Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Remembering Self-Care and Vocational Awe in the Post-Pandemic World

This is a wonderful presentation by the scholar Fobazi Ettar as part of the NASIG 2021 Conference. I cherish Ettar's work and am truly inspired by their resilience and perseverance despite their personal challenges.  Fobazi Ettar is well-known for their work on vocational awe and library culture, particularly the impact of idealized narratives on librarianship.  Ettar's ideas have influenced and shaped the way I think about our profession (and broader topics about society, too).   Thus, Ettar and Chris Vidas' “The Future of Libraries:” Vocational Awe in a “Post-COVID” World" is an important follow-up to their seminal piece on vocational awe.

This piece is a timely addition to the scholarship, at a time when the world is just coming to terms coming out of the global pandemic. Ettarh outlines two ground rules: the acknowledgment of vocational awe, a romanticized perception of librarianship that can limit progress, and the encouragement to embrace discomfort for personal and collective growth.

Ettar delves into the perception of libraries and librarians as heroes and champions of democracy, highlighting historical figures like Margaret Edwards, Pura Belpré, Barbara Gittings, the Connecticut Four, and contemporary figures like Sarah Kowalski. Ettarh argues that the love for the job and passion, while positive, can be weaponized to exploit library workers.  The concept of "vocational awe" is explored further, portraying librarianship as a vocation rather than an occupation, leading to an uncritical reverence for libraries.

Ettarh challenges this idealized view, pointing out historical instances of library segregation and discriminatory policies. Ettarh discusses how vocational awe is weaponized in the workplace, with an emphasis on the Taylorism Model, where passion is exploited at the expense of workers' well-being. She cites examples of abuse, such as a lack of work-life separation and job creep, exacerbated by the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ettar concludes with a call for collective action to set boundaries, work collectively, and resist the exploitation of passion. Ettarh urges us to prioritize self-care, advocating that caring for oneself is an act of political warfare. She emphasizes the need for libraries to evolve beyond a Silicon Valley-driven future, focusing on the well-being of library workers and their communities.

In the scholarship about EDI, there is still an emerging role of self-care for the racialized individual who often bears the brunt of the invisible labour, expected (even required) to do extra duties or the oft-heroic phrase of “working twice as hard as others.” Ettar and Vidas warn us of this with wisdom which seems so simple yet doesn’t seem to be disregarded by our work culture.
Setting aside time for your life, your loved ones, and your hobbies is vitally important. I always like to say there is no such thing as a library emergency. . . That email can wait until Monday morning or the next day.

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