What I've Learned

So, I’ve been Director of these libraries here at Potsdam since May 17th, 2009, which is not quite a year, but it’s been a solid 10 months, and I have some reflections to share about what I’ve learned.  And today’s the day they’re percolating in my brain, so I’m not going to wait the 2 months to do it on an arbitrary anniversary.

And that’s something I’ve learned, right there: Do not always wait for the auspicious moment.  Sometimes the auspicious moment is right now, when you have the energy, the will, and the opportunity.  Don’t get me wrong; I love planning.  A well-thought-out, carefully drafted, and capably implemented plan makes me giddy, but sometimes, you just have to do it now, because now is when it’s going to work.  Some days, this makes me sad — I liked those plans!  And other days, it stresses out other people — they like plans, too!  But sometimes, you have to roll with it, and make it happen.

I’ve learned to be more comfortable wearing suits.  Or, suit-like clothing.  I used to usually wear nice jeans, dressed up with great shoes and tops.  Now I wear jeans… twice a month?  Max?  They just don’t feel right, anymore, now that I’m representing the Libraries in a bigger way.  I love how I look in a great pair of jeans, my black boots, and a black jacket, but… instead, my Ann Taylor Loft dress pants and I are great friends, and they’ve gotten pretty cozy with my suit jackets, too.  I still resist wearing my suits together, instead matching the skirts/pants with contrasting jackets, because I’m not sure who I am if I’m wearing a full-on business suit.  Some other person — my friend Sarah the attorney, maybe — but not really the Jenica I identify with.  That’s an interesting sticking point for me, and it’s purely personal and psychological. I will note that I’m still in love with my closet full of killer shoes, though.  Bunion in my left foot be damned, I love me some 3″ heels.

I’ve learned that it’s really all about service.  I knew this, and it’s not a surprising revelation, but as I’m piecing together the disparate strands of the Libraries into a mental weave that makes sense to me, the heart of the pattern is service.  We do this work for our students, for the faculty, for our colleagues in other departments, and the goal we’re all working towards is educating people so they can have better, more fulfilling lives.  Information literacy isn’t just a phrase that accrediting agencies want to see in our curricula, it’s something to strive for because it makes people’s lives better.  We do it all — Reference, ILL, Circ, Instruction, Cataloging, Collection Development, Archives, the repository, Gov Docs, Distance Services, Technology Assistance — because we want to help people learn how to interact with their information environment in capable, confident ways.  We do all of those things because we want to help.  That’s something to be proud of.

I’ve learned that I need to reset my expectations, because I haven’t accomplished as much as I had hoped I would. An example.  I knew coming into this position that the Libraries’ staff wanted an overhaul of the administrative structure, and that they wanted it done yesterday.  I also had an admonishment from the External Program Review Team to make small and incremental changes rather than appearing out of a clear blue sky and dropping bombs on an organization that is, on the whole, very, very effective.  So I waited six months, gathering information in my new position and role, and started making a plan.  And it has taken me absolutely freakin’ forever.  Not because I don’t have ideas, or a sense of how to move forward, but because I’m struggling to find the time to get anything done.  Why?  Meetings.  In February of 2010, I had 27 library-related meetings, and 13 administrative meetings, which averages to 40 meetings, about 10 per week, and if we assume that each is about an hour in length, that’s 10 hours of meetings each week.  Which is 20-25% of my time.  Not bad.  March 2010, on the other hand, had 40 library meetings and 26 administrative ones, totaling 66, which is more like 16 hours of meetings each week.  Which is closer to 30-40% of my time.  And then consider that sometimes those meetings are back-to-back, but sometimes there’s 30 or 45 minutes between them… which is almost but not quite enough time to get “stuff” done.  So I’m not getting things done the way I hoped.  I regularly check tasks off my lists, wipe them off the white board, scribble them off lists on my desk, but the big ones — structural re-org, strategic planning, revised circ policies, prioritizing facilities upgrades — those are moving slowly and with great effort.

