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A scholar’s pool of tears, Part 2: The pre in preprint means not done yet

Half-bakedNote, for two more days, January 10 and 11, you (as in all of you) have free access to my article, To be real: Antecedents and consequences of sexual identity disclosure by academic library directors. Then it drops behind a paywall and sits there for a year.

When I wrote Part 1 of this blog post in late September, I had keen ambitions of concluding this two-part series by discussing “the intricacies of navigating the liminal world of OA that is not born OA; the OA advocacy happening in my world; and the implications of the publishing environment scholars now work in.”

Since then, the world, and my priorities have changed. My goals are to prevent nuclear winter and lead our library to its first significant building upgrades since it opened close to 20 years ago. But at some point I said on Twitter, in response to a conversation about posting preprints, that I would explain why I won’t post a preprint of To be real. And the answer is very simple: because what qualifies as a preprint for Elsevier is a draft of the final product that presents my writing before I incorporated significant stylistic guidance from the second reviewer, and that’s not a version of the article I want people to read.

In the pre-Elsevier draft, as noted before, my research is present, but it is overshadowed by clumsy style decisions that Reviewer 2 presented far more politely than the following summary suggests: quotations that were too brief; rushing into the next thought without adequately closing out the previous thought; failure to loop back to link the literature review to the discussion; overlooking a chance to address the underlying meaning of this research; and a boggy conclusion. A crucial piece of advice from Reviewer 2 was to use pseudonyms or labels to make the participants more real.

All of this advice led to a final product, the one I have chosen to show the world. That’s really all there is to it. It would be better for the world if my article were in an open access publication, but regardless of where it is published, I as the author choose to share what I know is my best work, not my work in progress.

The OA world–all sides of it, including those arguing against OA–has some loud, confident voices with plenty of “shoulds,” such as the guy (and so many loud OA voices are male) who on a discussion list excoriated an author who was selling self-published books on Amazon by saying “people who value open access should praise those scholars who do and scorn those scholars who don’t.” There’s an encouraging appproach! Then there are the loud voices announcing the death of OA when a journal’s submissions drop, followed by the people who declare all repositories are Potemkin villages, and let’s not forget the fellow who curates a directory of predatory OA journals that is routinely cited as an example of what’s wrong with scholarly publishing.

I keep saying, the scholarly-industrial complex is broken. I’m beyond proud that the Council of Library Deans for the California State University–my 22 peers–voted to encourage and advocate for open access publishing in the CSU system. I’m also excited that my library has its first scholarly communications librarian who is going to bat on open access and open educational resources and all other things open–a position that in consultation with the library faculty I prioritized as our first hire in a series of retirement/moving-on faculty hires. But none of that translates to sharing work I consider unfinished.

We need to fix things in scholarly publishing and there is no easy, or single, path. And there are many other things happening in the world right now. I respect every author’s decision about what they will share with the world and when and how they will share it. As for my decision–you have it here.

With a pin and a prayer

“The KKK-endorsed president-elect of the United States just appointed a white nationalist to his cabinet and has promised to deport or incarcerate two to three million undocumented immigrants as soon as he’s inaugurated, but here’s what the left is arguing about: safety pins.” — Heather Dockray, Mashable


Pin display.

On Sunday I did something I haven’t done in almost a decade. I intentionally avoided Twitter for 24 hours because it was starting to feel like what a witty colleague refers to as a “circular firing squad.”

A year ago almost to the day, after blocking two alt-righters whose racist comments I didn’t want to read,  I had experienced being showered with hundreds of virulent Tweets. But even that didn’t drive me off Twitter, even though the anti-Semitism, which I had never experienced before, was particularly disturbing (the rest was pro forma: ugly, dyke, etc.).

No, what drove me off Twitter to focus on other parts of my life for a day was a series of tweets from various people scoffing at the appropriateness of wearing safety pins in a show of solidarity with people made more vulnerable by the election of He Who Shall Not Be Named and setting higher and higher bars for what an appropriate response looks like.

Never mind that such well-respected groups as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which just might know a thing or two about activism, had promoted the idea, or that the safety pin idea has honorable origins, coming  from England in the wake of Brexit as a gesture toward their immigrant populations. Never mind that I have spent four years conducting doctoral-level research into the significance of signaling sexual identity, so maybe, just maybe I know something about the value of representation, just a tiny bit?

Losing feels awful, particularly this loss, but it should not become our Donner Pass.

The previous afternoon, I had been moved to tears when I realized the local crafts and sewing store was almost out of safety pins. As I put two packets of #3 safety pins in my basket (safety pins have standard sizes, it turns out, and #3 is, by gum, the largest), I saw a couple conferring quietly in the aisle, and realized they were on the same errand. It doesn’t matter if I was wrong about the reason for the rush on safety pins, though I’ve been sewing for almost 50 years, and I’ve never seen a notions section cleaned out like that before. What matters is the first law of motion and how anything, however small, even the size of a pin, can be the unbalancing force that sets us into action.

