Sunday, May 26, 2013

On Sisyphus and Shoes

When I first started working here the default password for most library accounts was set to "sisyphus." In retrospect, that maybe should have been a red flag. But it was my first librarian job, the library was newly renovated, and I was so excited to jump in and get started that I looked right past that and started digging through boxes and making plans.

Six years later, as I look back on what I've accomplished here, I get it. There have been times when I've felt like I was pushing a boulder up a hill--and there have been times when I've felt like I've been crushed by the boulder rolling back down the hill and right over me. But as I look back I'm kind of amazed and overwhelmed by how far up the hill I've managed to get this boulder.

There are tangible successes (the average age of my collection went from 1984 to 1996), and far more intangible successes. The other day I was watching a group of students in an Improv class do their final performance, and one of the games they played was "World's Worst" (the audience suggests job titles, and the performers do their interpretation of what the "world's worst ___________" would be like). Curious to see what they would come up with, I called out, "librarian." Afterwards, a student came up to me and said, "I couldn't think of anything. How do you be a bad librarian?"

I have dozens of stories like that to carry with me (seriously, I keep them in a file for when I need cheering up), and as proud as I am of the program I've built and the lessons I've taught, what I'm proudest of are the relationships I've built with students and teachers. Knowing that students leave this school with a positive impression of librarians and libraries is one of the greatest things I've ever accomplished.

When I first started to tell people I was planning on leaving my position and going back to school next year, several people said, "they're never going to be able to fill your shoes." To which I would reply with the line often attributed to Charles De Gaulle: "The graveyards are full of indispensable men." I do appreciate the sentiment more deeply than I can express, but I also believe that everyone is replaceable. No, the new librarian will not be like me. Which is fine. Good, even. I will know that the library is truly an integral part of the school if someone else can step in, take over, and keep it moving forward.

I've been asked what I want to see continue after I'm gone. What I most want to continue is not a specific program or unit (though I hope many of them keep happening and continue to get better), but the feeling faculty and students have about the library--that it's a place you can come with all kinds of questions and ideas and find support and encouragement. I know many people are capable of doing that, but it's not something I know how to write in a manual. But I also know it's something I didn't do on my own, and that that feeling will persist long after I'm gone. I will know I've been successful if faculty and students don't just feel this way about me and our library, but about all libraries and librarians.

But I do worry about that sometimes. How much of the success of my program is built on what I do, and how much is built on who I am--the personal connections I make with faculty and students? As much as I believe that you can't build a program on a personality, I know that in no small part what I do is successful because of who I am. What becomes of a program that has a specific personality as its cornerstone? It will take time for the new librarian to build the same relationships and connections, but it is possible. The foundation is made of a solid philosophy of librarianship that I believe will endure.

I also know that the colleagues I'm leaving behind are interested in building those relationships with a new librarian, because they are the same colleagues who welcomed me and helped me build this program. I want to thank them for so many things: for sharing their good ideas with me, and letting me jump on board; for jumping on board when I shared my (good and. . . less good) ideas with them; for pushing back, as it helped me refine what I believe in and what I think is important; for being so passionate about what they do, and sharing that passion with me; for laughing with me--and laughing at me when I needed it.

I'm going to miss working with them. All of them. Really.

The thing I'm struggling with most about being a full-time student next year is that I won't be working with students on a day-to-day basis. I didn't really realize how important that is to me until I was faced with not having that as part of my day. Realizing that has been a valuable confirmation that I am in exactly the right line of work for me--and also made saying goodbye to students at yesterday's graduation particularly difficult.

As anxious (and overwhelmed and excited and nervous) as I am about this next step, I am eager to take the philosophy of education I've developed while working as a school librarian and think about how to apply it to schools as a whole.

I know I haven't written much this year. It has been, as you might imagine, a tumultuous year, and so much of what I've been thinking about has been hard to put into words. I have struggled with writing this post, because I want the people I work with to know how truly important they've been to me, and I want people reading this from afar to know how truly incredible the people I work with are.

I think work that you're passionate about always feels a bit like pushing a boulder up a mountain, and I am so, so grateful to have had so many people pushing this boulder with me. I couldn't have done it without you.