I spent most of my 30s wearing black. I own something upward of 20 black t-shirts of varying degrees of sleeved-ness, style, cut, neckline, fabric. When on autopilot my default clothing has been, for most of my adult life, black tshirt-jeans-black boots. When forced to dress like an adult, I switched it up — black skirts, black dress pants, black blazers, black sweaters, and some dark gray, dark red, and dark purple shirts. When feeling particularly splashy, I’d wear tan pants. Not the most colorful phase of my life. I’d occasionally try to switch it up, and wear pink, or lavender, or leaf green… and then I’d feel deeply conspicuous and return to my comfort zone. I did manage to get a few patterns in there — I had one dark purple sweater with black flowers on it. And… uh. Some houndstooth pants in brown and darker brown. Yeah. And some black! Lots of black!
And then I grew up a little more. And I changed my life a whole lot. And I had a kid. And I dressed the kid in a riot of oranges and yellows and pinks and purples and blues and greens. I love orange. I love her in orange. And one day I thought… why can’t *I* wear orange? Why CAN’T I wear orange? Because I said I can’t.
You know what? I can. I can evolve. I can take parts of myself that I never thought were appropriate for what was expected of me and wear them on the outside. And maybe they become what’s expected of me, because they’re a part of who I am on the inside, and my inside can live on the outside.
So, you’re thinking, that’s nice, Jenica. Why are you sharing this?
Because I’m sitting in a hotel room, attending a conference tomorrow. I’ve been in this hotel before. I’ve spoken at a conference at this location, even. NYLA, sometime in the last decade, with Jim DelRosso and Amy Buckland. But tomorrow isn’t a library conference. It’s the SUNY Applied Learning Conference, and I will know fewer than a dozen people there. Because I’m evolving.
And the next time I speak at a library conference, it probably won’t be about any of the things I’ve spoken about in the past. My library bears less and less resemblance to the classic reading room with walls of books ensconced in wood every day. Our first floor is a de-facto commons, and our students have claimed it in obvious and visible ways. My focus as a director is less on collections and more on services, less on the curriculum and more on the co-curriculum, less about student learning outcomes and more about student experiences. I’m exploring issues of diversity, of equity, of access, and figuring out how to deconstruct the structural barriers to success that so many of our students have to climb. I’m trying to show them the hope of the future as well as the lessons of the past. I want us to be more than “just a library”. Not because being a library is unworthy, but because our cultural assumptions about libraries, about what libraries are expected to be, are unworthy of what we can do, what we’ve always been on the inside. We’re more than we’ve shown. We always have been. And we’re evolving.
So here’s to wearing color. To being a commons of ideas. To breaking down the barriers that keep us from being who and what we are on the inside. To being more.