Diversity of Motives

Over the last 11 years…I feel like I’ve been through a lot where it comes to seeing and acknowledging economic philosophies. This largely relates to aging and having to acknowledge the economic system in my area, in order to further my own independence. That is: over the past 11 years, I’ve been transitioning from being a student, to being a worker.

This is no small matter. In my own circumstances, it also coincides with transitioning from being a young adult to being an adult. There was a lot of socialization that went along with that, which is part of the reason I stayed in such a low-paying job for such a long time.

I started out as a Volunteer; made it through a poorly-compensated Library Aide job for nearly a decade, which partially included Clerk duties; gained my MLIS; became a Library Assistant (when I could apply to be a Librarian) because I had zero experience working the Reference Desk; got laid off and became jaded towards the bureaucratic system which let me go due to “seniority”; determined that I could generate some income via making jewelry in the Private sector; and found out that the government rewarded a profit motive over an enjoyment one, within the Private sector.

At least from what I experienced; I did not get into Librarianship out of a profit motive. I got into Librarianship over a sustenance motive, combined with a context of youthful idealism and the fact that I communicate most easily via reading and writing, not face-to-face contact. What I didn’t understand is that although I spent over ten years in a Public Library context, what goes on in the context of Customer Service in a library (which I was pushed into, and later decided to take on as a personal project — maybe just to prove to myself that I could do it) is about people, not about books.

I did not get into Librarianship to deal with people. (Nor did I expect it to be so difficult to deal with people.)

There are jobs in Librarianship which focus more on materials and organization than on Customer Service; unfortunately, these jobs seem to be few and far between (i.e., expect relocation), and at times require Computer Science backgrounds. I also was not exposed to most of them until entering Library School, and am still uncertain to what extent these jobs do fully avoid public contact.

What I learned about public contact is that it can get very ugly, at least for a person who appears (as I do, at this point) to be a young nonwhite woman. It’s not even pretty if one happens to be a young white woman. One instance of a patron attempting to make an employee uncomfortable on the basis of their gender is too many. When it falls down to gender plus race, however…it just feels to me like these tensions are magnified (which is substantiated by the field of Intersectional Feminism). And of course, patrons make employees uncomfortable on a regular basis. It doesn’t just happen once. It also doesn’t always happen intentionally. It just happens.

As well, due to my job classification, I was denied training as to how to handle it. I had to go out of my way on my own (and with my own funds) to try and figure out how to cope…with which I was doing relatively well, until my supervisor (who had many years in Retail) seemed to lean to the side of considering me unfit for the job. This was probably due to my talking too much about experience with job placement services.

The thing is: idealism is…extremely common, among Library employees. It’s not all the same kind of idealism, but that idealism lays part of the groundwork for the profession. I haven’t met a Librarian yet who just is in it for the money (and will say so). This is nowhere near being the case for some of the other professions I’ve explored (on paper, for now; for example, Freelance Commercial Writing).

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is because people get into the field, then experience its realities, and migrate out. This is likely the reason why it’s so difficult to break into the field in the first place. As I’ve heard it, a Librarian candidate who has earned an MLS, MIS, or MLIS will still have difficulty landing an entry-level Librarian job without previous Library experience.

It’s already well-known that minority Librarians are rare and have a tendency to leave. I have a clue, why.

When I began this post months ago, I asked myself: if I had to take a profit motive over enjoyment to simply survive, why not go back to what I trained in? Sure, I’d be jaded rather than idealistic; I’d know a lot more about the history of American Libraries and how sexism and racism have left their stamp upon them, but that doesn’t really matter if one is cataloging books, does it? If, of course, one could overlook the fact that a major cataloging tool (though currently being superseded) is named “Anglo-American Cataloging Rules 2” (yes, they kept that name a second time. Why anyone saw fit to name a Cataloging standard after an ethnic group is beyond me).

If I’m considering taking on a profit motive in order to survive, why not funnel that drive through my present skill and knowledge set (and profession) and become a Cataloger or Metadata Librarian with no public contact? If the important thing is to earn money, not to have fun or to derive a sense of purpose, I can do that with this skill set.

