This was a blog I posted to another blog created by a former graduate student. He graduated from the school where I work as a librarian. The domain went dormant. I re-post it here because it came up in conversation on Friday with a doctoral student interested in Theopoetics, and practicing theology in the art of the every day. Enjoy!
Once the students go home for summer vacation, I don’t know what to do with myself. It takes me a week to get my bearings again. The hallways, offices, library and even the bathrooms are all empty. I ask myself, “What am I going to do now?” “Who am I serving, now?” I come to work every day because of the students. I am here to help them along their journey to understand, to learn, and to find the information they need to be successful in their studies. What is a service-oriented librarian to do?
Now, let’s face it, librarians, in general, are not social creatures. Most want to be left alone. I am not that way at all. I’m too social. From the music (quietly) pumping from my office, to the big “Hello’s’ and raucous conversations I have with people in the library reading room, I am the anti-librarian. I love to be in the classroom or working one-on-one with students, sharing what I know about how to conduct research so that the students have an easier time finding the critical information they need. I’m out there and ready to answer questions. I actually ask people, roaming the stacks looking a bit lost, “You all set,” as if to say, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.” I’m seeking to help. Once the students leave for summer vacations, internships and travel abroad I feel as though I have lost my identity. Typing inventories and organizing records is part of my job and it will ultimately help someone who browses our website, but it is not the reason why I became a librarian. The immediate satisfaction of serving someone one-on-one is a lost art these days in libraries and archives, where everything is digitized. I’m trying to bring back that personal touch. Sitting down with someone and showing them how to find something in a new and different way is a spiritual experience. I want people to walk away saying two things, 1) I learned something valuable and 2) I had fun doing it. If I meet those two goals after each interaction then I have succeeded.
My work is a way for me to live out the Jesuit model I was taught at the College of the Holy Cross. We are all “Men and women for others.” My spirituality is not based on the belief system that once my number is up and I arrive at the pearly gates before [insert your higher power here] that He (or She) will go through the spreadsheet that is my life and say, “Kara, I’m sorry, but we cannot grant you admission to [insert your brand of utopian afterlife]. I see, there were simply not enough trips to church and too many hamburgers. If you could, please get on this elevator. It is a one – way trip to [insert your brand of the non-so utopian afterlife].” Instead, I envision a more compassionate Being that sees my positive actions and is understanding of my missteps. The positive energy that allows me to help others is tantamount to a positive life. Helping each other through this crazy world is what matters most. At work I feel most connected to my brand of spirituality when I am teaching students how to conduct research, find a book or demonstrate how to use the microfilm machine. I hope to make the world better one act at a time. Community service, teaching, and random acts of kindness are mile markers on my spiritual journey.
So again, it is summer time at Boston University School of Theology Library, who do I serve now? The answer: The churches of the United Methodist Church. I must serve the local churches and agencies of the New England Conference. Like in answering other questions in life, I just needed a perspective shift. In addition to my job as research librarian at Boston University, I am also New England Conference Archivist. Since the second year of holding this post, I have offered to go out to churches, box up their records and bring them back to the Library. Many church historians are elderly and cannot drive into Boston to drop off the records. Summer also signals the time to give workshops on records management in the local church. This year I am preparing for a trip to Vermont to spread the word about preservation and organization. I guess I am a sort of records evangelist.
Since I was able to shift my perspective, let’s see if you can shift yours. It may be easy to see this in my professional life as a librarian, as it is such a service oriented profession, but I strongly believe that you can experience this in any vocation. Businessmen, lawyers, IT professionals and others just need to make the most out of their personal interactions to find a spiritual path.
1) Start small, like I do. Try just one act. My favorite example, and that of all my fellow alumni from the College of the Holy Cross, is holding the door for the person behind us as we enter a building. The first time I experienced this in a very meaningful way was during my Freshman year at college. We would all hold the doors for the person entering the building after us. If 19-year-old young men can do this, then so can you! It shows you are a team player, invested in the well-being and safety of others.
2) Change your perspective about your work. Another word for occupation or work is vocation. The Latin root is vocātiō , meaning a call, summons. People are called to church ministry, but I also believe people are called to become teachers, therapists and librarians. These people, who have been called to their jobs, work with more heart and passion. They give more of themselves and do it all for the best reasons: to better the lives of those around them. Can’t change your perspective? Check out my third suggestion.
3) It is not all about work. The best way to get out of your self is to give to others. Get involved with a community service program or volunteer with an organization with which you are passionate. Like dogs and cats, head over to the local animal shelter. Enjoy teaching, call your local high school or community center to see if they have a tutoring program. You may just find your vocation through service. Guess what? I used to volunteer at a library!
Bottom line: Find a way to make your work life meaningful. Remember Robin Williams’ words from Dead Poets Society, “Carpe diem…Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”