We Belong Together
Your OG Dames, back on their bullshit!
Dame Sophie: saaaaay, Dame Margaret!
Dame Margaret: Well, hello again, Dame Sophie! It’s been a minute since we got to duet like this.
Annual subscriptions are still 20% off in honor of Dame Margaret’s return!
DS: I was just thinking the same earlier today. Our first joint outing since…you know what, time is fake. I’m just very pleased to be co-writing with you once more!
DM: I’VE MISSED IT! But speaking of the passage of time/its nature of being a flat circle, one of the things we wanted to talk about together is how much our working lives have changed in the last year! For one thing, despite forever being librarians at heart, neither of us are in title any longer.
DS: Yeah, I think of myself as having retired from librarianship as a location-based thing, and am now more of a free-floating librarian at large, although that’s more in my heart and habits than my reality.
DM: We are Jaunty Librarians About Town.
DS: yes! I love the freedom, and the increased opportunities to sport certain items of clothing. Conceptually, at least! I feel like it’s a role well-suited to wearing a hat of some type cocked at a rakish angle.
DM: My feeling is I have a right to continue to consider myself part of the profession as long as the loans I took to pay for my MLIS still linger about my neck like an albatross, or the chains of Robert and Jacob Marley. So, until the day I die, roughly.
DS: [*thoughts and prayers for my public service loan forgiveness application*]
DM: [*AMEN and HALLELUJAH, sister*]
DS: I’ve kind of been chuckling at myself this last year, because you can take the girl out of the library, but as it turns out you cannot prevent her from doing librarian things constantly. Research! Making connections across seemingly disparate things! Making cogent recommendations based on things people like!
DM: Yeah, cut to me listening to the man who runs The New Yorks Times’s “morgue” (newspaper clippings archive) explaining that his method of preserving hundred year old newspaper clippings is spraying them with water before he unfolds them so they do not break along the creases. The way I clutched my invisible pearls.
DS: Wait, does that work??? The water spritzing, I mean. (The pearls are all-powerful, of course.)
DM: I mean, it keeps the paper from tearing, yes! I do not think it in any way prevents these ancient slips of paper from being profoundly degraded by the water, the oils in the man’s ungloved hands, the dank air in the windowless room where the clippings are housed. Like, I AM NOT EVEN AN ARCHIVIST AND STILL THE MIND REELS.
DS: Yeah, I am now having visions of mold taking over the entire storage area. (And hearing a yet-to-be-penned Weird Al parody of “Vision of Love”. What even is my brain?)
DM: I found out about the morgue about a week before I left my job with the NYT and… I am not going to say a part of me didn’t think “I have a professional responsibility to intervene here and PROTECT THE CLIPPINGS!” Moreover, that department– like most of the places our blessed degrees qualified us to work– has gone from being a robust team of 70 to being that one guy. There’s no succession plan in place!!! THERE SHOULD BE A SUCCESSION PLAN IN PLACE! But I took a couple deep breaths and decided to stick with the plan of leaving for my dream job instead.
DS: Yes! Please tell us all about it! I am really proud of and thrilled for you to have made this big leap – it made perfect sense to me as a next step in your worklife, and I know it was a significant change that you needed to mull over very carefully.
DM: Yeah. Working for the Times was, in so many ways, an incredible experience. My colleagues there were some of the brightest and most dedicated people I’ve ever worked with and the work was really interesting. It provided all the knowledge gathering and intellectual stimulation that I found so satisfying in library work, but it did not provide the central thing that drew me to the profession: building and serving a community. Conversely, my present job with Not Sorry Productions, which is one part faculty lead for online classes/international trips and one part managing communications for the whole company, is all about community. And, like the roles I sought in the library world, the central way we’re looking to build that connected community is through deep engagement with the arts, especially books.
DS: That all sounds like it was created in a lab for you. As if you were summoned, or they conjured it to summon you; I’m feeling slightly woo-woo about that terminology, but Not Sorry Productions is deeply invested in the spiritual & maybe even the mystical, so I hope that’s an ok way to frame it.
DM: Hahaha, they definitely are! In the same way you and I are librarians without libraries, they are spiritual leaders without religious doctrine, otherwise known as former divinity school students. In the same way that I was like “I love books so much that I am going to learn to evangelize for them!”, they were like “We believe in the usefulness of evangelism to such a great degree that we’re going to do it about books.” It’s a very harmonious partnership. And it’s not woo-woo to say the job was made for me– it is 60% the literal truth. They were looking to hire a communications manager, but they redesigned the role to suit my skills and interests. MEANWHILE, you have left the library field behind to strike out on your own as a freelance writer and, if the staggering quality of your work is anything to go by, I think you’re making an excellent case for the skills we learned in our MLIS’s being of tremendous value when applied to culture writing.
