Today is my last day at the LBJ Library.
I’ve been a digitization specialist in Text Archives a week shy of three years. Essentially I played with Adobe, cleaning up metadata and background text. I made the President’s Daily Diary Web-ready and built digital versions of his VP and Senate diaries, as well as Lady Bird’s diaries. I worked on oral history collections for a year and a half, helping process Joe Califano and Lady Bird’s oral histories, as well as tidy up the background text for the Miller Center collection. I served and refiled a bunch of boxes, did a rotation in AV Archives, and burned CDs of the telephone conversations for researchers. I gave tours for Education in Action and helped judge the Central Texas History Fair. I got to chase LBJ’s ghost through the stacks, poke through Lady Bird’s closet, experience Luci Baines Johnson Turpin speak in public, take a staff photo with Sandra Day O’Connor, show my mom Che Guevara’s diary, and count watching documentaries and going on guided museum tours as work. It was fun, especially since the job afforded me a lot of headphone time.
I’m also the last of a quartet of awesome women who quit this summer. One was hired by another Presidential library. Like me, the other two moved away to chart a new course. While I’ve enjoyed my work here, the pay isn’t great, professional advancement from within is nigh impossible, and there’s little managerial interest in paying entry level folks a competitive wage or grooming them for a career in archives. This is universal, regardless of whether we hold master’s degrees or, in one friend’s case, ostensibly run an entire department without credit or compensation. And they don’t seem to actually care about retention. The solution posed by our director to systemic problems in one meeting was breakfast tacos. I can’t be bought off with a damn breakfast taco, any more than I can abide top brass decisions to remove explicit mention of the Great Society in a forthcoming permanent exhibit on LBJ’s legacy. I got into the PhD program of my dreams. It’s time to go.
I know I’m lucky to be an American with a job, even if I only got one raise and one cost of living increase despite consistently glowing performance reviews from my supervisor. Unemployment, job creation, and retention are real problems. We seem closer every day to a class war. China might foreclose on us. It’s a bad time, and I hope I get a job after all this schooling. But I have faith, and I’m not bitter. I don’t regret my time at LBJ. I had lunch almost every day with one of my best friends. I liked many of my co-workers and my boss. Also, I wrote a lot of blog entries while I was on the clock.
This post is a tribute. It’s a tribute to a remaining work friend who’s zealously followed this blog since he knew it existed and I hope lands a job at Beinecke when he’s done with school. But it’s also a tribute to singer-songwriter Hannah Fury. I don’t know her personally, but she worked here before I did. I guess she weirded some people out and endeared others. Based on her goth cabaret act, I bet I would have liked her. I respect the hell out of her for making music while she was employed at LBJ. I admire folks who keep a job to support the projects they’re actually passionate about. That’s basically every creatively inclined friend I have, and most of the bloggers I know on- and off-line. But I especially relate to someone who pressed on while working at a place that I know personally can be both rewarding and emotionally draining. If we worked together, I would’ve interviewed her in the copy room and posted the piece while everyone else attended a social media Webinar.
I also wonder if Fury vibed on the double life she led, or considered it as such. Some colleagues know I run this blog and freelance, but most don’t. Many of those who do had to discover my writing. That’s by design. I’m proud of my work, but suspicious of dogged self-promotion. There’s a difference between talented people and folks who are good at something and constantly need other people to validate that. I strive to be the former. Maybe Fury did too. I hope to meet her someday, so she stops seeming like a ghost. I salute you, Hannah Fury, as a person, artist, and kindred spirit.