Posted by: Jeremiah Graves | January 6, 2010

My Job is Hard to Explain

My job is hard to explain.

This is something that I’ve run into on numerous occasions, but it is especially common during the holidays.

Every year for Christmas we go to my Grandma’s house and I make awkward small talk, pretend I know who the small children actually are, and eat some pie. It’s generally a pretty good time.

The worst part of this whole scenario, however, is always the awkward small talk.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m not real close with my extended family. I’m very close with my immediate family, but I’ve never really clicked with anyone beyond the peeps who lived in my house growing up.

As such, every year I have to go through what is essentially the exact same conversation about fifteen times (and I’ll have the same conversation every year for all of eternity).

It goes a little something like this:

Random Relative: “So…um…you still out east.”
Cap’n Charisma: “Yep, still out there. Moved to Cambridge though.”
Random Relative: “Cambridge, huh?! Had to move out to the suburbs, huh?! Couldn’t hack it in the city with all the gangs and stuff, I suppose.”
Cap’n Charisma: *sigh* “Um, not exactly. Cambridge is just across the river. It is basically Boston, not a suburb.”
Random Relative: “Oh. Less gangs?!”
Cap’n Charisma: “Sure.”
Random Relative: “So…you still with…”
Cap’n Charisma: “…Grace. Yeah, we’re still together.”
Random Relative: “How about that…you two gettin’ married yet?! You’ve been together for like two or three years already, right?!”
Cap’n Charisma: “Um…a little more than seven years actually and no we’re not getting married yet. Don’t wanna rush things…” *Pause for Laughter*
Random Relative: *Laughter*

[Insert Awkward Pause in Conversation and Obligatory Glance at the TV]

Random Relative: “So, uh, Grace…she still going to school out there?”
Cap’n Charisma: “No, no…she graduated back in ’08.”
Random Relative: “…and you two haven’t moved back yet?!”
Cap’n Charisma: *sigh* “No, no. Can’t really think of a good reason to move back. We’ve both got pretty good jobs and we’re having a lot of fun out there.”
Random Relative: “Where’s Grace working?”
Cap’n Charisma: “She’s working at UMass, where she graduated from…”
Random Relative: “UMass?!”
Cap’n Charisma: “…University of Massachusetts, Boston.”
Random Relative: “Ahhhhhh…what’s she doing there?”
Cap’n Charisma: “She’s a professor, a pretty good one at that, teaching freshman English.”
Random Relative: “Oh okay and you’re still working at…”
Cap’n Charisma: “…MIT in the library, yeah.”
Random Relative: “So what do you do there, just read all day and check out books?!”
Cap’n Charisma: “I wish that’s all we did.”
Random Relative: “Okay, so what do you do?!”

This is generally where the conversation turns into my ill-fated attempt to list off things I do, only to realize that people who have never worked in a library generally don’t understand a word I’m saying to them.

I’d tell them I did “claiming” and they assumed that it meant one of two things.

Either I’m wandering around the library urinating on things—as to mark my territory—and/or it means that I’m gallivanting about in my finest Christopher Columbus outfit sticking mini-Iowan flags all about the library grounds to claim a copy of “Heat and Mass Transfer Engineering” in the name of my homeland.

This is not what claiming is, not even a little bit.

Granted, it would make claiming way more exciting, although a hovering scent of urine in the libraries would probably put a damper on our attendance figures.

I tell them that I run reports and clean up records in libraries’ automated system, they translate that to “I spend all day messing around on the computer.”

I tell them that I’m in charge of signage.

They generally just stare at me. The word “signage” does not exist in the typical Iowan lexicon.

I translate it to “I make signs for around the library.” This is then promptly re-translated to mean that I spend my day drawing signs, most likely with crayons and construction paper.

Needless to say, when talking to people who have never worked in a library—or sometimes never even been in a library—it’s really hard to ever actually describe what library peeps do.

In the end, most of these conversations further devolve into people telling me that Grace can teach anywhere—because since she’s teaching right now that’s obviously what she wants to do forever—and they tell me I could work for my dad—yeah, because I’d have gone to college if I wanted to do construction work when it’s 30 below zero—and they tell me that houses are dirty-dirt cheap back in Northwest Iowa.

Somewhere in there I usually get mocked for going to college for four years and not using my journalism degree for anything. I get asked why I didn’t just get a library sciences degree—although it’s usually referred to as a “library diploma”—and I get referred to essentially as “library bitch” since I’m not really a librarian and I don’t have any sort of “real” explanation for my job, or at least not an explanation that seems sufficient enough for anyone.

Anyway, yeah, long-story-short, my job is hard to explain.



  1. I used to try to make claiming sound like an adventure… like “I track down missing journal issues and stalk the supplier until they send us new ones” or whatever. Puts it into layspeak for them and also makes the conversation just a hair more awkward. You should try it next time!


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