All of us need to find that unbalancing force. For me, the safety pin is a lot like prayer (or, insert your favorite means of meditation). People sometimes say “prayer changes things” as if there were some trickster God who could magically reverse tragedy if you asked the right way. I believe that the true power of prayer is that it changes me and my relationship to the world. Prayer humbles me and it gives me strength and perspective. It reminds me that we are all responsible for one another. It is preparation. It is why Sandy and I say grace at every meal, however briefly.

When I woke up November 9, I made one tiny prayer: “get me through this day.” As prayers go, that was more like a #1 safety pin, but (echoing a beautiful story shared on Facebook by Sarah Einstein) sometimes that tiny pin is exactly what we need. Then I dried my eyes and blew my nose, got up, made my cuppa joe, went to work early, and before 9 am had sent a message to my library, which you can read at the end of this post.

All day I heard from people: “That was beautiful.” “That was important.” “I needed that.” Just yesterday, a woman in another department leaned forward and said, “thank you.” Because there are things I am good at and things I am not good at, but as a writer, one of my strengths is speaking into a terrible silence.

I am not saying this message is nearly enough. But it was one small important thing I could do, and if I could do this one thing, I could do other things. Nobody says safety pins are “enough,” in the same way that nobody with any lick of common sense would substitute prayer for professional healthcare. Nobody says starting with kindness is enough (to bring up another idea I saw belittled). But horrible things happen in a world without it.

Yesterday there was yet another boatload of scary and sad news. First I heard of a white nationalist appointed to a key position in the White House, surely the monitory canary of the effluvia about to spew from that mine. Then there was the death of Gwen Ifill, one of the class acts of our era. Next I read a memo cautioning DACA students about overseas travel that scared the bejeezus out of me on behalf of these kids.

I walked around all day with my Number 3 Safety Pin on my lapel, and no one noticed. Nobody except me. It felt like a small prayer on my chest, across from my beating heart.

Memo sent to all-library, 8:59 am, November 9, 2016

I spent early morning today wrapping my head around what to say, because not saying anything in this historic moment feels like a lapse in leadership, and yet what I say needs to be framed in what we do as a library, not political positions.
I came to this profession decades ago with an activist agenda, believing that information changes lives, and I do not believe libraries operate from positions of neutrality. As a white person, able-bodied, with full citizenship, I know privilege and live it every day. As a woman, a lesbian, and someone of Jewish heritage, I have seen the other side of that coin. I operate in that dual world, one of privilege and one of other-ness, and it drives my leadership agenda.
I believe in advocating for all libraries—including ours—because libraries change lives.  I know we make a difference for our users, and I appreciate every one of you who take every opportunity to be a voice for the role our library plays in helping our users succeed and in creating lifelong learners. I remember with pride the strong stances we have taken—from exhibiting the politically powerful photography of John LeBaron, to the Amache exhibit and the reception where I watched students listening to Dr. Sakaki speak truth to power and share her own history. I marveled at the turnout we have seen for our Pan y Cafes and how thrilled our Latino/a communities were to have their identities embraced and upheld. I have watched books fly off our special displays for GLBT Month, the Sonoma County Reads display, and the Latino/a display. So much we have done, so much we will do.
As we look toward the future, I ask us to recommit to taking care of one another, to do everything within our power to preserve the dignity of ourselves and our users, and to provide refuge and support social justice. Let us keep building OUR wall, our activist agenda of information, knowledge, and empowerment. Help our library continue to be a citadel defending our users against ignorance and hate, and providing hope and support for the undocumented, the different, and the oppressed.
In 1980 I listened to a concession speech. The stakes were not as high as this election, but I still felt sad and defeated. Then the candidate spoke words I committed to memory. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
I am doubling down on my leadership of this library. I feel a commitment as I have never felt before. I celebrate what we do, our users, our history, our services, and yes, especially, our future. 
In the meantime, at the [front desk], find donut holes for all: those of us in the library, and those who walk through our doors. Let their sweetness stand for all we do for everyone. Let their whimsy stand for regaining our optimism. Let their abundance stand for our radical hospitality.  Let their ephemeral nature help us move past this morning, and onward.
Yes we can! , se pueda!


A scholar’s pool of tears, Part 1

This is Part 1 of the origin story of the following scholarly article. In this blog post I review how this article was produced and accepted for publication, and why I chose a non-OA journal.

