A Different Toolbox: Random Thoughts Sparked by Jenica

Jenica Rogers, Director of Libraries at SUNY Potsdam, has written a magnificent blog post about her experience as a new director. Before you continue reading here, please go read it. No, really. Read it here.

I met Jenica in Monterey at Internet Librarian 2008, where she was gracious and warm and friendly, and I got to know her a bit better on my online social networks. Because I interacted with Jenica this way before she became a director, I find her far less intimidating than I might otherwise. (I admit to feeling the full weight of organizational hierarchy - my family's military blood in my bones, I suppose.) I feel like I can contact Jenica without feeling as though I am "bugging" her, we can occasionally discuss ridiculous things like our love for The Mighty Boorito, and various other things. Perhaps part of it is that I know Jenica is not only The Director, but also a human being.

In any case, I not only respect her work, but I like Jenica as a person quite a bit. Reading her most recent blog post, "What I've Learned," something she wrote struck me, as I've been considering it for awhile:

"I’ve learned that I have to change my expectations of myself, because brain work is exhausting. Some days I come home dead tired, and wonder why the heck I have no energy… all I did was sit in meetings, respond to emails, and work on project proposals. It’s not like I work construction, or run a farm, or take care of children all day… I sit. I think. I write. I answer questions. How hard is that? HARD."

So well put. Coming from a family of electricians, who work outside or in unfinished buildings year-round, I often find myself feeling guilty or ridiculous for feeling tired after a day of work when I spent most of it at my desk among papers, in meetings, or other brain work. White-collar work. The past few evenings I've been hammering on a personal essay titled "Dingy White Collar," trying to get at my feelings on this, trying to answer the question Jenica asks: "How hard is that?" and trying to justify the answer: "HARD." I am trying to reconcile what I learned over the course of my first 18 years about the nature of 'work' with the direction my own career has taken, trying to match up the values my parents instilled in me with what I see myself doing now. I am trying to fit myself, a librarian peg, into my family's "Learn how to turn a screw and get a real job" hole. And I am trying to do it without feeling guilty at how much easier my work seems than dangling from a bucket truck in the snow wearing Carhartts.

I mention this in a blog mostly about librarianship because I have met other librarians who feel similarly. It really warmed my heart to read Jenica's post, because while I do believe what we do is hard work at the same time that it is rewarding, sometimes I feel uncomfortable calling it "work" or admitting that at times it can be exhausting. (Mind you, I have no problem applying those terms to other librarians - just myself. It's a personal struggle, and not a large one in the scheme of things, but it can be disheartening.)

It's nice to be reminded that my toolbox and skill-set are different, not worse or less valuable for being less physical in nature.


Jeff Scott said…
Mental work and knowledge work are the hardest to measure and track. Drucker first brought up the issue in the 60s when knowledge work instead of manual work became the trend.

It takes a lot of mental resources to figure things out. I always think of Apollo 13 when they had to figure out how to make a square filter fit into the round receptacle. That's not physically demanding, but that's a lot of exhausting mental work AND that's most of what management is. Thank you for the post. Great stuff!

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