Wednesday 4 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 4: Why my job feels like online dating

Last October I started a new job as an Outreach Librarian. I’d previously been a Reference Librarian which is a bit like being the coolest, most attractive person in the club. You stand there and people fall at your feet with desperation, begging for your attention. Being an Outreach Librarian is a completely different ball game. Instead, you’re the awkward, lonely girl behind the computer trawling academics’ profile pages, trying to decide who looks friendly.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy option of “send a wink”. It’s more old school: phone or email. The calling option can bring on cold sweats – let’s face it, rejection hurts more when an actual voice is involved. Some people also hate being put on the spot, ready to blurt out a “sorry, I’m just really busy right now” before I’ve even gotten to my second sentence.

Taking a tip from all those online dating articles out there, I go for the quantity approach. Devise a delightful email (with a few personalised touches) and send it out to half the school. Surely, there are some academics out there looking to procrastinate. I really wish the Library had let me Photoshop my profile picture, or let me hold a wine glass. I’m battling against a load of unfair boring stereotypes here.

So having lined up a few “dates”, I go into over preparation mode. What to wear? Cardigan – too generic, figure hugging dress – too librarian after hours, jeans – too student lost in the building. Settling on some power dressing – channelling a bit of Hillary and ‘lean in” Sandberg, now I can focus all my energy on freaking out about potential awkward silences.

Armed with a notebook, pen and my best winning smile, I am ready for battle. [Cue Rocky music]

Like most dates, it’s never as bad as you imagine (well except for that one time he shows you photos of a weekend hunting trip after you mention you’re a vegan….). There’s that awkward beginning, but once they realise you are going to talk to them about more than books, the look of panic fades from their eyes. In fact, when you mention that you can help confirm that they really are amazing (measure their research impact) and make them even more famous (help them with their online profiles), they stop looking at the door.

Okay, I’m overselling. Yes, I’ve struck gold with the “I’d love to see you again” but I’ve also received a “Can you give me your card because I’ll probably forget your name”. You win some, you lose some.

Some days you wonder if all the effort and rejection is worth it. But you just need one good date to lift your spirits. Besides, nobody can say that perseverance and initiative aren’t worth developing. Sure, I get jealous of those other librarians who are constantly fielding phone calls (oh to be the contact for Arts and Social Sciences!), but the adage is “no struggle, no progress” right? And really, there’s nothing in life a bit of Chumbawamba can’t fix.

-Dimity Flanagan
 Outreach Librarian (Business), UNSW

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