Schneider, K.G. (in press). To Be Real: Antecedents and Consequences of Sexual Identity Disclosure by Academic Library Directors, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Available online 13 August 2016, ISSN 0099-1333,

Chapter 1: Somehow, I write this thing

To be Real is a heavily-remastered version of the qualifying paper I wrote for the doctoral program I’m in. This article was a hurdle I had to pass on the way to becoming a doctoral candidate in a program, now ended, for organizational leadership in libraries (officially called Managerial Leadership in the Information Professions). This program has produced PhDs at the leadership level now working in executive roles in dozens of library organizations, and I look forward to donning the tam that will invest me in their ranks.

To be Real was just one hurdle before I could begin working on my dissertation (now in progress). Some of you are now itching to tell me that “the best dissertation is a done dissertation,” or that “the most important page is the one with the signatures on it.” O.k., consider it said. Also insert any joke you like about the quality of dissertations; I’ve heard it. In the end, I still need to produce a redoubtable piece of original scholarship that meets the expectations of my program and my committee.  Now let’s move on.

There were other milestones in the program. I needed to stump through two years of classes, including 6 residential intensives in Boston or other East Coast locations; a heavy reading schedule; coursework, also known as endless hours flailing at a keyboard; a $500 moving violation incurred when I was headed to SFO to fly to Boston for my second semester and wearily zombied through a right turn without stopping; about 30 red Sharpie Ultra Fine Point markers (aka RPOD, or Red Pens of Death); and my “comps,” which were two four-hour closed-book exams requiring copious quantities of memorization, a feat at any age, no comment on what that meant for me.

What has kept me going is a mixture of pride, stubbornness, encouragement from others, good executive skills, and a keen interest in the topic. I have also benefited from the advantage of what is known in life course theory as the principle of time and place. (Note how I can no longer just say “I had lucky timing.” Hopefully, with a good intervention team, I can be deprogrammed post-dissertation.)

To be real, known as the “680” (for its course number), was not the first or the second, but my third attempt at producing scholarly research on the path to my doctorate. The first two efforts were technically solid, featuring all the structural elements of a good research paper. But the more I learned, the more I felt they were topically dubious, and I issued cease-and-desists after they made it through the IRB process.

Yes, I picked the topics, then watched myself outgrow them, which was a good process in itself. It was hard to wave goodbye to the earlier projects, but the value of earning an MFA in writing is that I don’t feel bad about discarding weak work. “Reduce, reuse, recycle” is my battle cry.

Once my committee accepted To be real, I began developing my doctoral topic, which builds on the work in this dissertation but goes into bold new areas–or so I comfort myself when I am spending lovely early-autumn weekend days analyzing 900 minutes of interviews and drafting chapters. I defended my topic to my committee, then squired my dissertation proposal through institutional review, and kaboom! I was finally ABD.

At several key points in my proposal, I cite To be Real, which was gathering metaphorical dust in a metaphorical drawer in my real-world office. Rather than have my dissertation lean at key points on an unpublished paper, my ever-patient dissertation advisor suggested that I actually try publishing To be Real. Frankly, as I trudged through milestones toward the doctorate while balancing huge day jobs and Life Issues, I had entirely forgotten this was something I should do.

Chapter 2, In which I seek publication

Publish my research–what a positively brill idea! I asked someone whose insights I deeply respect where I should send it, and was given a list of six LIS journals  to consider for the first round. Yes, that’s how I made the first cut, which is similar to how I have determined where to send literary essays: by referrals from people I trust.

From that list of peer-reviewed LIS journals, the key factors I considered were:

  1. Prestige of the publication
  2. How much work I had to do to have my paper considered for publication
  3. How likely it was my article would be published before I finished my dissertation
  4. Open access was a plus, but not a requirement.

You might be surprised to learn how much #2 and #3 drove my decision-making. At least for the first round of submissions, I rejected journals that require authors to reformat citations from APA to another citation schema simply to submit a paper for consideration. No other principle was at stake than “I do not have the time for this.” Nevertheless, learning that some journals do indeed require this investment of personal effort on a highly speculative venture made me greatly sympathetic to the thousands of tenure-track librarians jumping through hoops of fire to try to get at least an in-press citation in time to show scholarly production in their annual review.

Also, time was of the essence, since I wanted the article to at least be accepted before my dissertation was finished, and I’m a writing banshee these days, trying to get ‘er done. We all at least nominally subscribe to the myth of scrupulously avoiding simultaneous submissions to multiple journals. Indeed, I was faithful to this practice simply because I didn’t have the bandwidth to submit to more than one journal at a time. But that ruled out journals that might take a couple of years to reject my article, let alone accept it.

I was open to paying subvention fees (the cost to make an article Gold OA), noting that they ranged from $1100 to $2500 for the journals I was considering–something that would be prohibitive on a junior faculty’s salary. In the same vein, I would have paid an author’s fee to publish in an OA journal that used that funding model. But not everyone has that kind of scratch.

