How I Learned to Love Printer Jams

by Julia Feerrar

Do you ever daydream about your future professional life? Do you imagine yourself as a high-powered librarian, answering thoughtful reference questions or maybe cataloging rare and beautiful documents? Initiating programs that bridge the digital divide or solve access and licensing issues? I know I do.

But here’s the thing: although I have big plans and aspirations, I recognize that life as an information professional isn’t always going to be the glamorous montage of my dreams. Example: I started working at the reference desk in an undergraduate library a few months ago and quickly discovered that I would spend much of my time assisting patrons with printing and scanning. Clearing jams, replacing toner and paper, explaining policies, walking patrons through the process…not the most exciting part of patron interactions, but a useful and necessary service. I’m sure there are plenty of ‘printing and scanning’ equivalents in other areas of librarianship, library school, and in all professions, for that matter. So, how do we deal? Can we ‘hack’ the mundane aspects of work and school?

In my reference class we’ve talked about “teachable moments”—points at which learning becomes possible or easier—when working with patrons and I think we can identify teachable moments for ourselves as well (as cheesy as that may be). Hacking everyday tasks like printing and scanning requires an attitude adjustment—that is, a willingness to see the skills you’re developing as useful and more broadly transferable. If I stop and think about it, I can see that dealing with printers and scanners every day has given me an opportunity to learn some pretty important skills: asking patrons lots of questions in order to find the source of their problem, taking the initiative to offer help, and becoming more comfortable troubleshooting with an audience (e.g. a line of ten undergrads anxiously waiting to print before their classes). I wouldn’t say that I look forward to printer misbehavior, but I can appreciate the learning opportunity.

Sometimes we need to do boring, tedious things. Sometimes elements of our classes or work experience may not be what we initially imagined, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t useful. For me, hacking library school is largely about putting in the effort and taking a little extra mental energy to draw connections where they may not be obvious or easy.