Eighteen months ago I grabbed coffee with my department head. We had a few things to talk about, but the main item was the creation of a new position in our department. The person would be charged with challenging myself and my colleagues to grow as teachers. They would oversee new instruction initiatives and hopefully help our department and library achieve the potential that had always seemed to elude us in the past. My department head said “I’m thinking about calling the position ‘Pedagogy and Assessment Librarian,’ to which I replied “That’s a hell of a job title.”
There were a few reasons I came to my current library, but one of the biggest was that I would be able to work on a team of instruction librarians. I was enamored with the idea of eight or ten people sitting around talking about the whats and whys of our teaching. I had never had that available to me, outside of conferences, and the thought of it being a daily occurrence was worth uprooting my life.
In those first few months, though, it didn’t necessarily work out how I had planned. In a lot of ways, I came to see that this library was not what I expected. (And, I should mention, that’s probably the case with every mid-career move anyone has ever made.) But after the initial shock of arrival, as I tried to find my footing in a new place, I saw this newly created position as my chance to recruit someone truly exceptional to join the team and push us forward. Someone from the outside who could help us question our practice and do better by our students.
I asked three people to apply. I’ll not name them here, but I will say that all three are brilliant teachers and researchers for whom I have the utmost respect. I knew the job would be hard, and I went after people whom I thought would be fearless in their conviction. As luck would have it, only one of those three applied, and she ended up being the unanimous choice of the hiring committee.
It was Zoe Fisher.
I’m writing this now because today is Zoe’s last day at my library. For the last thirteen months she’s done the job we hired her to do: She pushed me and my colleagues to do better work, and did it with conviction. If she was ever afraid, it didn’t show, and I was consistently excited to hear her ideas and consider what they could mean for our students and our campus.
But it was a hard job. Spoilers: Sometimes people don’t like to be challenged. Sometimes organizations don’t function well, or at all. I don’t want to get into specifics, though I’m willing to bet Z won’t be shy about sharing her reasons for leaving.
No, instead I want to write about how much fun it can be to work with someone who is fiercely, exceptionally competent. It’s been amazing to have a sounding board just down the hall–someone who could review a lesson plan or an interview question or a conference proposal, and in ten minutes make it into something so much better than anything I could do on my own. But more than that, someone who could do all of those things with care.
“Care” is a word I’ve thought about a lot lately. When I think about the people working in libraries whom I admire the most, and what they have in common, it’s that they all care. Like, a lot. But more than that, their care informs their actions. They question things and enact change. They get things done. For all of my caring, I can only occasionally, if I’m very lucky, get something marginally significant accomplished. It seems like Zoe does something significant every day.
Still, caring that much can be isolating. It’s hard to be the only person in the room who thinks something is very, very wrong, and it’s even harder when the rest of the room won’t listen to the reasons why. For that reason, the last thirteen months have been a revelation to me. Now there was someone else in the room–someone much more courageous than I am–who was willing to speak up when something was amiss. Someone who could change things. It let me glimpse what our profession could be, if only we were willing to do something.
So while I’m sad to see my friend go, I can’t wait to see what Zoe does next. She’s an engaging speaker and a staggering writer, not to mention one hell of a teacher, so I’m certain she’ll keep pushing librarianship. For my part I’ll just have to do my best to fake the courage she has and speak up more. As for how to do that, I realize now that I’ll have to follow a piece of advice I once gave myself years ago…
I was at Library Instruction West in Portland, and I had just seen Zoe present for the first time. After her session, I went for a walk outside to clear my head and process what I had just heard. The content of the presentation had been about inquiry based learning and encouraging metacognition in students, but more than that, her arguments called into question large segments of how we do our jobs as librarians. It was a great, challenging talk, and after a few minutes of walking I sat down and wrote a reflection about how her work could inform my own. It’s the first three words of that reflection that I’m repeating to myself now, as I think about how I can convince librarians to rethink their practices: