On Writing and Hope

I tried to keep my last post short because I knew that I needed just to get something out there to help break the writer’s block. But I’m also thinking a lot more about what I write, why I write, and how I share it. Do I really want to keep posting here? Why? Like so many people who have been re-evaluating their work, and their relationship to that work, I keep asking myself “What am I hoping to get out of this?”

When I first started this website, I was living in a small community, working at a relatively small university, and, other than a conference every year or two, my main interaction with the profession was through blogging and social media. It was a way to say “Hey, I’m over here working on this thing. What are you working on over there?” It made me feel connected in a way that my geography didn’t matter.

When I moved to a larger library, in a larger city, things changed. I started to meet library friends in-person. I had the resources to travel to far more events, to the point that I sometimes referred to my conference work as “being on the circuit.” I was now working in an instruction department with more than a dozen colleagues, and getting feedback on a lesson plan was as complicated as walking ten feet.

At the same time, I had moved off of the tenure-track when I switched jobs, so I started publishing less scholarly stuff and spent more of my time writing stuff that I could post on my personal page. I found a freedom to say things here that I couldn’t necessarily get past Reviewer #2 or whatever. Looking back at what I wrote in that time, including the stuff I never shared, I stand by some of it and cringe at a lot of it. I was a work-a-day public services librarian who had enough job stability that I felt comfortable calling out issues in the profession. I thought things could be better, but I see now that my writing accomplished very little.

By 2018, though, I had moved into a new role, and was now solidly in middle-management. I’ve been a “supervisor” or “coordinator” of some sort for the past 15 years, but becoming a department head meant that sharing my experiences had greater consequences than it did when I was mostly just teaching one-shots. I could have an off-day in the classroom and write “wow, I just had a terrible class!” and move on. Sharing a similar sentiment after a personnel meeting or whatever is a very different, and much more delicate, matter, so I didn’t write for a while.

And I missed writing in this way. I think that some of my best work as an instruction librarian came out of participating in a larger conversation with colleagues, and I was hopeful that I could have a similar conversation about management that I had had about other parts of my career. I was also hopeful that I could be, as much as possible, transparent about my experiences. I wanted other people to see what this kind of job was like, and encourage others to share their experiences, because I quickly learned that middle-management can be terribly isolating.

So I tried writing a bit about what I was doing as a manager: Trends I was seeing in administrative decisions, practices I was implementing to help my department establish and maintain boundaries. It didn’t come naturally and I don’t know that it was successful, but I’m glad that I tried being open about it.

Then the pandemic. More on that in later posts.

And now I’m much less concerned with the profession, and rather bothered by how much of my life I devoted to it. To be clear, I still very much enjoy library work, but so much of the past two years has exposed the gaps in our organizations and institutions, and I often feel distant from the “extracurricular” parts of my career that were once fulfilling. Instead my focus has been much more localized, especially as it relates to keeping my department connected and informed during incredibly difficult times, and I don’t think I’ll go back to how I used to do things.

But there are things that I want to write about, that I want to say and share. I still want to be transparent about my personal experiences, and I still want to try to move things forward. I also recognize that this is a very different world and I’m a very different person, so I don’t know what to expect. Mostly, when I ask myself “What am I hoping to get out of this?”, the answer is just that: Hope. I want to be hopeful again. I want to write in order to help myself feel some hope.

All of which is to say, I’m going to try writing some things down and sharing them. Some will be about libraries, though I’m aspiring not to be so myopic, and to speak to other topics as well. As much as I can, I want to write from a place of possibility, rather than frustration and fear. We’ve had enough of those emotions lately.

(It’s also entirely possible I delete everything I’ve written up until this point, and this website instead becomes nothing but vegan air fryer recipes and reviews of Blue Note vinyl reissues; I contain multitudes.)