A year ago, I was at the heart of Australian law librarianship when I assisted with the 2011 national conference in Canberra. This year, not only didn’t I attend for the first time in four years, but I didn’t even follow it on Twitter. It reminds me of enantiodroima, a concept that was one of themes of Brian Aldiss’ Helliconia trilogy. Described as the process “by which things constantly turn in to their opposite.” At the moment when it appeared that I was most involved with law libraries and the professional association, I was actually on a trajectory which would take me beyond the periphery of law libraries.
It’s not as if I had any qualms about attending this year’s conference in Brisbane - which I would have loved to attend because two former colleagues of mine were giving papers and I know they would have been great.
The real reason is I’m not working as a law librarian, or any other type of librarian right now. I’ve written about this already. If this years blogging has a theme, this is it.
Tonight I’m going to write about two things I’ve noticed about this change.
The first thing is that I’m still glad that I made this change. Working in libraries can be great, but if you ever faced with choosing between a dysfunctional library which is not amenable to improvement and a good job somewhere else, leave the library. What’s interesting is that I’ve been in my new job long enough that I’m gradually developing subject specific knowledge. The more of this knowledge I get, the more valuable I find it when combined with the generalist research skills I developed as a librarian. The synergy between regulatory policy work and “thinking like a librarian” is not as obvious as the “thinking like a lawyer” connection, but it’s there and it gives me a unique perspective.
The second thing is that I didn’t appreciate, when working as a librarian, just how protected I was from getting my hands dirty. Most of the time when I did legal reference in the big law firm, I had no idea what my specific research was really contributing to. And if I did know, it was fairly superficial knowledge. It seemed that my job was to gather components - statutes, cases, articles and other useful things - which somebody else would work with and build into something tangible.
Now I am that somebody else. The work is different and exciting, but I am keenly aware of the outcomes and how my work contributes to those outcomes. The work is more demanding intellectually and emotionally. When it leads to an outcome which I like, it’s extremely rewarding, but there are times when the work leads inexorably to an outcome at odds with my own values - that’s when I feel that I have dirty hands.
There have been instances where I have needed to sublimate my own values in favour of my employer’s, and make arguments which - on a personal basis - I am completely opposed to. This is just a part of the job and being a professional. I had no idea how right I was four and a half years ago when I pondered in the law firm library, “maybe this lack of context is a mercy”?