Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Different Toolbox: Random Thoughts Sparked by Jenica

Jenica Rogers, Director of Libraries at SUNY Potsdam, has written a magnificent blog post about her experience as a new director. Before you continue reading here, please go read it. No, really. Read it here.

I met Jenica in Monterey at Internet Librarian 2008, where she was gracious and warm and friendly, and I got to know her a bit better on my online social networks. Because I interacted with Jenica this way before she became a director, I find her far less intimidating than I might otherwise. (I admit to feeling the full weight of organizational hierarchy - my family's military blood in my bones, I suppose.) I feel like I can contact Jenica without feeling as though I am "bugging" her, we can occasionally discuss ridiculous things like our love for The Mighty Boorito, and various other things. Perhaps part of it is that I know Jenica is not only The Director, but also a human being.

In any case, I not only respect her work, but I like Jenica as a person quite a bit. Reading her most recent blog post, "What I've Learned," something she wrote struck me, as I've been considering it for awhile:

"I’ve learned that I have to change my expectations of myself, because brain work is exhausting. Some days I come home dead tired, and wonder why the heck I have no energy… all I did was sit in meetings, respond to emails, and work on project proposals. It’s not like I work construction, or run a farm, or take care of children all day… I sit. I think. I write. I answer questions. How hard is that? HARD."

So well put. Coming from a family of electricians, who work outside or in unfinished buildings year-round, I often find myself feeling guilty or ridiculous for feeling tired after a day of work when I spent most of it at my desk among papers, in meetings, or other brain work. White-collar work. The past few evenings I've been hammering on a personal essay titled "Dingy White Collar," trying to get at my feelings on this, trying to answer the question Jenica asks: "How hard is that?" and trying to justify the answer: "HARD." I am trying to reconcile what I learned over the course of my first 18 years about the nature of 'work' with the direction my own career has taken, trying to match up the values my parents instilled in me with what I see myself doing now. I am trying to fit myself, a librarian peg, into my family's "Learn how to turn a screw and get a real job" hole. And I am trying to do it without feeling guilty at how much easier my work seems than dangling from a bucket truck in the snow wearing Carhartts.

I mention this in a blog mostly about librarianship because I have met other librarians who feel similarly. It really warmed my heart to read Jenica's post, because while I do believe what we do is hard work at the same time that it is rewarding, sometimes I feel uncomfortable calling it "work" or admitting that at times it can be exhausting. (Mind you, I have no problem applying those terms to other librarians - just myself. It's a personal struggle, and not a large one in the scheme of things, but it can be disheartening.)

It's nice to be reminded that my toolbox and skill-set are different, not worse or less valuable for being less physical in nature.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Have You Dated Your Faculty Lately?

I just got off of a conference call which served as my interview for the EdD Program at UTC. While I hope (and think) it went pretty well *crossed fingers*, it left me pondering some things libraryish.

When we got on the topic of how change tends to impact libraries first since we're on the cutting (or bleeding) edge of technology use, once of the committee members identified with the changes, telling me that he had taken some library science classes, and had been great at Dewey, but now he felt lost in the Library. I asked if the committee remembered having to go to a librarian to have a DIALOG search done for them, and they all laughed and chimed in "Yes!"

The conversation leaves me thinking this: to me, the mission of academic libraries is inextricably tied to the needs of the institution's students and faculty (at least, if you're doing it right). We may have done our patrons (or users, or client base, whichever term you prefer) a great disservice if they are feeling as though they missed the boat from between where they are and where we are. How are we bridging that gap? Are we offering programming highlighting that we welcome them to come learn how things work now? Are we making it a non-judgmental thing, so they don't feel it's their fault for somehow missing the massive change libraries went through? It sounds silly, but what about a "We Don't Dewey: Finding a Book in the Library Without Getting Lost" session? Yes, it sounds simplistic, but with good exposure and treating it as fun, I bet you'd get more than zero faculty members to attend.

More than zero is one more faculty member who appreciates the library. More than zero is not a negligible number when it comes to this, whether it is two or twenty. "Go big or go home" is not a strategy libraries should marry. Faculty who have fallen away from using us as much for themselves and for training their students in research are like old beaus. "Ah, I remember when the library...", or "I used to go to the library and X, mmm, good times." But you know what? We're not dead. Neither are they (since I am advocating interacting with live faculty). So why are we pining for each other from afar?

Those of us who work in libraries experience all of this *massive* change firsthand and then deal with it daily, and so to us it is both second nature and taken for granted. I am afraid we also take for granted that "yes, well, it's different, but you can learn the new way so just do it." That is not helpful. There really needs to be an outreach effort associated with trying to reconnect with faculty we may have lost along the way. What are you doing to make sure your faculty are comfortable using the resources you spend so much on for them? How many different ways can you count that you are connected to the various academic departments and programs? Are you actively engaged in conversation with your teaching and research faculty - even the ones who think they don't need you? Those are often the folks who are most surprised at the sort of resources we've developed or purchased.

Not for nothing, but for those of us wishing faculty would take greater advantage of us, I bet they miss us as much as we miss them. Maybe we should ask them on a date and get to know each other again.