that we only need look to the past to see that there is much to look forward to.

  7. Hey boss, the next stein of cider is on me! As I've said in the past and continue to state in the present, the Youth Services Office is one highly functioning group of people. Onward!