In a not-so-rare event of not-quite-epic but highly relevant proportions, two of my Twitter communities crossed streams today. I try not to hide my love for popular romance novels and the amazingly smart, talented women who write them. Many of them are brilliant academics, so I shouldn’t be surprised when they write about or link to others writing about higher ed and academic culture. Yet it’s always a nice surprise when it happens, as it did today.
Sandra Schwab, a wonderful romance author and literature professor, shared a post by Katrine Smiet, PhD candidate in philosophy and gender studies at Radboud University and blogger at Feminist Nuances. Take a few minutes today and read her post, How to Become a Prolific Academic Writer, Or: How to Become a Model Neoliberal Academic Subject. It’s an insightful critique of productivity/efficiency advice models for academic writing and the structural inadequacies of the neoliberal university in supporting writing/scholarly activity. What resonated most with me was her dissection of the classification of academic work as “vocation” rather than a “job,” and its implications for the academic worker.
The conflation of work with personal fulfillment, of labor with purpose, of meaning with productivity, is (I think) a dangerous one. I want my work to be meaningful because I think there are genuine opportunities for academic libraries to make a significant impact on the educational experiences of students. I also try to do my best work at all times because secretly I’m still the kid that wants all the gold stars. That said, I don’t derive my meaning from my work. I once had a colleague tell me that even if she wasn’t working as a librarian, she would still be a librarian. At the time I found that statement admirable. Being a librarian was who she was; what she was, was a librarian. I’ve since heard variations on the same theme from academics of all stripes: I am always mathematician. I am a neuroscientist. I am first and foremost a scholar.
Now, those declarations make me tired.
I can understand them within a professional context. We all try to make sense of the world around us through categorization. At work that often means we define ourselves by our job titles–archivist, instruction librarian, dean–but in life we are whole people. Being a librarian is not who I am; it’s my job. And just because I enjoy the work that I do as a librarian does not mean that it does not feel like work. I worry sometimes, as I dig into critical librarianship and pedagogy, that there is this expectation that the work that I do must be a part of some higher calling/purpose, that it should be done at all times, or that I should be “on” at all times. I don’t want to do that. Sometimes I just want to sit on my couch and watch Thorgy Thor lipsync for her life. Sometimes I want to have a dance party with my son. Sometimes I just want to obsessively online shop for a new pair of clogs.
The point is that I don’t think deriving personal worth from my job, or viewing librarianship as a vocation rather than a job is helpful to me. I think it sets me, and likely many others, up for exploitation (Yes! I will be on yet another committee), disappointment (because work doesn’t always go well), and an unhealthy attachment to this thing that I do, not this thing that I am. I also wonder if it’s not just a neoliberal Trojan horse sent in to make me feel guilty about all the late evenings I’m not spending working on scholarship.
I’m about to start reading Maria Accardi’s Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction, which a colleague informs me centers around an ethic of care. I’m excited to learn more about it and how I can extend the notion of students as whole people (important!!!) to librarians as whole people, and to myself as a whole person.