In any event, the paper went out to the first journal on the list, and very quickly I heard back from the editor with feedback from two reviewers. The paper was accepted, provided I made some changes. I hadn’t planned on being accepted by the first journal I submitted to, but to paraphrase Yogi Berra, I saw a fork in the road, and I took it.

Chapter 3: In which I encounter the peer review process

Yet another advantage of having gone through an MFA program is understanding that Anne Lamott’s writing about “shitty first drafts” is an artful understatement; for most of my writing, I can only tell if a piece is a keeper by the fifth or so draft, if that.

I had faith in my research, and my paper had all the right components, well-executed, but I questioned my writing. It felt turgid, dense, and remote–characteristics belying its subject matter or the very interesting interviews that were its primary data. I know good writers feel that way pretty much all the time, but I had a persistent sense of unease about my paper, without quite being able to determine what to do about it. It did not help that when I showed it to peers their response was… silence. Above all, I wanted my research not simply to be published, but to be read.

I have written in the past how much I love a good editor. It’s like working with a great hair stylist. You are you, and yet, so much better. With that in mind, we’ll scoot quickly past the feedback from Reviewer 1, a living parody of the peer review process.

You know those jokes about reviewers who blithely object to the research direction on which the paper is based? Yes, Reviewer 1 was that kind of reviewer.  “The authors really only present the viewpoints of those who are ‘out.'” I don’t even know how to respond to that, other than to say that’s my area of research. Reviewer 1 also ruminated aloud–painfully, considering this person lives and breathes among us in higher education–that he or she did not understand the term “antecedent.” (The “antecedent and consequences” framework is classic and well-understood in qualitative research; and in any event, the word “antecedent” is hardly obscure.) And so on.

If Reviewer 2 had been like Reviewer 1, I would have pushed on to another journal. There is a difference between knowing that my work needs improvement and radically redesigning a valid and important research project from the ground up based on reviewers’ whims, nor was there a middle ground where I could have simultaneously satisfied Reviewer 1 and Reviewer 2. As much as I wanted to publish To be Real in a timely manner, my career wasn’t hanging on the balance if I didn’t.

But Reviewer 2 not only respected my research direction, but  also provided some of the best writing feedback I have received since, indeed, the MFA program–advice that I fully believe not only improved this paper tenfold, but is helping my dissertation. In close to 1,000 words, Reviewer 2 commented on the value and quality of my research, but gently advised me: to use pseudonyms or labels for the research participants; to extend quotations more fully; and to do a better job of summing up paragraphs and linking the findings to the literature review (“divergence and convergence”). Reviewer 2 ever so delicately observed that the conclusion had “too much context” and that all that blurbage (my term, not the reviewers) blurred the main points. There was more, all of it worthwhile.

I summarized Reviewer 2’s advice, taped it to the wall over my desk, and got to work. Indeed, once I labeled participants (Leader A, Leader B, etc.) and extended their quotations, I felt vastly better about my article. Doing this moved my writing from being an over-long jumble of “data analysis” to a paper about real people and their lived experiences. Following the other recommendations from Reviewer 2–expand, chop, link, add, tighten, clarify; Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!–also improved the paper to the point where I no longer felt apologetic about inflicting it on the scholarly canon.

Several more editorial go-rounds quickly followed, largely related to citations and formatting. The editors were fast, good, and clear, and when we had moments of confusion, we quickly came to agreement. In the last go-round, with a burst of adrenaline I looked up every single citation in my article and found that five had the wrong pagination; each one of these errors, for the record, was mine alone. Correcting these errors felt like a victory lap.

I then tried to follow the guidance for green OA, and the reason this blog post doesn’t link to the author’s final corrected proof, and indeed the reason I broke this post in two, is that three weeks and two days after the first of three help desk inquiries with very pleasant people, I’m still not entirely sure which document version To be Real that represents.

Part 2 of A Scholar’s Pool of Tears will have a link to the author’s final corrected proof of To be Real and will discuss the intricacies of navigating the liminal world of OA that is not born OA; the OA advocacy happening in my world; and the implications of the publishing environment scholars now work in.

Leadership by the Numbers

No really, the math isn’t that hard.

In late April–a month into the last quarter of our fiscal year–I was presenting at a statewide deans’ council on a major proposal (the short version: tightening up our “loose federation”) when the emails started arriving. In minutes, everything changed. Suddenly I was in the middle of Fiscalpocalypse 2016, a crisis the diameter of Jupiter.

For the next five weeks, I lived and breathed the Fiscalpocalypse. Suddenly thrust by necessity into the role of chief fiscal analyst, I began running report after report (not without a lot of coaching and encouragement from other financial analysts), pushing hard to find the real answers to basic questions: how much do we have, what are our obligations, what do we need to keep or cut, and what contractual obligations am I able to commit to.

