turning in my crossbow

Remember when I said I was going to be borrowing energy from my interns? Yeah. I take it all back.

Instead, I’m going to be siphoning off their energy like I’m a starved vampire. Because damn. They are on fire.

I just sat in a room with five undergraduates who are working toward degrees in history, literature, anthropology, women’s studies, classical studies, and professional writing, and all five of them want to work in archives or libraries. One said the phrase “data curation”. They asked the question, “Is this unusual? To have five people who are so psyched about libraries?”

Yes, yes it is. And it is spectacular.

It’s a rough year for me, administratively — some unexpected staff departures mean we’re in “keep the lights on and the doors open and to hell with innovation for the next three months” mode, which hurts our professional souls. No one likes that mode. We’re also riding out a leadership transition at the college which, I believe, is taking us in the right direction but is going to require a period of chain-of-command uncertainty, and a financial reset for all of us at the Director level. Basically, for a short period of time, it’s just hard to do our work right now.

But these students. They don’t care. They’re giddy that I’m going to let them into the Archives, that they might get to touch old stuff. They want to explore our oldest living alumni, study our history during the Civil War and World Wars I and II, track the architectural history of the campus, do Then and Now of student life (specifically “what was college like for our parents?”), and find fun facts on our most off the wall student groups. They want to make things, and learn things, and they’re excited.

And so I’m excited.

So this vampire hunter is putting down her crossbow for a few days. The world can save its own damn self. Instead, I’m just going to feed on their energy, and then I’m going to keep going. I’m going to keep doing. I’m going to keep the doors open, and the lights on, and we’re going to make something. We’re going to make something good.

A warning to 2015

So, 2015.

Let’s talk.

I had really high hopes for you. I wanted to make something awesome with you.

I still do.

But this thing you’ve been doing for the last two weeks, where you go from the sublime to the ridiculous to the horrifying AND BACK AGAIN approximately every four working hours?

That shit needs to stop, or we’re going to have words.

Sincerely,

The Management.

mindfulness and balance

As I start a new calendar year and a new semester, I, like so many Americans, am making resolutions. Establishing my resolve. Reminding myself of what I value. Making choices about how I live.

In my personal life, I’ve resolved to meditate daily, exercise regularly, eat better, and sleep more. Those are all self-care activities that will lead to better health, more energy for the things I love and value, and, in a very concrete objective, lower blood pressure.

In my professional life, I’ve resolved to be mindful about my choices, and to balance my desires against my resources. I dream big — in fact, my birthday present from my mom includes a MantraBand that reminds me to Dream Bigger — but I also have a MantraBand coming that says Persevere, which is what I have tattooed on the small of my back. And I remind myself to persevere in large part because I dream bigger. Big dreams are harder to realize. They require more work. And often, they’re worth it.

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But not always. And not always right now. Sometimes you have to look at right now and acknowledge that you don’t have the resources to dream any bigger than you already did. That right now is as good as it’s going to get for a little while, and that right now is okay. That balance doesn’t come easily to me, but we all have limits. The goal to which I am fixing my resolve for 2015 is to balance my dreams against my resources, and to dream just big enough that I’ve stretched my wings but also left myself room to breathe.

One small tactic to get me there is the sign I just made and printed for my monitor.

The things we see regularly imprint in our consciousness. I put it where I can’t miss it, and it reminds me to do things I value with the time I am given. If you’d like to do the same, here’s my template. It’s just a Word template, and you could easily make your own if this format doesn’t speak to you.

May we all find our balance in 2015!

Staying on top of of it all

I ran into a campus friend in the cafe while I was picking up lunch, and we commiserated about the state of our workloads at this point in the year. I said, “I spent my morning dealing with the minutia of running two libraries and having 20 staff who need things, and I have this sense that there are about 15 relatively easy emails I need to send, and all I need is 90 minutes to do that in. But after lunch I have two student appointments, and then I have to go get Gwyneth from daycare because her father has a doctor’s appointment, then when he comes home I’m back to campus for the Presidential Scholar’s dinner… so maybe I’ll have 90 minutes tomorrow?” She understood. We all understand. Yesterday’s to-do list becomes tomorrow’s, and tomorrow’s becomes next week’s, and then suddenly it’s January.

