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Career Strategies for Librarians
The Librarian Has Not Yet Left the Building: Resignation After-Effects
by Doreen Sullivan

You’ve got it all sorted: your new job is lined up, a short vacation is scheduled between work
assignments, your boss and colleagues have been told, the official resignation letter is submitted, the
farewell party is arranged, and your last day at work is circled on the calendar at home … but no one told
you about the sense of loss and limbo. Or of the emotional mambo as you work out your notice.  And
somehow you never considered that aspect either.  

No one told you of co-workers who freak out on you. About colleagues who want to hug you to bits. No
one told you about bosses who veer between deer-in-the-headlights panic or react as if someone has
snatched away their best toy. Where are the instructions on how to cope with a boss who thumps her
hand on her desk and hisses, “How dare you leave me?” No one warned you of patrons who are
affronted that the librarian they have cultivated for years, who knows just what book to recommend, and
how exactly to debug computer number four … is about to walk right out the door.  Or, worse, you hear
sector-C has plans to celebrate your farewell … but you’re not invited.  

Actually, rarely is it as fraught as all that, but leaving could be a more emotional time than you anticipate.

This article focuses on leaving a job voluntarily because you have resigned or retired. It is about some
unexpected effects you could experience, such as a sort of low-key grief, even though you initiated the job
end ... and how both you and your co-workers can deal with the transition.  

The article covers what to expect after you make your announcement and as you work out your notice.
You’re still there – at least as a physical presence – but then you’ll be gone. Neither fish nor fowl, you’re
in limbo.

Leaving Is All I Ever Do

Confession time: until two years ago, in an almost twenty-year library career I had resigned a whole two
times. Once was early on. The second time was after fourteen years working in various roles for one
public library, in order to take a six-month career break. Both libraries were terrific work places. By
contrast, in the last two years I have held six back-to-back contract positions and had five farewells, so I
now feel experienced enough in the art of goodbye.

When my boss announced I had resigned from the public library after fourteen years, I was unprepared
for the jolt I felt. I don’t know why. I had all the practicalities covered. Did I really expect my boss and co-
workers to shrug, “So what? Who cares?”  
My supervisor sent out an email announcing my decision. Reaction was immediate. The phone rang,
emails circulated, co-workers stopped by to talk, someone swore in shock. I gave notice of my
resignation on a Friday morning. By Friday afternoon I was spent, sore-throated, weak-kneed and
grateful that I was in a back-room position, because I doubted I could have served the customers well
just then.

Yes, I both valued my position and was valued by the people in that library, and so perhaps the fallout on
hearing of my resignation shouldn’t have surprised me. Still, regardless of how fond (or not) you are of
your job, you could be taken aback if you’re unprepared for the reactions immediately following your
announcement, and then for the possible strangeness of the period spent working out your notice.

Leaving Is All We Ever Do
Chances are most of us will leave a position voluntarily at least once in our library career. Most times it
will be to take up another job somewhere else. Leaving a job with style and grace is just as important as
being on your best behavior when you start a new one.  

Even if you loathed your job and the strongest emotion you feel is relief, be nice. Or neutral (the “If you
can’t say something nice, say nothing at all” principle). Even if you want to tap-dance across the
circulation desk whilst warbling the “Hallelujah Chorus” … don’t. As well as being a tad disruptive and
discourteous, this behaviour could have future ramifications. Save the cheers for your friends and family
after work. Save the venting for the exit interview. This is a library, not a talk show. Your colleagues still
work for the organisation. The library profession is small. Memories are long. Word gets around. You
could work with or for someone in that organization again.  

Many of us have been fortunate to work in collegial environments. A lot of library philosophy and practice
is based on cooperation. It is possible for some people that working by these principles could mean that
the “sweet sorrow” of leaving the library – while the right thing to do – is a somewhat more heightened
experience than predicted.  

Practicalities
You know yourself and the library where you work best. In any case, it may be useful to:

Make your initial resignation or retirement announcement on a Friday;

Not be scheduled to work with customers afterwards.

These recommendations are so you can both deal with your colleagues’ reactions and have the
weekend to come to terms with your decision yourself. Resignation remorse can hit as you wonder what,
exactly, have you done?

Let some patrons (and suppliers, etc.) – those you have struck up a relationship with – also know of your
decision.   

Clients are perhaps the forgotten ones when a librarian leaves. Given that a) if it weren’t for the patrons
the library would have no reason to exist, and b) the strong customer focus of most libraries, it seems a
little odd to forget this group. Now, I’m not saying that you accost every person who walks through the
door and declare, “I’m leaving!” – really, they don’t care – but if, say, you’re a reference librarian and Joe
Smith from Engineering often asks for your assistance with his literature searches, and appreciates your
help, then let him know. Some clients will deliver an impromptu thank you speech or email at this stage,
which is nice, but that’s not why you inform the client – it is simply good work practice to keep the
customer abreast with what’s happening.

