Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Year In Review: Obligatory End of the Year Post

When I tried to cast back on 2011, I found that it was a mighty blur. The primary things I remember:
  • Lots of planning. We have a new library building going up that is going to cause some major changes in how we run things. The UTC libraryfolk also spent much of the year batting OCLC's WMS about, testing it, developing it (well, our IT gurus), and discussing the product.

  • Lots of service work. I'm a Faculty Senate member as well as Senate Secretary. I'm on the Faculty Handbook Committee, which is engaging in a complete revision of our outdated handbook. I helped out with some of the SACS onsite accreditation visits. I'm on the Petitions Committee which handles students petitioning this, that and the other. I also served as a marshal at both graduations this year.

  • Lots of searches. I served on the spring search committee to hire a new faculty member into the University's EdD in Learning & Leadership program. I served as chair of the Library's two most recent librarian searches (for our E-resources & Serials and Digital Integration librarian positions). This fall I served as the instructional technologist voice on the University's search committee for our new CIO. I was on the evening/weekend circ staff search committee that netted our library a great new evening circ staff specialist, Heather. And due to the well-earned retirement of one of our ILL veterans, I'm currently chairing the ILL staff position search committee. Search committees make me both sad and happy - sad because it means we likely lost a friend and colleague, happy because showing off our excellent team here to prospective new coworkers is always fun and invigorating.

  • Trucking through the doctorate. In 2011, I completed 27 credit hours of coursework toward the EdD. More impressive (and useful) to me than completing the coursework well (though it has been a major challenge) is that I have been honing my dissertation topic, literature review, and the instrument I intend to dissertate with along the way. (I know that 'dissertate' is not really a verb. But it should be.)

  • A random milestone, but major for me: as of last week, I've been back here at UTC in my current position for 20 months. This is the first time in more than 7+ years I have not moved within eighteen months. My lease is good through summer 2012. I've had the good fortune to be renewed for the 2012-13 academic year, and then it's do-or-die tenure portfolio time. In any case, it's nice to feel like I might be able to put down some small roots by being in one place for a decent stretch. I can even almost get around the city without my Garmin. Almost.

Things I'm less happy about from 2011:

  • Getting sick, treading water, and dialing back. I've had some nagging sickness since last summer, and this year it got significantly worse (bad) but the doctors finally think they've figured out what it is (good). Spending more time in the hospital this year than in the past 4 years combined scared me silly. (I have a bit of a hospital-phobia.) The doctors' verdict of ankylosing spondylitis with a likely side of Crohns has forced me to re-prioritize, since my bones start screaming whenever it rains, my joints are trying to fuse on me, and stress makes my innards combust. I've had to rely heavily on my staff to keep things running smoothly, which they have done with incredible skill. My biggest disappointment is that a lot of things on the department's to-do list that I had hoped would move forward have been on pause, as I tried to just get done what needed getting done, and because I was sick and out of the office (or operating under-capacity). I've had to turn down some speaking engagements I was really hoping to make while I sorted my health out, and tried learn to work smarter (instead of harder and longer).

What does all of this mean for 2012? Three things.

First, I'm hoping to get a decent start out of the gate, and come back to my staff well-rested and ready to tackle the year ahead. I want to revamp our department's to-do lists, make sure everyone is equipped to do their jobs well, and make sure I'm on the ball. Spending the first week of the Fall semester in the hospital left me reeling, feeling woefully behind, frantic, and never quite caught-up. I want to avoid that in 2012.

Second, it means less professional travel. Travel tends to be hard on me in any case, but it is worse since being sick, and so I'm going to limit my time out of the office more than I have in the past, when I was thrilled to go wherever I was accepted to speak. I will be at Computers in Libraries in March 2012 to speak and to give a post-conference workshop. I'm going to give two papers at the Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries conference in Limerick, Ireland in May 2012. Depending on how I feel and the workload of the semester, I'm hoping to choose one fall conference to attend (instead of my usual three). At this point, deciding factors for conference attendance are:

(a) relevance of conference to my work and research interests. I want to: learn something that I can take back to my library and use to help us be more productive or provide better service, feel that I'm adding something new to the conversation, or use the platform to promote best library management and leadership practices and help create an environment that fosters those middle managers we need so badly.

(b) the opportunity to speak about important things with awesome speaking partners. For instance, doing this year's ALA pre-conference with Jenica Rogers and Mary Carmen Chimato (in absentia) is probably my career highlight to date. More gigs like that could make me a happy librarian for life. Giving a solo talk is heady. Working with people I really respect to hammer out a program that will give attendees useful takeaways, on the other hand, was much more rewarding.

(c) the chance to spend quality conversation time with people (librarians and non-) who are doing good work, who will engage with difficult conversations, who interest me as both professionals and people. Computers in Libraries is a fantastic conference for libtech folks. However, I attend as much for the firepit chats with fellow libraryfolk as the conference sessions, since the "post-party" is where we start gnawing at the gristle, worrying at the harder part of the problems, and sharing solutions and coping strategies.

Third, it means making time for me. Mostly, this takes three forms:

Making time to cook well and prepare for the week. With some new dietary restrictions, I'm not as easily able to depend on quick/lazy food, and preparing food for the week when I'm too tired to cook takes time and effort. Crockpotting on weekends helps with this, but I simply need to be more mindful. On the bright side, the more I learn about processed and synthetic/unnatural foods and how food is prepared makes me want to grow my own vegetables, raise my own sheep, and never venture near anything with an ingredients label on it ever again.

