10 March 2012

Redefining 'Work'

I think in the US we often define 'work' as being busy, getting things accomplished...those 'things' being tangible, of course. Things that at the end of the day we can look at and document. We say we are 'going to work' when we are on our way to a job that pays us money. We are 'getting work done' when we are accomplishing something we can see. We 'work out' when we go to the gym and run around for X miles to lose X pounds. We [read: I] feel unproductive when at the end of the day we can't say exactly what we've accomplished. And it makes sense, right? Look at these definitions of work from dictionary.com:

  • exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something
  • productive or operative activity
  • one's place of employment
  • a task or undertaking

But if I have learned nothing else this year, it's been re-learning the meaning of the word 'work'. Or at least redefining the word 'productive'. Yes, there is a physical, tangible element of what I'm doing [cataloging books, installing computers] but some days very little of that actually gets done. Some days I spend all my time greeting students as they come to the library, answering their questions, finding books, and troubleshooting email questions. I'm learning to redefine my goals and expectations. I came here as a librarian, yes. But I also came to learn and be a part of a community. I am determined to learn about my students, about librarianship in East Africa, and how to be a part of the RTC community. This means sometimes honoring the East African tradition of greeting everyone. Sometimes that means simply listening when one of them decides to tell me about growing up in Rwanda after the genocide. Sometimes it means learning to live in African time and being flexible as plans change unexpectedly. Ultimately, I came to tell a good story, which to me means loving those around me the best I can. It means listening to their stories and letting others' stories impact my own.

I'm sure I've said this before but computerizing a library is about so much more than cataloging the books and entering information into a computer. It's about teaching students how to use computers. It's about figuring out how to network said computers in the best way possible. It's about creating an atmosphere of learning that involves technology. It's teaching what a library is for and how to use the space to build community. If I define productive work as the number of books cataloged or the number of reference questions answered, I will be disappointed in my own productivity. But if i define what I'm doing by what I'm learning, I think maybe, just maybe, I've accomplished a lot.

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