If All the World’s a Stage, Why Do People Fluff Their Lines? Unexpected Reactions

In an ideal world, this is what would happen when you leave: people would cry, and acknowledge that no
one could ever, now or in the future, do as good a job as you do … in fact, the library should probably
close its doors, because what is a library without you?

In the real world: life goes on. In the interim, it could get weird. But you’ve had time to consider your
reasons for why you are about to leave: your colleagues have not. In your mind, colleagues and
supervisors play out variations of, “Sorry to see you go, but I’m really happy for you. You did good here.”

Unexpected things that could happen instead are:

Your boss takes it as a personal insult, as “unprofessional” behavior, because you have the audacity to
go;

Or, your boss makes a counter-offer. (I suspect this is very rare in libraries.)

Co-workers fight over who gets your plum role when you’re gone;

Assuming you’ve done all the right things and are not leaving your library in the lurch, some people may
be angry with you for all sorts of reasons, which have everything to do with them, and not much to do with
you;

Some may go all Chicken Licken – the sky is falling down! – and wonder how they can possibly cope
without you there to stock the photocopier/deal with super talkative Mrs. Jones/give Mr. Basil the evil eye
so he does not overstay his computer session;

Some may simply ignore you – especially if there have been several recent retirements or resignations
and those left behind are weary and tired of saying goodbye so often.

Probably what will happen is that people wish you well. But it doesn’t hurt to prepare yourself for adverse
or unexpected reactions. Or realize that receiving even positive love-bombs praising your wondrous self
to the skies can tire you out. (Particularly if you think, “If I’m so great, why did no one mention it before?”)

You’re the person who is leaving, so it’s up to you to be gracious or civil when on the receiving end of
what you consider odd behavior. Some co-workers may ask for some tips on how to deal with
recalcitrant photocopiers and so on. Sometimes the photocopier is a red herring, and Chicken Licken
doesn’t know how tell you that you’ll be missed.

Show Some Emotion – But Not Too Much

If you have a new job to go to, you’re probably excited about it. If you’re about to retire, you’re probably
excited about it. Be positive and confident (regardless of how you feel on the inside) – but recall, again,
that your colleagues still work there. Don’t tell them you’ll earn twice as much in your new job as you’re
earning now (tell your family instead). Don’t gloat about the one-hour lunch break and flextime you will
now have. Think, re-think, and think yet again about your comments if you hated your workplace. It may
feel momentarily good to shout, “I’m out of here, unlike you losers!” If working in that library was such an
unfortunate experience, well, you’ve extricated yourself from that situation. You’ve won already. Go to the
new job with a clean slate, not as the librarian with the attitude problem. Your actions in your final days
will be remembered.

If you have had a wonderful time working there – but this new opportunity was too great to pass up – let
them know. If you think you will miss people – let them know. Everyone likes to be appreciated.  

Transitions  
Working out your notice is a transition period. It gives both you and your workplace time to deal with your
resignation. It is also a practical period: your boss has space to advertise for and make a decision about
your replacement; if a replacement is found quickly, you can assist with the transition and training if
required. Working out notice of between two to four weeks will mean continuance with your job, but also
make sure your procedures and files are current for the next person – and clear up your work area.  

Celebrations (They Like You – They Really Like You!)
Your colleagues will probably hold a lunch or dinner to say farewell to you. A card and a gift could be
given to you. Considerable thought sometimes goes into what to say on the card: this is an honor.

People probably supported you – looked after you on your first day, championed you for that special
project, stood up for you when a customer screamed at you as she returned a sopping wet book (“It was
like that when I borrowed it“). Thank those people in person or in writing.

If your co-workers organize a farewell celebration, go, even if you’re shy or prefer that a fuss not be made.
And play nice. The ceremony is not only for your benefit, but also marks the end of your work relationship
between you and your fellow library workers. The end of an era. If you’ve had a good relationship, let
some of them know how to keep in contact with you once you’re gone.

And once you’ve made leaving a job easier both for you and your library … be prepared to do it all over
again sometime.

About the Author:

Doreen Sullivan currently works in Melbourne, Australia as a contract cataloger for a book vendor. She
has worked across sectors (public, corporate, health, science, and government), and in the last two
years said a sorrowful sweet “goodbye” to five delightful work places as her contracts have ended.

Article published June 2006

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