Stumbling toward Balance

“Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”

Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring Chapter 1, page 54.

This has been a challenging week, and next will be even more interesting. But a week from today, my last leadership role for the year essentially wraps up. I’ve only got 2 major papers and a presentation still due before things wind down, and a few days of rest before 9 hours(!) of summer and intersession work. I’m an introspective type by nature, but this week’s posts by two of my librarian role models Roy Tennant and Meredith Farkas got me pondering how I work, why I do what I do, and what I could or should change. The 5th anniversary of my MLIS is coming up in a month, and my attitudes are definitely changing from those of a “new librarian” to someone who’s a bit more secure and settled in the profession. The question for the next chapter of my career seems to be the matter of Quality versus Quantity.

I think every working professional of even modest ambitions struggles with the issue of balance, particularly those of us who work in higher ed or similarly intellectual professions. There will always be someone with a longer CV, cooler research, and a more spectacular blog or speaking career. With age comes self-knowledge, which helps some, but for those of us who are blessed(?) with the drive to do something of importance with our lives, the problem is complicated. What committee or research or project or networking opportunity could be The One? So you try them all, and find yourself in Bilbo’s situation.  

The Doctorate has started me thinking more seriously about what I want to accomplish with my career, which is roughly summarized over to the right in the Infoliterate Manifesto. There’s a reason that I’m doing the Ph.D in Higher Ed Administration and not LIS. The library operates within the larger context of the university, and we as librarians and educators of librarians have to understand how the larger world of higher ed operates, and what the university and its stakeholders need from us. We also have to be able to speak their language, so we can help them understand the truly awesome stuff we have to offer. This is still all pretty nebulous in my mind, but my advisor is a good teacher and insightful scholar, and assures me that’s to be expected. I’m doing my best not to argue with her.

Which brings me back to balance. I get inspired and move quickly much like Roy described in his post above–I just offered my current car to a friend and bought a new (to me) one in the space of a week. the car shopping experience proper took less than 48 hours end-to-end. But I’m also methodical like Meredith. In those 48 hours I made a list, checked it twice, and came into the dealer for the test drive armed with carfax, blue book, and several reviews. That combo works well for me in general, but it does mean I have a tendency to overcommit.  In the last year and a half, overcommitting meant chairing two statewide library organizations at the same time while writing/publishing my first scholarly article, starting a Ph.D, and working my first case as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate. I know folks who can handle all that, but it makes me tired just listing it off.

To make the impact I want to make at my home institution and in academic libraries and higher ed in general, I need to be taken seriously. To be taken seriously, I need to learn how to write, speak, think, and eventually lead with rigor and insight. There were points in this past year and a half where I was moving so fast that I didn’t have time to stop and think–it was all execution, all the time.  I learned and grew a lot through those leadership experiences, but it’s time to strip down my project list, be methodical about what I do and why I do it, while still leaving myself open to the right kinds of unexpected opportunities. Just because I can juggle 28 major projects at the same time does not mean that I should. Ultimately that was the greatest lesson I learned in my first 5 years in the profession. I can’t wait to find out what comes next.

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