It’s what I did at 4 a.m., 9 p.m., weekends, holidays, every spare moment. I had a lot of spare moments because the stress of this situation bore down on me like the atmospheric pressure on Venus. Sleep was scarce and troubled. Reading anything unrelated to the issue was impossible; staring at pages, all I saw were numbers. Even half-hour walks or visits to the YMCA found me absentmindedly going through the motions while my brain churned ceaselessly, yammering through multiple scenarios, combing through formulae for clues. The clues were important, because I needed to know how we got to Fiscalpocalypse 2016 so I would understand how to get us out of it.

It was not entirely unanticipated. Once you start asking, “Do we need an audit?” you already know the answer. And the system worked, because there was a “catch” from above that resulted in those emails and in my temporarily expanding my portfolio to include budget analyst. But actual situations have jagged edges missing from anticipation of the same, and those edges hurt.

Nevertheless, there came a Sunday afternoon when I felt profound relief washing over me, releasing the muscles in my back and neck until I felt myself uncurl and sit fully upright for the first time since the crisis began. I went for a walk, and was able to listen to a podcast and enjoy the flowers. I had dinner, and tasted the food. I slept the night through. I woke up and felt, to use that great expression, like my old self. I greeted old self warmly. She was missed.

It wasn’t that the situation was better. It was rather grim. It was that finally, I knew exactly what was going on. And note, I didn’t “feel” or “believe” I knew what was going on; I knew it. Because the thing about numbers is that most of the time, if you have confidence, experience, and are handy with basic arithmetic, as long as your data are credible, you can manage a budget for any institution smaller than say, the Air Force.

Most of us can do arithmetic; the confidence will come with experience. What has struck me repeatedly across my twenty-plus years in libraries is the dearth of experience: too many library professionals go much too long in their careers before they participate in managing budgets. By budgets, I don’t mean a small chunk of money set aside for spending on books, not that this isn’t a good place to start. I mean the whole solar system: salaries, materials, operations. Even in private institutions where most regular salaries are kept confidential, two out of three of those planets should be available to up and coming professionals.

It’s good practice to have other eyes on your numbers (which I do), but I will be frank and say that across the years, particularly at jobs in smaller institutions, it’s been up to me to pretty much manage the beans on my own. I was accountable for each bean and it was assumed I would “make book,” and without really thinking about it, I did that (I guess because I had to do that in the Air Force, and I didn’t think about it much there either).

And what I know about numbers is they are impervious to emotion. I can cry my eyes out, and the numbers don’t get bigger or smaller. I can fume and rant, and they stay just as they are. I can wander the halls with a tragic face, and when I come back, the numbers are exactly as I left them. It’s something I like about numbers, at least the sort of numbers we deal with in library budgets: in this crazy malleable fungible mutable world, numbers just ARE.

(Now, this rule applies internally. It does not apply to outside forces who may indeed may have multiple interpretations of fiscal policies that have significant impact on allocations and so on. I’m referring to the paper sack of money a library administrator sits on and manages.)

Here is a pattern from my career: I arrive at an institution, I get hands-on with a budget (either a big chunk assigned to me, or the whole thing), and I unearth the bugs. It could be approval plans someone forgot about, mindlessly siphoning money every year though nobody needs those resources any more. (For a long while, I could count on finding forgotten  microfilm subscriptions.) It could be a personnel line or another item from another department erroneously appearing in my ledger. These things really happened at different institutions, and they weren’t a big deal. In each case I found myself earning the respect of the financial folks because they saw I wasn’t queasy about budgets and I wasn’t afraid to dig in and do the work.

But for a lot of library people, for a major portion of their career, the bulk of the budget is a distant drumbeat. There is enough money or not enough or suddenly some left over, and that’s what they know. Nor are they pushed, or push themselves, to learn the basic skills they need to manage money. I consider my Excel skills modest, but I have seen library professionals in fairly important positions unable to do basic tasks such as filtering, subtotaling, and linking formulas.  Far too many times I have looked at a spreadsheet where X+ Y is a hand-keyed sum that does not equal the sum of X + Y, or where a number sits without explanation: what is it, and where did it come from? Some of the scariest documents I have ever seen in my career were annual fiscal forecasts, purportedly ledger-based, created in Microsoft. Effing. Word.

And let’s not discuss how many library organizations have been stricken with accounting fraud that happened because one person in an organization had exclusive control of the money and the executive just didn’t “do math.” When “Father Knows Best,” watch out.