But I’m learning to be proud of myself, anyway, because I’ve accomplished a lot.  I have a near-final draft of 30-page, 6-pronged Strategic Plan that highlights the major initiatives the College Libraries hopes to tackle in the next five years.  I have a stronger understanding of how the Libraries’ staff works, and what they need in order to succeed.  We have a budget that appears to be working, and I have the data I need to plan next year’s.  We have managed the retirement of three staff, the resignation of one more, and the pending retirement of another with as much grace as we could muster, and without letting services suffer.  We have discussed and in some cases implemented a dozen new ideas that percolated upward from the staff.  We have completely changed the layout of our study spaces, and tried out several new outreach and feedback projects.  We’ll be doing a survey of student perspectives next month.  We had a record year in instruction.  And I’ve learned a whole hell of a lot about how to make all of those things happen, because I don’t do any of that actual work.  I don’t teach the classes, I don’t supervise the spraypainting projects, I don’t work the circ desk or move the furniture or figure out procedures and workflows.  But I do make it happen.  I facilitate the discussion and decision-making.  I support staff in developing new ideas.  I provide resources where necessary and possible.  I communicate our strengths and advocate for the resources to make up for our weaknesses.  I try to create an atmosphere of open discussion and debate.  And I believe that all of that matters to the success of our communal work.

I’ve learned that some staff and colleagues will always see the title before the person, even if they know the person.  This is a hard lesson to swallow, but probably a good one to learn early.  To some people, I will from here on out be The Director of Libraries.  And that’s fine; I am.  But I’m also Jenica, and I’d hope that many people will see the title and the responsibility as well as the person who carries them.  Sometimes, that doesn’t happen, won’t happen.  And I’m making my peace with that, too.  My new goal is to redefine what people see and think when they declare me Director of Libraries.  I would like, through my actions and bearing, to perhaps create an institutional understanding of what The Director means which better reflects my goals for our libraries.  I’m particularly interested in a culture of participation and transparency, both of which seem to be considered mutually exclusive to The Director by some folks.  Maybe I can change that, over time.  If I have to foment my own small revolution, I’ll do that.  It’ll give me a windmill to tilt at.

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.  Apparently.  And so things like getting to the gym to do a weight circuit or jog a few miles before work have fallen by the wayside, because I have meetings at 8 am three days a week and, frankly, I’m tired.  So maybe I’m not a morning gym person anymore.  Maybe I need to integrate exercise into my life in different ways — hitting the climbing wall once a week, going for walks after work, doing my jogging on weekends — and maybe I need to be a little forgiving of the fact that my life is different now.

But I’ve also learned that my job?  Is not hard.  I can do this.  The big-picture thinking, the need to offer support and guidance, the fast decision-making, the thoughtful planning, the relationship building, the advocacy.  I can do all of those things.  To quote a friend, “Everybody chill.  I got this.”

And I’ve also learned that my job is really damn hard.  Some days, I come home and stop in the middle of my living room, dropping my laptop bag and kicking off my heels and wonder how the hell I got into this gig, and why I thought I was smart enough, experienced enough, savvy enough, thoughtful enough, good enough to succeed.  Some days it’s clear to me that I’m in way over my head.

But I’ve learned that I have an almost infinite capacity for getting up and doing it again.  For waking up, putting on a suit jacket, remembering to retrieve my keys and ID from the pocket of the one from yesterday, putting those heels back on, and going to face it down again.  We do good work.  The Libraries need a leader.  I am that person.  I can do this, because I must, because I will, and because I am.

One thought on “What I've Learned

  1. Jeff Scott

    Wonderful post, thank you for sharing your insights. When I first started off as a director, I received encouragement at a management program. She said that management is like a boulder that you push up hill. All you see is the boulder, but you don’t always see the progress that you have made. Progress is measured in many ways.

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