I won’t have the ideals I had, which at one time made me think that Librarianship was ethically superior to having a for-profit job; however, I’ll at least have a source of income and be a bit farther towards the goal of self-sufficiency. That’s why others helped me through school. Not because I’d enjoy the work, but because having any type of career would help keep me from being homeless or being forced by necessity to work in menial positions.

This country’s prioritization of competition, self-interest and greed (as reflected in tax codes, particularly those passed in the last Administration) does strike me as…unexpected. In any case, if the economy is built on these three pillars, then it is kind of not a surprise that people can’t work to the good of the whole (even when their lives — and the lives of others — depend on it). People may just be unaccustomed to working to the benefit of anyone but themselves. That is, selfishness appears to be considered a virtue, while ethics lie outside the field of Business.

Since having begun to set up my online presence to potentially encompass the beadwork enterprise, I have found a number of tools where it comes to online marketing. Some of these are very sophisticated and in-depth, and make use of the voluntarily-given demographic information supplied by users. I am on these platforms not because I like their business models or because I like their information-gathering methods (or, for that matter, the fact that they even have the information). I’m there because my customers are there, and because to make a sale to someone, I have to be noticed by that someone.

On my end, I do realize that with Social Media, “the user is the product.” Knowledge to this effect has been circulating for what seems like at least a decade, now, but possibly not outside of Information Science circles. Of course, it seems I’m in a rather interesting position here: having the background of Information Science to see the impact of information gathering and use, and having the interest in Business to utilize that information. We all hope that it’s for the better of everyone involved; but we also know, that often doesn’t happen.

To me it seems that Business is about filling others’ needs and finding a niche and market, while amassing wealth. In the economic system in place right now in the U.S., either one needs a form of income, or one needs alternate income streams feeding in (say, from family), in order to survive. I have the latter now, but I cannot plan to rely on it for the rest of my life. The point is: either I earn money to keep myself alive, or someone else earns money to keep me alive.

I am not going to marry for money, and perhaps won’t marry at all; not to mention that I have no plans to depend on children to care for me in my old age. This means I need to earn a living, myself. It’s already basically set that I cannot rely on even being able to retire; and with things going the way they are now, planning for retirement may be a waste of time.

In this case, becoming self-employed is a viable option (at least in the short-term and at least part-time); though I’m not sure exactly how viable. There is the fact that even setting up a small business now, gives me experience that I can use in other ventures later. Even if my vision goes out later in my life, I will still be able to write. If I can write, I can market and sell my writing skills. This is a major reason I majored in Creative Writing rather than Art, though I find that writing Fiction is rather unhealthy for me at this point.

So far as actually filling others’ needs…I do see unmet needs that I can fill (although to what extent my skills will be of any use, is questionable). To be able to fill them, I need to connect with the people with those needs. Demographic information, however gotten, is crucial in understanding and reaching audiences. If you have a great product, but your market doesn’t know you have a great product, you may as well not have made it.

As I read more about Business, I realize that the flaws in the economic system in this country partially stem from abuse and lack of necessary regulation (which I suspect stems from corruption, in addition to technology outstripping law), and are partially designed into the system. There is the fact that two generations ago, my grandmother was lucky to even have a job at all; it was assumed she would have a man to provide for her and her children. However, as a widow…she didn’t have a lot of choices.

Historically, it at least seems that labor done by men has been allocated pay enough to support a family, whereas labor done by women has been supplementary in compensation (if compensated at all) and not at the level of a living wage. This dynamic tends to keep women (and those who are slotted as women, whether they assent to being called “women” or not) economically dependent upon men.

This doesn’t quite taste right, where it comes to being someone who is seen as a woman, who has been trained to be a woman, who has little attraction to men. It doesn’t just apply to people who identify as lesbian. It also applies to people who have no attraction to men, specifically because those men want them to be people they are not; assume the right to co-opt their reproductive capacity; have no connection to the life inside them but applaud their surfaces; etc. People who understand who I am on the inside are the people I want to spend time with. Not the people who see the outside and invent for themselves, who I must be.

I am not blind to how many people seen as women turn to crafts specifically because crafts give them a respite from the rest of their lives (this recalls the, “crafts are cheaper than therapy!” tropes I keep seeing). I also know that my own beadwork does get my head away from all the troubles of the world. But then, that calls into question just how bad the rest of the world is, how bad our situations are, if we keep needing to escape it, and them.