People, these are LIBRARY BUDGETS. I remember someone telling me our budget was complex and I said no, the federal budget is complex, we don’t have enough money to be complex. Library budgets don’t require understanding credit default swaps or synthetic CDOs. Even if you have more than one fund (and we do) and even if those funds can change from year to year (and that’s true as well), and of course everything goes up in cost all the time: in the end, to quote a Wendy’s commercial that was a mantra of logistics management during my time in the Air Force, parts is parts.

A lot of fiscal literacy boils down to being willing to look at the numbers logically and head-on. Not emotionally, not with “oh but I don’t do math,” not with a pernicious disinterest in the source of life (and that’s what money is to a library), but just pulling out those skills that got you through fourth grade.

Once upon a time long ago, in a galaxy far away, I spent two days in a conversation that went like the following. Assume the usual facts about FTEs (full time equivalents); there are no tricks or hidden exceptions in this example, and let me give you this crucial factoid: the number this is based on is $144,000.

Person A: How many student worker FTE did we have last year?

Person B: 2.6.

Me: No way.

Person B: 2.6.

Person A. I don’t really know anything about this.

Me: Arrgh! There’s no way! (Opens calculator, just in case fourth-grade math skills had vanished) How could student workers make this much?

Person B: It’s annualized.

(Note use of jargon to try to deflect inquiry. Of course FTE is based on an annual calculation, but it’s not “annualized,” though I do consider student workers a good investment, in the more general sense.)

For the next two days, I kept saying “no way,” because anyone with basic math sense knows that student workers don’t earn that much; even if you don’t know the rate of pay, you know, from a quick scribble on that scratchpad you keep in the front of your skull right above your eyeballs, that 144,000 divided by 2.6 would result in a salary of ca. $55,000 a year. That’s before you factor in more insider baseball knowledge, such as the size of the library and student headcount so on. It’s like when grocery store eggs shot up in price last year and I thought holy moley, a dollar-plus an egg? I didn’t need to pull out a calculator to know something strange had happened to the price of eggs. In the end, I was tolerated, not believed, by Person B.  I hope Person A has since nurtured at least a soupcon of mathematical curiosity.

But anyway, back to the present tense. Fiscalpocalypse 2016 isn’t over, but it’s under control. At MPOW, the plane is no longer flying into the side of the mountain; it now has excellent airspeed and heading, and my hand is firmly on the throttle. It’s a smaller plane, but I know what it is made of, from its nose cone to its flamethrowers to its empennage, and I will trade in a large, bloblike uncertainty hurtling who knows where for a trim but crisp certainty with a functioning GPS any day. I’m where I need to be in relation to knowing our finances, not just for the moment but the future, and I make sure key people know the deets, too. This is how I run things now, as I have elsewhere. Yes, we will be hiring a budget analyst, and I look forward to firing myself from my role as CFO (though not from my responsibility to know what is going on). But if there is one good thing to come out of this, it is the opportunity for me to dig deep into the financials and get to truly know the source of life for all we do. War is not peace, numbers do not cry or pout, and blessedly, parts is parts.

Margin of error

dogwhistleI just had a wonderful stroke of luck that bailed me out of a big ole boneheaded error I made yesterday. It is the kind of error that I have a certain notoriety for — not all the time, just once in a while, when I am on overload and stop reading email all the way through, forget to review checklists, and otherwise put myself in a dangerous position with decision-making. The stroke of luck was due to someone who had a solid sixth sense that something was not quite right.

This error reminded me of my most illustrious “did not read the memo” gaffe, which I share here for the first time ever.

At my last university, I was invited to participate in a university president’s inauguration ceremony and quickly scanned the invitational email. Wear regalia and process to a stage? Sounds easy enough! Ok, on to the next problem!

But after we were seated (on a large, brightly-lit stage facing audience of oh, several hundred), I gradually realized that everyone else on stage was getting up one by one, and giving a speech. My hands started trembling. I had no speech. I looked out into the audience. There were the other library people, gazing calmly at their fearless leader. I mean, if anyone likes to give a speech and can knock one out of the park, it would be me, right? The woman who has presented seventy-bazillion times?

My mouth turned to ancient parchment and I could feel cold perspiration wending its way down my torso. I suspect if you had been able to see my eyes, they would have been two fully-dilated orbs in my panicked face. I could feel the hair on my head whitening.

Out of about two dozen people on stage, I could see that I was scheduled to go next to last. The speakers walked to the podium one by one. What to do, what to do?

Breathe. What tools did I have at hand? Breathe. I have a small paper program for the inauguration. Breathe. What is going on with the speeches? Breathe. Observation: the speeches are mostly too long. Breathe. Try to still my hands. Notice that the audience is getting restless. Breathe. Smile out at the audience. Breathe.

