Best of Both Worlds


In addition to the start of the semester and the experiences that brings, it’s been a busy week on a few non-academic fronts. As is my wont when Big Things are happening, I’ve been musing on many issues related to my professional interests and where I want to go, and how they fit into my larger life plan. For instance, I’ve found that I truly enjoy working for a small school in ways that I didn’t really expect when I started here. But at the same time, I find myself driven to think and write about big issues that, according to conventional wisdom, can only be addressed by the Right People with the Right Pedigree on the faculty of the Right School.

For a long time I accepted both assumptions as given, and as contradictory. I don’t want to inject myself into the pressure cooker of an Elite School, either as librarian or as LIS faculty.  I can’t bring myself to take those kinds of political games seriously—it’s the same reason I was an utterly horrible corporate drone. And yet, for some of those same reasons I want to use my skills to reach a greater understanding of how students do research, how those practices help or hinder their learning process in the classroom and beyond, and how libraries can evolve to help students succeed. How can I (or you) resolve this conundrum in ways that are both personally and professionally satisfying?

 I was working the late shift last night, and spent some time catching up on my sorely neglected “Read/Review” folder where all my listservs and RSS feeds go to die. A few screens down the folder, I was delighted to find that Madeline Li had finally written the final (?) article in her series on being denied tenure at an R1. It was as near to a happy ending as is possible in academe, as she settled happily into a teaching-intensive position at a rural college. She even found that the lack of serious publishing pressure actually freed her to be a more prolific and creative researcher than she had ever been while on the publish-or-perish hamster wheel. The comments were particularly good on this article, and one in particular by Richard Tabor Greene (who I promptly googled and found quite interesting) addressed this conundrum:

 We hang our shingle at a local place but we work at conferences, around the world, and on panels and editorial boards.   To keep productive you need the local audience that you can respect and the global audience that can respect you.   It is easy to play in both courts at once.   I have probably never met anyone happy being entirely local… . Everyone in my limited circle and world I have known who is happy is plugged into some local audience they respect and also plugged in to some global audience that they respect and that respects them.   They alternate like yo-yos between these poles.  

 So enjoy being set locally and celebrate it by coming up with globally powerful things [which] local loves help you generate.   The local if deeply enough engaged can amaze the global and vice versa.

 And the Light bulb went off, though in fairness it’s been flickering for a while. It is not only possible but desirable to have a career that is both global and local. By immersing myself into serving a community that’s actually representative of the Typical American University, I can learn lessons that all of us will find useful, and can then share those lessons with others. In that conversation I learn from their experiences, and we all make our own colleges better for the global conversation. While there are two or three other places in the world I could happily live (all of which have never seen 115 degree summers) I don’t HAVE to go charging off to Nationally Prestigious University to make an impact. And that’s true for everyone reading this. Wherever you are, what changes can you promote in your own community? How can you take the lessons learned in your research, teaching, or practice and share them with others in the wider world?

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