It’s now more than five years since I retired. My, how time flies!
This post may turn out to meander a bit. I want to deal with two things – fear, and loathing, in retirement.
Fear in retirement:
I think that many people probably have certain fears about retirement. I reckon that one fear may often concern money, and another may concern time. There’s a very good article, 3 Retirement Fears to Conquer, that mentions these two things plus the fear of losing your identity.
Let’s deal with the money part first. When you retire, you almost certainly take a drop in income – I was no different in this respect. It took me quite some time to figure out what I would need to change, in terms of outgoings, in order to keep within my pension income.
On the other hand, there are now no deductions from my income for National Insurance, or pension, and I pay less tax on less income. I no longer need to pay £30 or so per week to get to work, and I don’t have the expense of canteen lunches or buying clothes for work. I have more time to select produce in supermarkets, and can often save quite a bit in this way. Heating the house actually costs less than before, because we draught proofed it – a good investment.
My income nowadays is less than the national average wage for someone in work, but it goes further. On a couple of occasions over the last five years I’ve undertaken some paid work, and this has helped offset the cost of holidays.
It is quite difficult to judge how to balance income and outgoings, especially in the first year of retirement. There are annual payments, such as for house insurance, that you’ve probably forgotten about, and then a bill arrives. After the first year, it gets easier because you know most of what is coming up.
In the weeks before I took retirement, several people came up to me and asked, “But what will you do, when you retire, Roddy?”
I answered, “I’ll watch cricket.”
Then they said, “But you can’t watch cricket ALL of the time!”
I thought – well, I could give it a try, what with so much cricket being televised, nowadays. But I never really intended to watch cricket 24/7. Being retired has meant that I’ve been able to watch a lot more cricket than was possible when I worked, and that has been very enjoyable. I’ve also had time to pursue various interests, some of which have been detailed in this blog, but overall I’ve been keen not to swap being too busy at work with being too busy in retirement. I never intended to fill up every moment of retirement, and I’ve been successful in this. I simply go with the flow much more, nowadays.
OK, on a slow day, when there’s not much happening, I’ve no doubt on occasion been bored for a while in retirement. But I was also occasionally bored at work as well, when some or other repetitive task took longer than expected. I’ve been OK with all of that.
In retirement I’ve been able to read a bit more than in the past, and I’ve posted reviews of many of these books, but in fact you don’t jump out of bed saying to yourself, “Yes! I’ll read a book today.” Well, I don’t. I read a bit more than before, and I’m gradually getting through my backfile, but of course I keep noticing new books I’d like to read. There are many maintenance things I’ve managed to do throughout the house, but some things are still pending. You never get to the end of the list.
Loathing in retirement:
The first course I attended at university was architecture. I think that I’m reasonably creative, I’ve always had an interest in buildings and their design, and I liked the idea of a career involved in creating spaces for work and leisure. It turned out that the course I attended was much more about the engineering aspects of architecture rather than the people side of it, and I hated studying, for example, the technology of bricks and stresses and strains in structures. So I dropped out, took a year and a half to do other things, and then went back to university to study history. I loved history, was awed by academia and impressed with the intellects of many of the lecturers, and enjoyed the process of finding out about the past. I used libraries extensively during the course, and so it was only a small step once I’d graduated to get a temporary job in a library. After that, it was a year in library school and then a permanent job in a university library.
Many years later, when I worked in the University of Botswana Library – and you have to remember that this was pre-Internet – I remember thinking one day, “This is great! This is a really well-stocked and well-managed library. With an excellent reference collection at hand, I can either answer just about any question anyone poses, or can point them in the right direction where they can find out more.” So, I was happy with many aspects of the career choice.
My time in Botswana lasted two years. In the library that I spent most of my working life, however, both pre and post Botswana, and also pre and post two years working in Malawi, some things were good, in fact occasionally very good, but some other things were not so good at all. I now realise that it took two or three years of retirement to get rid of the loathing and frustrations caused by the things that were not so good.
More than a year into retirement and I’d read something in CILIP Update, or see something on a library listserv, that would trigger feelings of anger about my past working life. Those feelings had been the result of working with a boss for many years, probably twenty or so, who I (and many others, I hasten to add) considered an inept manager, and also with a deputy boss who, though very clever, happened to be the most negative and down person I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across. He spread gloom wherever he went.
We’ve all probably had bad bosses. I’ve had good, and bad, in numerous jobs over the years. But experiencing twenty years of ineffectiveness allied to relentless negativity, in my case caused a legacy that even lasted well into retirement.
Universities have complex management structures, and so what of my boss’ bosses? Didn’t they have any concerns about the library? Very few of them seemed to visit, or use, the library. I think you have to actually use a library to find out what works there, and what doesn’t. My goodness, it was different in Botswana. There, the Vice Chancellor at the time used the library several times a week, for some research he was conducting. He was very aware of things, and I remember one time when the librarian came up to me and said, “The V-C mentioned to me that the newspapers on level four are looking untidy. Can you do something about that, please?” It wasn’t meant as a question, either! Well, immediately we all set to work, and a few hours later everything was spick and span once more. That librarian was such a good boss, though, and she didn’t leave it at that. “Do you need anything to improve the display of newspapers?” she enquired a couple of weeks later. “New stands, shelves, or anything else?” That sort of thing makes a big difference.