But I’m not giving up. I’m teetering on top of a pile of disorganized to-do items — 32 emails in my inbox that require action (I am staying on top of those, if nothing else), six discrete piles on my desk, a construction project ongoing, two big “don’t screw this up, okay?” campus projects that I’m contributing to and/or leading, and the endless minutia of running two libraries and having 20 staff who, quite reasonably, need things. I’m tired of teetering. I’m tired of thinking I’m probably forgetting something. I’m tired of knowing I’m forgetting something.

So yesterday, on a whim because a friend was offering out codes for free upgrades, I started using Trello. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought that some piece of software was going to solve all my problems… and it probably won’t be the last. But for right now? I’m in love. I’m actually choosing to take the time — time I pretty much don’t have — to set this thing up well, because I think it might really be that useful for me. I have Boards for all my major responsibilities. I have Lists in each Board that represent the major areas of work for each responsibility. I have cards in each list that represent discrete projects or work. And I have checklists on cards so that I can plan, do, and record each step of each task. And I can set due dates. And all of it is accessible as a subscribed calendar, and via an app on my phone, so the tasks get ported in every day to the place I’m most likely to see them and add them.

I think in hierarchies. I think in groupings. I think in categories. I think on the fly, all over the place. And Trello lets me organize my work that way.

And just maybe I’ll feel a little more stable as I perch on top of it all.

 

borrowing energy

Late November and early December is always a hard time in the academic cycle — the semester is almost over, and everyone’s wearing down, but we haven’t hit the frenetic energy of finals week yet. The pile of things you planned to get to “during the fall semester” or “before the break” or “after Thanksgiving” is staring at you balefully and you’re staring back thinking, “I have to kill it before it develops language skills.” It’s also registration time for students, when they choose classes and projects for next semester — and set up internships.

Next semester I will be acting as site supervisor for between 3 and 7 interns, supporting the college’s Bicentennial. These are project-based internships, in that each of the interns will be working on one or more discrete projects, on their own schedule, with weekly check-in and collaboration meetings with me and the other interns. The projects are things like “use the digitized college newspaper to find facts, events, and people we can showcase in a This Week In SUNY Potsdam History series” and “find photos that are suited to doing Then And Now recreations with current students” and “help me make sure we’ve hit all of these Big Themes in our online timeline of the College’s history.” We’ll do some scaffolding work early in the semester, meeting with various Bicentennial stakeholders (the Organizing Committee, our Public Affairs staff, the Archives team), discussing themes and communication throughlines for the Bicentennial, teaching them to use our online historical resources, discussing how the research they do will be used in social and traditional media, and giving them a crash course in the history of the College. And then I plan to set them free, to sink, swim, or fly, as they can. (I also plan to be waiting by the side of the pool with inflatable floaties, as necessary…)

And up until this week, I was thinking about this project with a mix of resignation and duty. It needs to get done, and this is the best way to do it while meeting all of my varied priorities — I have limited time to ask of my full-time staff, the Archives cannot handle a huge influx of volunteer alumni workers (another option I had), we have been offering very limited internship opportunities and there are always a few Museum Studies students who want to work with us, we’re on a tight timeframe, we want to appeal to a student audience with this information, etc — but it really just seemed like more work.

Right up until I started talking to the students interested in the internship itself. Their energy, and their interest, is an amazing and powerful thing. One student, who wants to be an archivist, was so excited when the internship coordinator told him I’d take him on that he gleefully asked if he could have a hug. Another, a creative writing major, just lit up when I started describing the social media aspects of publicizing something like a celebration of 200 years of history, and wanted to talk about hashtags as a cultural phenomenon. A third has emailed me several times, clearly eager and just waiting for me to take the next steps.

How can you be resigned, or apathetic, or simply dutiful in the face of that? I can’t. Now I’m excited. This is going to be fun. It’s going to be hard work on my part, but that’s my  job, to work hard on behalf of this institution. And our institution exists to work for our students. It’s rare that the Director of Libraries gets the chance to work directly and meaningfully with students, but if this goes half as well as I suspect it will, I’m going to make sure I have more opportunities to make those connections and foster that excitement.

Because that’s the point of this gig, really: the students.

Jenica Rogers. I thought that you were driving, but you've given me the wheel.

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