It was my turn–a turn that for once in my life came far too quickly. I walked to the podium, looked out at the audience, and smiled. I slowly unfolded the small program and frowned at it for a moment as if it were my speaking notes while I mentally rehearsed the two or three points I would make. I began with a joke about not wanting to speak too long. Other words, now forgotten, ensued, as I winged it onstage. I could hear laughter and appreciative rustling, though I was so anxious my vision was too blurred to see past the lectern for the next two or three minutes. I summed up my speech by noting that the university, like our library, was small and mighty, a joke which if you know me has a visual cue as well.

As soon as I was outside, I owned up that mistake to my team. Not to brag about getting through a disastrous mistake unscathed (well, maybe a little), but also to fully claim my error. This situation was awful and funny and educational, all at once. It was about my strengths, but also about my weaknesses. I believe I slept 14 hours that night. It became part of our library lore.

There were many clues that I was in the vulnerability zone for error yesterday. Distraction, overflowing email, too many simultaneous “channels”; I had even remarked the previous week that I was trying hard, but sometimes not succeeding, at not responding to email messages while I was in a face-to-face meeting.  The people I was interacting with were equally busy and besides, it wasn’t their job to see that the conditions for making major errors had become highly favorable. That was my job, as the senior mechanic in charge of this project, and I wasn’t doing it.  Clues abounded, but as my overload factor increased, I missed them — a classic case of being unaware that I was unaware. And I ignored the checklist sitting in front of me just waiting to help me, if only I would let it do so.

I had excellent training in the Air Force about the value of using checklists, and I have touted their use in libraries. People often need convincing that checklists work and that checklists are not an indication that they are somehow dumb or stupid for not being able to extemporize major tasks, even though there is a preponderance of evidence underscoring their utility. In aircraft maintenance, failure to follow checklists could, and sometimes did, cost lives; even when lives were not at stake, failure to follow checklists sometimes led to expensive errors. And yes, for yesterday’s mistake, there was a perfectly reasonable checklist, but I didn’t review it. Just as there were email messages I didn’t read all the way through, and just as I didn’t catch that I wasn’t shifting my attention to where it needed to be.

As I reflected today about awareness, checklists, and stumbling toward errors, I looked outward and thought, this is what this presidential campaign feels like to me. There are cues and signs swirling around us, and an abundance of complementary cautionary tales spanning the entire history of human civilization. Anger, vulgarity, and veiled hints at violence abound. The standards for public discourse have declined to the point where children are admonished not to listen to possible future leaders. We worry, with half a mind, that what looked like a lame but forgettable joke a few months back is simultaneously surfacing and fomenting an ugliness that has been burbling under the body politic for some time now. We watch people dragged away and sucker-punched at rallies as they clumsily try to be an early-warning system for what they fear lies ahead. We have all learned what “dog-whistle” means–and yet as the coded words and actions fly around us, we still do not understand why this is happening. We sit on this stage, programs wadded in our sweating hands, watching and watched by the restive audience until our vision blurs; and we do not have a checklist, but we do have our sixth sense.

Change is a hurricane or a door

2016-02-28 15.03.50

California Poppy, taken after last week’s lush rain

My formative years as a librarian were in library systems that built themselves around the concept of aggregated strength through collective action. (If you’re thinking that sounds socialist, take heed that this concept could easily describe the armed forces.)

That concept has a very weak toehold in California, across all systems. Yes, there are some shared systems and some resource-sharing and “power of this and that” and whatnot, but colleagues I know who can compare California with states with strong “systems” self-identification agree that for whatever reason, it’s different here.

Now fast-forward to early last year, when as a newly-minted CSU library dean I smoothed my starched pinafore, straightened the bow in my hair, and marched into my first statewide meeting, only to be corrected when I referred to our library “system” that the 23 state university libraries are actually a “loose federation.”

There are long-term ramifications to being a “loose federation” that are publicly available to anyone who cares to find them. To quote my doctoral cohort buddy Chuck, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” (Ben Franklin may or may not have said that, but Chuck says it a lot.) But more interesting to me is that not long before I arrived, our loose federation came together on a momentous decision that puts us on a path to systemhood by agreeing that the 23 libraries, currently independently licensing a mishmosh of library management systems from varied vendors, would move to a single system, prophetically named the ULMS (Unified Library Management System).

In all fairness, this isn’t the first collective effort of the Loose Federation. We stand on the shoulders of Biblio-Giants, which in my case is particularly helpful since it means I can see the projector screen even when taller deans are in front of me. We have a common core of e-resources that are centrally funded and brokered. In times past, there have been joint statements, strategic plans, and so on. It is because of our ancestors we can at least think of ourselves as a Loose Federation, versus 23 libraries doing their own thang.

