A new start

On July 1, 2019, after 10 years in the position, I will be stepping down as Director of Libraries at SUNY Potsdam.

Instead, I will start my 17th year here as the full-time Dorf Endowed Director of the Lougheed Center for Applied Learning, and Executive Director of the Lougheed Learning Commons. This change is both good for me, and good for SUNY Potsdam, a place I love to pieces.

When my boss pitched this idea to me, months ago, she asked me what part of my work over the last few years had truly energized me. And I instinctively replied “libraries” because that’s what I thought she needed me to say – and it’s what I had needed to convince myself of. For the preceding year, the drumbeat of “we need a full-time director for applied learning, it’s outgrown Jenica’s ability to do as an add-on” had grown louder and louder. For the first six months, I ran myself into the ground trying to prove that wrong. Then I spent six months or so resigning myself to the idea that I was going to watch my baby bird fly from the nest. The team, with me as part-time leader, had founded this thing in 2015, and it’s grown so very much – and I’m so proud, and so unable to tend it at its current size, as an added responsibility to my already full-time job. And so I needed to go back to my core: I’m a librarian. It’s what I’m credentialed to do, it’s what I have experience in, it’s what I’m identified as. So I dug deep and found some of my historical passion for libraries, and started digging back into that. “If I’m gonna do it for the next 25 years, I better remember why I like it.”

But after I answered “libraries” to the Provost, she spent 20 minutes talking me around, pushing past my defensive barriers. She was right: the Applied Learning team here, and the initiatives we’re building, have been some of the most energizing work of my life. Expanding access to study abroad programs for financially fragile students. Breaking records for our student engagement across the experiential education arena. Building a career services office with authentic academic roots, from scratch. Showcasing the successes of our undergraduate research program. Founding a police academy that has already graduated more than a dozen employed police officers who had a rigorous academic program paired to their vocational training. And helping to realize $7M in funding for my institution – split between supporting students and supporting faculty – in less than 5 years. It makes me happy. It makes me feel valuable in a way I haven’t felt in years. It forces me to stretch. It requires me to dream. And the return on my investment is in the face of every student who walks through our doors.

When I told a colleague about the shift, the immediate rebuttal was “but libraries are just as rewarding!” I don’t disagree. But I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life up to my eyeballs in libraries, librarians, and librarianship. And my passion has faded. I’m tired of the battles from last year reappearing as the same battles next year. I’m tired of repeating the same arguments I made in 2003. I’m tired of getting tagged in every repetitive soul-sucking argument happening among librarians on Twitter and Facebook. I’m tired of Doing The Right Thing being branded as “revolutionary”. I’m tired of incremental change that, in the end, is invisible under the wave of the future passing us by. I’m burnt out. And that’s somewhat about libraries, and it’s somewhat about me. I’m 42. I’ve been a full-time library employee since 2001,part time for the seven years preceding that. I’ve seen… a lot. I’ve done a lot. And I’ve passed through my midlife crisis with a better idea of who I am, what I want, and what I want to do.

So with my institution’s backing, and the offer of a new opportunity, I’m pivoting away from libraries, and toward a different interstitial part of higher education: experiential and applied learning opportunities. I’m going to take what I’ve learned about working with faculty, working with administrators, working with vendors and partners, and put it to use in a new way. I’m going to bring my desire to change the world to bear on providing students with authentic experiences in the world we’re all building together. I’m going to take the information literacy and critical thinking skills I’ve honed and value, and apply them to different parts of students’ educational path. I’m going to support a new team in performing to their best, and building sustainable projects that are integrated into our academic core.

It’s scary as hell. I’m not going to be a librarian anymore. I’m going way outside my comfort zone. What if I stand on this ledge, and I fall? But they say that students of the upcoming generation will have 7 careers – not jobs, careers – by the time they retire (ha!), and so… it’s time for me to walk the talk. Here’s how you switch careers in middle age: You practice some radical self-reflection, and then you decide to be the bravest fucking version of yourself you know how to be. And you jump.

I’m planning to fly.

8 thoughts on “A new start

  1. awd

    You’ll still be a librarian (which not a bad thing) You will get to bring exciting ideas to life and build new academic playgrounds for your students (and you will continue to expand the minds of your librarian-compatriots who dream of accomplishing similar thing and/or are also tired of the same old same old) 🙂

  2. Laura

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide has this to say about flying – after the throwing yourself at the ground and missing part, that is.

    “Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful.
    They are most likely to say something along the lines of “Good God, man, you can’t possibly be flying!” It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right. Waft higher and higher.”

    That may not be helpful, but either way I’m super excited for you!

  3. Laruen Jackson-Beck

    I will be here to support you, work with you, and cheer you on! I totally understand this move and I will continue to encourage you to pursue a doctorate in this new thing–because you will be creating something new and magnificent and I will be cheering you on!! Although, “I wish it weren’t so,” squeaks in a part of me. Never once did you use the word “fear.” You might be scared, but you are not afraid. You are a very powerful person. So, as my boy’s former Taekwando teacher used to say: “Open a can of Jenica Soup!!!”

  4. ranger

    Aw, Jenica, I’m so happy and excited for you! You have worked so stinking hard at your job and career and it really does seem you’re ready for this new gig. Having left the library world 6+ years ago, I can tell you that you’ll never stop being a librarian. Those instincts kick in when you need them.

  5. Meredith Farkas

    Congratulations! What an exciting continuation of your journey in higher education! I’ve seen a lot of terrific librarians make great impacts in other areas of higher ed, and I look forward to seeing more of the same from you. Everything you’ve done in libraries will inform this work. And just think of what you can do in that role when your attention is not as divided!! YAY!!!

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