DS: Yeah, it turns out that degrees that aren’t famous for their earning power (whoooo, liberal arts education and librarianship!) are rightly famous for teaching people how to think about things, how to frame interesting questions, how to collaborate well with others, how to synthesize ideas and knowledge from multiple strands into a coherent whole. All dead useful! Librarianship in particular helped me hone my skills as a recommender of things. Knowing about lots of books, music, movies, TV shows, and so on is one part of librarianship. Being able to help others identify what they like about the things they like, and then suggest other cultural treasures that have the same appeal factors is the thing that’s been the most useful skill, both when I was a library-based librarian and now that I’m writing for a living.
DM: Librarians are so often represented in mainstream culture as gatekeepers when I really think so much more often we’re tour guides. The goal is always to bring more people in. It’s so rarely to keep anyone out.
DS: Yeah, librarianship is not about hoarding, it’s about sharing abundance. The only way I ever think of myself as a gatekeeper is in that I find great joy in opening doors for people to discover the next thing they’re going to love. (A door feels a lot friendlier to approach and more democratic to use than a gate.)
DM: Same! I think that’s always been the animating impulse of our work with this newsletter. Making the chaotic world of internet-fueled popular culture legible, accessible, and delightful for people who could not spend the amount of time we do sifting through the muck for gold.
DS: Very much so! I knew coming into this phase of my career that it would be pointless and needlessly painful for me to try to keep culture writing to a minimum. Considering that I’ve managed to incorporate cultural recommendations into every other job I’ve ever had, that just wasn’t realistic. My will and interests will find ways to exert and express themselves, and not even I can stop me from doing that.
DM: Going from a salaried position to freelancing for the first time in your life was a huge change. What are some of the things you undertook to prepare for that?
DS: I started laying the groundwork for this change months before I gave notice at my last library. I knew I wanted to do something different and wasn’t quite sure when, but it seemed like a good time to do things like refinance our mortgage, review all of our spending categories, apply for student debt relief, and have a preemptive talk about long-term savings with our 401(k)/Roth IRA advisor. We had a lot of totally unearned luck in the mix, as well – we don’t have a tuition payment for our high schooler, our cars are paid off (which is to say, they are old, but they work!), and we were already a dual income household, but the salary I’d need to replace was quite low, because I’d taken a huge pay cut several years earlier. My husband makes a good living, and that has provided a ton of stability and lower risk for me to make this change.
DM: [sighs longingly in impoverished single] Although, lol, that’s one thing about working in librarianship we can say– it’s rarely a salary sacrifice to move to another field 😂
DS: Yeah, the financial blow was an intra-field one; that came in 2019 when I got laid off and was at sea about what I would do next. I took a part-time job at a public library managing events & a bunch of their communications, thinking it was something I knew how to do and would enjoy, without investing too much of my heart in it. Smash cut to me laughing a little bitterly at having attempted to trick myself into thinking I could do that successfully. As I put it to my therapist, I’m not built not to care.
DM: After a life time of trying, and failing, to half-ass things, I have had to conclude that, like you, I’m a whole-asser or nothing at all.
DS: WHOLE-ASS LIFE FOR LIFE.
DM: It’s can be hard to keep from overworking when you’re an inveterate whole-asser doing work you really love and largely in charge of your own schedule, but I think it’s been a very welcome change for both of us.
DS: I’d love to hear more about how this plays our at your current job! What has surprised and delighted you in your first four months at Not Sorry Productions?
DM: Well, it’s a very small company— I am only their fifth full-time employee— so each of us have a huge impact on what we make, which is an absolutely thrilling feeling. Not only because it I get to do things like teach workshops called “Crying About Music with Margaret” (although that certainly is intoxicating), but because “caring too much” is not a thing. While Vanessa and Ariana (the company’s founders and owners) are always quick to remind us there’s no such thing as a podcasting emergency whenever anyone’s being cavalier about their work-life balance, if we care about something, it always matters. Part of that is simply structural— you can’t ignore 20% of your workforce— but I suspect it would work like this even if I were one of fifty employees. I like to joke that Not Sorry is art BY anxious hand-wringers FOR anxious hand-wringers, but more truly, we’re a company dedicated to helping people make meaning of their lives. So being someone to whom things matter a great deal is an asset.
DS: Yes!!!! That has always been one of our shared qualities and I am so delighted you’ve found an organization where it’s similarly central.
DM: ME, TOO!! I am sure we will have so much more to share about our work in future, but for now, let me just say that I am both proud of us and delighted for us!
DS: HEAR, HEAR!
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