Making time for fitness. I find that my joints and muscles are less likely to lock up on me (and my stomach tends to stay more settled) when I participate in a consistent exercise regimen. I've graduated from the physical therapist to a personal trainer familiar with joint problems at my local gym. I see Trainerman Alec three times a week, and am also supposed to hit the pool for water aerobics or yoga on my off-days (per both Trainerman and the rheumatologist). My rheumdoc told me to treat these as his new physical therapy prescription, so I am going to treat these sessions as medical appointments. And you know, you never blow off a doctor's appointment as easily as you can blow off just 'going to the gym.' (At least, I don't.) If this is what I need to do to make sure I stay fit and able to be my best self at work and in my free time, so be it.

Making time for family and friends. I have a habit of putting off seeing, talking to, or writing people because (choose any of the following): I am busy, because I travel for work, because I don't like to be away from the office for long or often, because I am tired, because I want to burn brightly while on the tenure track and will get around to it once I have tenure, because I didn't budget for it, because they don't have air conditioning (no, seriously), because, because, because. Those are all lousy excuses. These are the people that hold me up to the light when I'm at my lowest, show me the best sides of myself, and make me laugh on a regular basis. After seeing so many friends lose loved ones throughout 2011, I am making a conscious commitment to do a better job of visiting or otherwise reaching out to my people.

That doesn't look like too much of an insurmountable resolution list. I'm already tracking a little bit on the cooking and fitness at a separate blog. Let's see what happens.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Being" vs. "Serving As": My Job Is Not My Self

In a discussion in one of my EdD classes (Organization Theory and Development, I think), the seminar got into a discussion about how passionate professionals sometimes over-identify with their profession to the exclusions of themselves as a whole person. Talking about this phenomenon in class brought up all the problems inherent with this - in particular, that there seems to be a high incidence of burnout in non-profit workers, public administrators, and human service personnel directly linked to this strong identification of what we do with who we are.

This hit pretty close to home; I identify strongly with being a librarian. (See the phrasing? "Being" a librarian. Puts me in mind of the difference in Spanish between the two "to be" verbs, estar and ser, where estoy usually refers to a temporary condition.) When someone asks me what I do, I do not say that I participate in the actions of librarianating (though when pressed for details I start talking about managing personnel, projects and services, serving on service desks, and planning). I just say "I am a librarian." I say it the same way I say "I am a woman," or how I might respond "I am white" or "I am 32" on a demographics survey, without thought and with as much certainty of the statement as fact. I've wrapped it up into my identity, and I've worn librarianship that way since I started library school back in '05. Because librarianship is not just what I do, it is what I love, I have adopted it wholesale into my persona.

But if I lost my job (gods forbid), I could just as easily "be" a creative writing professor, or a secretary, or any number of other things. Being a librarian should not feel as all-consuming as I've let it become. It's my own fault, I blame it largely on being a graduate student for so long, with the freedoms and easy selfishness that come to someone without a family to care for - my experience trained me to essentially submerge myself in whatever it was I was studying. (With few distractions, there was no reason not to Do The Thing All The Time, especially since Doing The Thing All The Time led, by and large, to greater success.) Only by making librarianship a profession, I never really came back up for air the way I do with an academic subject once the degree is done. If it's possible to train oneself into obsessive compulsion, I may have done it.

One wise woman in class noted that one of her mentors in a high university administration position always answers the question of "What do you do?" with "I serve as [Job Title]." She said he claimed it reminded him (1) that his job was not his entire identity, (2) that a job is temporary, not a permanent facet of his personhood. He said it helped him keep a healthy perspective on the fact that this may not be what he does forever, and that while he can love his work, it should not consume him to the point that he loses everything else about himself. And while most of you are likely nodding your heads at this, thinking How very commonsensical and unremarkable, I was really struck by it.

I've been mulling this over for a few weeks, in light of some medical issues that have me parsing my professional life from my personal life more carefully as I strive to strike a balance that works for me, but allows me to remain successful as a professional. Being a librarian for all my waking hours is no longer a model that works for me. I know this. My friends know this, and have been asking me to make these changes for a long time. My boss and colleagues know this, and have recommended making these changes for a long time. Being ill is just a precipitating event forcing me to actually make the change that has been needed all along.

So now I am working on a certain separation of powers, if you will. When I am librarianating, I focus entirely on that, to make sure I am being the best librarian I can be. But I am also now a woman who needs 8 hours of sleep, to make sure that I am also a Rested and Healthy Colleen. I am a student, and when I do that I am Studious Colleen. I'm working on improving my Downtime Colleen self by taking at least one day a week and dedicating it to anything not school- or work-related. (To date this has taken the form of cooking and football-viewing on Sundays; once football season ends, I am going to attempt to develop some hand-eye coordination via Skyrim and perhaps juggling, and pick up my creative writing habit again.)

I am more than my job, even if the skills that make me good at my job leak into other areas of my life. I've even changed the most recent bios I've submitted for publications, changing "Colleen is the Head of Access Services at UTC" to "Colleen serves as the Head of Access Services at UTC." It's a small change. Nobody but me (and perhaps you, now that you know about it) will notice the difference. But it is helping me remember that I am allowed to take off my librarian hat and nurture different sides of myself, rather than spilling all my energy into my work. I've habituated myself to revolve everything around work - my friends, my conversations, my thought patterns, my free time, so it's not an easy transition. But I'm working on it.

I would like to know: what does your non-work self (or selves) look like? What do you do to maintain a healthy balance of energy? How do you - or do you at all - draw a dividing line between your work and your self?