At this point…I am still not certain how I feel about market economies. I am getting much more of a hint as to my strengths and inclinations; how I can best assist other players within a market economy. I am also realizing how much more flexibility must exist within the Private Sector than within a regimented government bureaucracy like the one I spent ten years within.

Not all business owners (particularly, not all small business owners) are evil. There are people like myself who have no intention to exploit others, but are just trying to survive by doing something they love (or at least, like; or, can stand). Market pressures are something else, and are not addressed here. People who attempt to sell propositions that have no value to the buyer (or which harm the buyer), are also not addressed here. But hey: I have grown up in the shadow of oil companies and exploited farm labor, wasted natural resources, polluted water, diabetes, nicotine. I think it would be normal for me to have a bad taste in my mouth about Business.

I know things can be much more equitable than they are. Perhaps most of all: I can recognize that abuses present in the system, allowed by technology outpacing regulations, are not necessarily inextricable from the core of the system itself. But we have to want to extricate it, and then we have to actually do it. Actually taking action, means something has to change — and people who benefit from the status quo are often loathe to change, and have an incentive (and resources) to fight change.

I started this post by talking about my experience in Customer Service in a Public Library context. Perhaps the lack of respect given to service people in this country stems more from a history of compulsory marriage, slavery, forced labor, etc.; than it does from anything inherent to the system. That is, perhaps corruption and disrespect to others has been passed down within my culture. Maybe “capitalism’s” flaws are not necessarily all traceable to purely economic machinations, but also to cultural norms and politics in which each person has a different initial value and status dependent on factors much beyond their control.

Of course, “the Oppression Olympics,” or trying to figure out the exact hierarchical status of anyone in comparison to anyone else (based on recognized stigmas), ultimately does more harm than good. It’s counterproductive to actually undoing the system that creates the hardship. As I was introduced to this concept, infighting among ourselves as to whom is more oppressed than whom, depletes energy which could be used to get people to confront and question the current power system (in which most of us are relatively disempowered).

Yeah, that actually turned out worse than a critique of capitalism, didn’t it. I am reminded, however, of an assertion (I forget by whom) that the abuse of power within a particular country was less the fault of its economic model, and had more to do with the fact that said society had always had corrupt governments. This was in relation to Communism.

Given that I was raised in the U.S., and went to Public Schools and Public Universities, however: I was never taught about economic models other than the free-market economy (which I had to seek out on my own, but I opted for Microeconomics rather than Macroeconomics). I do not expect this trend to differ in other parts of the country; however, as stated, I never took Macroeconomics. The issue is that there is an extreme stigma placed upon those who question the idea that the free-market economy is the best economic model in existence (although I would say from experience, that governmental bureaucracy is not really better).

It’s just taboo, here, to even suggest that maybe our government and institutions are not “the best” — or could be fundamentally improved upon by looking beyond nationalism. Just because I live in the U.S., that doesn’t make it the best country on the planet. If people could just recognize this on the whole — that the place they live is not the greatest at everything for the virtue that they live there — maybe we would all be better off.

Anyway, I’ve been having these thoughts wandering around in my mind for the past several months. Particularly so, as my mind begins to shift from doing good things for free, to doing good things and being able to earn income by doing them. (Sooner or later, being able to earn a living will become a necessity.) When I was growing up, I didn’t really need money for anything: everything was provided for me by my parents. That could have been a disadvantage to me, as I moved from being a child to a teen and young adult. It didn’t give me a sense of the value of money, or the value of being paid. I was altruistic for a very long time, and refused payment for same.

I do believe that I’m learning that I don’t have to be unethical to work for myself. It’s not unethical to accept money in exchange for services or products (largely amounting to time, investment, skill, and imagination) rendered. But also — if I do work for myself — there is nothing really stopping me from going in nearly any direction I choose (at any time I choose). That lack of structure is new. It’s probably, in reality, also the most difficult thing about even attempting to be self-employed, at least at this juncture.

Published by Haruna

Haruna is a Librarian by training, currently pivoting from Public Services into Technical Services. Their undergraduate major was English -- Creative Writing, and they hold an additional small degree in Art (i.e. Visual Arts). They are now pondering whether a career in Academia is viable or desirable, given the current situation.

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