Twenty-one years ago, I left the practice of law to take a job at my local public library. I usually joke that I did it when I realized that having a lot of fun was more important to me than having a lot of money.
But that’s only part of it.
A library is the heart of a community. I knew that working at my local public library, I was helping to make the world a better place.
Every day at work, I could see it happening all around me. We served our community well, from putting on story times for toddlers to giving retired folks a pleasant place to sit and read the paper. We provided terrific lectures and programs, and computers for people who had none at home, and safe space for people who had nowhere else to go.
Not to mention the books.
I loved my job. For 21 years, I looked forward to coming to work every day. How many people can say that?
Then the pandemic hit and my library was closed. For weeks, I worked from home. Then, I was furloughed.
What does that mean? I’m out of a job — but they hope to bring me back. Someday. When libraries reopen, and not just for curbside service. When the powers that be can find the money. And most importantly, when it's safe.
The other thing it means? For the first time in my life, at age 65, I am collecting unemployment. I receive about half of what I would have gotten from working at the library.
But because that amount is augmented by an extra $600 each week due to the CARES Act of 2020, I am receiving more than I would have brought in each week were I still working.
Does this mean that when I’m asked back to work, I’m going to stay home, sit on my butt, and keep raking in the dough?
Well, on a practical level, I can’t. If my job is available to me and I refuse to do it, I can’t collect unemployment.
But the truth is that even if I could, I wouldn’t. I love my job. Library work gave my life structure and purpose. I miss going to work. I miss my coworkers. I even miss patrons trying to argue their way out of paying library fines.
Yes, it is great to get paid for doing nothing. But it’s no way to live.
There are lots of people who have been laid off from jobs they hated who are not eager to go back. And maybe the right approach isn’t to call these folks moochers or deadbeats, but to ask what’s wrong with these jobs and what we can do to improve them.
I can’t speak for these folks, of course. I can only speak for me. I’m happy and grateful to be getting that extra money.
I’ll be even happier when I can get back to work.