Back in the UK, I once had a chance to influence a newly appointed Principal. Such chances happened rarely because, as I’ve said, we hardly ever saw the top people. This new Principal had decided to find out more about the library, and had set aside an afternoon and asked my boss to hold a seminar on whatever he thought the Principal should know about the library. What an opportunity! I volunteered to give a five minute presentation about the various projects that we were involved with at the time. Someone else was asked to talk about the collections, and there was to be a third presentation about processes.
Wonderful! I went away and spent several hours drafting my short talk, for which the title was to be: “Five minutes: four projects and a summary”. It was essentially four brief elevator-type pitches to explain, very concisely and accurately, what we were doing, and hoped to do, in the way of projects, put in the context of how the library and the university benefitted. It went: You’re a very busy person and you don’t want waffle. Here, briefly, are 4 things that we do and why, plus one minute on what we’d like to do. #1 The Internet Resources Newsletter – It has a circulation of 30,000 academics throughout the world including two hundred from this university. Every month, 30,000 email alerts are distributed to subscribers, each branded as coming from this university. It helps people keep up-to-date with new resources on the Internet. It has a good reputation. It costs very little to produce. [etc.] #2 TechXtra brings £xx,xxx in income to this university and employs 1.2 fte. It’s a service that helps students and staff in universities all over the world find engineering and technology information of all kinds, including jobs, theses, industry news, scholarly papers. [etc.] #3 ticTOCs has brought £xx,xxx in income to this university, employs x fte, has resulted in two research papers…[etc.]
Or something similar to that, anyway. I was really pleased with the draft presentation and looking forward to demonstrating to the new main man what some of us were doing and what we were hoping for in the future. Then, a few days before the Principal’s visit, my boss called me in and without warning said he wanted me to talk about ‘Y’ rather than about projects. I can’t even remember what ‘Y’ was, anymore, but I knew very little about it and it didn’t seem relevant to either the library or what I thought the Principal would be interested in. In the event, the Principal changed the date of his visit, and I was already committed to a meeting in London the day of the eventual visit, so I didn’t give my presentation. Afterwards, I asked one of the other assistant librarians how the Principal’s visit had gone. “I think he was asleep through most of it, or at least – he had his eyes closed a lot of the time”.
So, I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking, “Well, why didn’t you and the other library staff get out there and tell the university administrators more about the library?”
We did, to some extent. I and the other middle management library staff often visited lecturers, researchers and the occasional prof, to tell them about various resources, to encourage their involvement in the library, to find out what their needs were in terms of information, and so on. This is normal for liaison librarians. We also hoped that some of them would push for better funding for the library, and where relevant we encouraged that sort of activity. But it wasn’t our role to go barging into the Principal’s office, and we rarely met with other administrators. We were also deemed too lowly to be invited to Library Committee meetings.
One result of many years of poor management was that, when a national survey of all UK university libraries was published, our library appeared bottom in all but two of the charts. The two in question included cost of library staff per student, and spend on periodicals per researcher. For all other lists, there we were at the bottom, and in the case of book spend per student, we were bottom by some distance. In the case of cost of library staff per student, it is better to be near the bottom than near the top, and in other cases, nearer the top. This survey was a dire statement of the state of our library.
When the survey was eventually discussed at a library staff meeting, I remember the boss saying nothing and then, when I offered the opinion that something really should be done, the deputy shrugged his shoulders, and sighed, “Ah well – our university gets the library it pays for.” I couldn’t believe it! That survey should have galvanised the library managers and motivate them, and the rest of us, to do something about the situation. Instead, nothing at all happened. I reckon it wasn’t in the librarian’s interest to attract attention to the charts because it would have reflected badly on him. Better for him to just drop the whole matter.
Later, when I happened to see an expense claim that had been left on the photocopying machine for £180 for a taxi to take the boss to Glasgow airport for one of his many foreign trips, I realised where the priorities really lay. Struth! I could have ordered six engineering books for the library with that amount.
It isn’t the purpose of this post to drag up old instances of poor management, even though there were SO many of them and you would find some of them very amusing in a rather sad sort of way, because that would be to resurface the bile that caused the loathing. And as I said earlier, the loathing is now gone. But I hope that you can realise how demoralising it was to work in such an environment for so many years. The library itself functioned reasonably well on a day-to-day basic level, despite poor management, mainly because the junior and middle management staff were so dedicated to their work.
I eventually gave up on trying to improve the situation in the library, because my efforts had no effect, and instead I concentrated on those things I could personally influence, such as the external project work through which I was 50% funded. Several of those projects did well, though we sometimes didn’t manage to achieve all of the objectives. After a number of years, when funding for such projects dried up, I didn’t want to go back to working full time in the poorly managed library where there was so little encouragement and the boss seemed more interested in collecting air miles for himself than in improving the library, so it was a no-brainer for me to seek early retirement when the opportunity arose.
Is there anything to be learnt from any of this?
Well, firstly, when you retire, it can take quite some time to get to grips with the change in your financial situation. Secondly, don’t worry about time – it will take care of itself, and it goes much faster than you’d think.
It can also take time to get rid of various emotions caused by years of employment. When you walk out of the door for the last time, you don’t necessarily leave everything behind. But the baggage does eventually disappear.