If there’s a phrase that encompasses my overall sense of self these days, I think it’s growing pains. I have a big-girl librarian degree now, but being a paraprofessional means I’m not technically using it. I’m happy enough in my current gig that I don’t have the frantic sense of needing to get to the next phase with a desperate hunger yet, but the occasional offhand comment about paras from peers further along the career track puts me right back in my place, whether the slight was intended or not. But this isn’t a post about imposter syndrome; it’s about finding other spaces to belong and grow.
It’s a restless sort of place, this growing pains spot, and in the absence of the whole finish-the-MLIS life goal, I’m finally seeking out other ways to develop my skills and interests and hobbies. And I’ve realized there’s a synergy to some of them, a discovery I made watching a panel at WorldCon this year.
The panel was on introducing new readers to the fantasy genre,and it was largely comprised of authors and book sellers. And it wasn’t quite what I expected –they talked around what we in LibraryLand would call readers advisory (the art of helping people find their next great book based on what aspects of a story appeal to them) without ever describing it as readers advisory, somewhat couching it as an art more than a skill that could be developed. It was, on the whole, a decent panel, albeit not as professionally relevant as I thought it might be. I had gone to the convention largely for personal reasons, as a reader, but also on the lookout for opportunities that might also tangentially benefit me at work. What this panel made me realize, though, was that it didn’t have to be a one-way street. What if, came the novel idea, my professional background could be of use in the sci fi/fantasy community that I’ve recently starting immersing myself in?
I’m basically a professional book pusher when I’m not answering technology questions or facilitating programs in the branch; it’s what drew me to librarianship in the first place, back when my grandmother lamented how I chose better books for her than she chose for herself. I am a link between texts and the readers who might enjoy them, trained in helping to root out what it is people are looking for when they want “just a good, well-written book.” It’s part science and part art and a lot of bit magic when it works. As a lover of fantasy, I’m all for bringing magic into the mundane everyday experience.
And I do. I am part of the ecosystem of readers and authors and publishers. Put a book in the hands of librarians, and they can put that book into ten more pairs of hands given enough time.
It felt awkward, initially, chatting with folks in the vendors’ booths when they conversationally asked why I was there; I wasn’t an author or editor, and while one could make the case that there’s nothing wrong with simply attending as a fan, well, my husband was there to make writerly connections, and I didn’t want to be simply a trail-along fan. But as I chatted with visitors to my library’s booth (aw yessss, staffed a library booth at a nerd con – that’s one to mark off the bucket list!) and met authors whose works I enjoyed, the sense of validation in being a librarian with something to offer this community of writers and fans grew. One author talked lovingly of the hours of research done at his local library, and another told me “Librarians are some of my favorite people” (cue undignified squeak of a crush’s reciprocation here); these conversations were probably just blips on the radar of five full convention days for them, but they meant a lot to me.
Truthfully, I’m not sure yet what all I will be contributing to this sci fi and fantasy scene just yet, but my husband and I will be volunteering with our local con soon to see what they need next year. I have panel ideas. I could probably be a dab hand at moderating borne of years of teaching and book group running. Shoot, put me in a booth where I get to talk with people about books, and I’d probably be just dandy. Will it further my library career? Maybe, maybe not. It doesn’t have to further my job prospects—but maybe it’s my ticket into being a bigger part of the fandom I love. And for me, it’s a new goal that runs parallel to my professional goals without being limited to them, countering a myopia formed of years trying to find the way out of a dead-end job track. There’s more to life than work, and the future feels a little brighter for that realization.