Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fallen Comrades

This past Sunday I blogged about a wave of layoffs occurring at the library where I work -- and the very real possibility that I might lose my job.

Thank you to the many people who wrote expressing their sympathy and support.

Yesterday we learned that all the layoffs have now been announced. Those of us who did not receive pink slips are "safe"...at least for now.

Upon learning this news, I wanted to jump high in the air, punch my fist toward the sky, and shout "YES!"

But before my toes could leave the ground, my arm was already falling to my side, fingers slowing uncurling from a fist....

What about all the people who did lose their jobs?

In the weeks leading up to these layoffs, most of my co-workers were offered a "buyout" opportunity. Concerned about losing their positions, fifteen library employees decided they'd retire early with a small package of benefits. Then came last week's layoffs and seven additional employees were let go, including both my bosses.

I imagine there is not much jumping and fist-pumping going on at their homes right now.

Add them to the thousands who have recently lost jobs in other libraries -- with school libraries particulary hard hit. Then there are the eleven thousand Borders employees soon out of work. Last month the Los Angeles Times let go of their freelance book reviewers and columnists. Has the children's book world ever fully-recovered from that day a couple years back when so many editors were fired and so many imprints were shut down? And what about all the writers who are having an increasingly hard time getting published today, unless they're writing about dystopian futures or blood-sucking vampires? (These days you may actually get rejected because your book doesn't suck.)

I'm tempted to call all these people casualties of war -- a war against literacy, information, education, knowledge, storytelling, and the word.

But then I think: c'mon, Sieruta, you are being way overdramatic. I need to remind myself that people in nearly every occupation have been losing jobs in massive numbers. The whole country seems to be hurting these days. It's only because my own field is being affected that this feels so personal, so pivotal.

We can argue about what caused this crisis. Was it the bad economy? Cuts in government funding? The rise of the e-book? New business models? Whatever the case, the end result is the same: thousands of unemployed book advocates...book lovers..."book people."

Where will they go now?

Sure, some will find work in other libraries and bookstores but, obviously, most will not; there will simply not be enough jobs for them. These folks, who seldom made big bucks -- finding greater satisfaction in placing the right book into the right person's hand -- will now be forced to move into other fields.

Even though they may be working in different jobs, I think we'll still be able to recognize them.

Look out for the security guard with a paperback in his pocket.

The bank teller who sets up an after-hours reading group.

The friend who helps you research your gardening questions or income tax problems.

The old lady down the street who tells stories to children on her front porch.

The mailman who starts a conversation about that package from Amazon he just delivered.

The chef who keeps his spice rack in Dewey Decimal order.

Okay I'm joking about that last one.

But I am serious about this: even though these fallen comrades may no longer be employed in libraries and bookstores, they will always remain "book people" and I doubt they'll be able to stop themselves from doing what they do best: answering questions, supplying information, sharing stories.

Some may see them as security guards, bank tellers and mail carriers, but on the inside they'll always have a different identity.

Casualties of war?

Or maybe now just warriors of another type.

Call them the Reading Regiment.

The Information Infantry.

The Literary Legion.

The Book Brigade.

Still fighting the good fight.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Peter. Such unfortunate times.

P. J. Grath said...

Peter, I love this and have so many other people in my life who will love it that I'm off to post a link on Facebook. Thank you for all you said so well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I have worked as a school librarian for 22 years and last year was replaced by a part time para(so no benefits, library is closed part time) with no training, education or background. And the worst part---our supervisor keeps telling us the paras are doing just as good or not better job as media specialists with degrees and experience.Knowing that that isn't true doesn't make it any less hurtful. These are sad times--and I just may be that greeter at Meijers with a book recommendation for every customer.

Anonymous said...

So glad your job is safe for now! I have a degree in library science, but I haven't worked in 10years (by choice--I stayed home with my children). It's getting time when I am thinking of returning to work, but I don't recognize my old profession any more. I have no idea what I'll do! At least my husband is gainfully employed, so money is not an issue, but it still makes me sad.

Bybee said...

Whew...I've been worried about you.

Unknown said...

I just went through a budget crisis in my own library, my position was eliminated, but thankfully, I was moved to another library. It was a very bad month of not knowing if I would be employed the next. I wish my colleagues (lower level staff, other librarians in the county) had the view point that you had, that even thought their job was safe, so many of us were in shambles because their job wasn't.

Brooke said...

Whew! I've been thinking about you this week, Peter, as well as all the other newly unemployed book people across the country. It's difficult to compare this time to previous times of economic troubles, since our culture is so different now from then. (I remember reading that Edna St. Vincent Millay's books of poems -- poems! -- were mega-bestsellers during the height of the Great Depression. I doubt we'd see such a thing happening today.)

I left library-land to raise children a few years ago, but many of my former coworkers have faced firings and severe cutbacks, and I constantly worry about them. This post really touched me, thank you.

Brooke said...

Oh, P.S.

Just for the record, I love to cook, and although my spices aren't classified by Dewey, they are in alphabetical order. :-)

Linda said...

Enjoyed this. BTW, I was at Borders on Friday, and there was a young woman sitting on one of the stools looking at items on a lower shelf. The place, of course, is starting to look like a wreck with people picking over the books--quite untidy shelves. But this young lady found a book out of place as she was looking at the other books--and carefully put it back where it belonged.

There's a bookstore lover...