I’m part of a committee that is deeply involved in the process to identify and answer key questions related to resource sharing. It is possible… just a wee possible… that it might have been good to ask some of these questions, if not before agreeing to move to a unified system, at least within the context of the vendor selection, but that’s spilled milk.

As we deepen the questions we pose and study the data for our answers, it’s increasingly evident that there’s a critical difference between agreeing we will provide all libraries a garden-variety database we would all license anyway versus agreeing that we’re going to move to a centralized system. This is one of those movies where two people go on a date and then find themselves married, except it’s biblio-polygamy, and most of us are opposed to polygamy on the practical ground that multiple spouses sounds exhaustingly complicated, like having more than two cats, and when you add librarians to the mix it sounds even scarier.

First, we’re losing local control to a central office, so we need to design and practice governance at a scale we haven’t experienced before. The central office needs our guidance (and they are the first to say that). We no longer have the luxury of having weak or strong governance years. We need to be always on our game. And the communication across and among the 23 libraries needs to be top-notch.

Second, the new system simultaneously provides opportunities and limitations. For example — the example I’m most intimate with — we will have the capacity to share resources among the 23 libraries as we have never done before. We’ve done it with physical books, but in a work-around-y, hodgepodge  manner, and we haven’t done it with e-resources. That opportunity/limitation opens many doors and poses many questions. The smartest folks are either thrilled or alarmed by this because they see a future where our physical and electronic library collections are managed and shared on a massive scale.

The thrilled-or-alarmed crowd also understands (at least I think they do) that some of the most keenly-desired wishes of the resource-sharing community can–in some cases, will need to–come to fruition. I particularly relished the moment earlier this week where I spoke with an expert who noted a particular limitation that would make most interlibrary loan department heads I know of faint for joy, because it would frog-march us to the Promised Land of standardized loan policies, where we would all have to–are you sitting down? Do you have smelling salts pressed to your nose?–agree on how long a borrower at another library could check out a book. (As Trotsky said, “You may not be interested in standardized resource-sharing loan policies, but standardized resource-sharing loan policies are very interested in you.”) And that’s just one teensy finding that has surfaced.

There are many more ramifications of this system move; most, I believe, will be good. But what I am also being reminded of is that change is a hurricane or a door. The people who expected this to be like things always were, except maybe a little less expensive and labor-intensive, are now spinning in the eye of the hurricane, wondering what hit them. The people who saw this as leading to opportunities both seen and unseen are slowly (not without pain, but with keen anticipation) opening a massive door to our future.

Channeling Winston

This is a very short post intended to test the theme I’m using (veryplaintext) but the title was inspired by a thought I tweeted the other night:

Holding infinity

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour
This weekend Sandy and I had a scare which you have heard about if you follow me on Facebook. I won’t repeat all of it here, but our furnace was leaking carbon monoxide, the alarms went off, firefighters came, then left, then came back later to greet us as we sat on our stoop in our robes and pajamas, agreeing the second time that it wasn’t bad monitor batteries as they walked slowly through our home, waving their magic CO meter; they stayed a very long time and aired out rooms and closets and… well. I could see that big crow walking over our graves, its eyes shining, before its wingspan unfurled and it rose into the night, disgruntled to have lost us back to the living.
After a chilly (but not unbearable) weekend in an unheated house, our landlord, who is a doll, immediately and graciously replaced the 26-year-old furnace with a spiffy new model that is quiet and efficient and not likely to kill us anytime soon.
Meanwhile, we both had colds (every major crisis in my life seems to be accompanied by head colds), and I was trying valiantly to edit my dissertation proposal for issues major and minor that my committee had shared with me. Actually, at first it was a struggle, but then it became a refuge. Had I known I would be grappling with the CO issue later on Saturday, I would not have found so many errands to run that morning, my favorite method of procrastination. But by the next morning, editing my proposal seemed like a really, really great thing to be doing, me with my fully-alive body. I had a huge batch of posole cooking on the range, and the cat snored and Sandy sneezed and when I got tired of working on the dissertation I gave myself a break to work on tenure and promotion letters or to contemplate statewide resource-sharing scenarios (because I am such a fun gal).
I really liked my Public Editor idea for American Libraries and would like to see something happen in that vein, but after ALA I see that it is an idea whose idea needs more than me as its champion, at least through this calendar year. There’s mild to moderate interest, but not enough to warrant dropping anything I’m currently involved in to make it happen. It’s not forgotten, it’s just on a list of things I would like to make happen.
That said, this ALA in Boston–ok, stand back, my 46th, if you count every annual and midwinter–was marvelous for its personal connections. Oh yes, I learned more about scholarly communications and open access and other Things. But the best ideas I garnered came from talking with colleagues, and the best moments did too. Plus two delightful librarians introduced me to Uber and the Flour Bakery in the same madcap hour. I was a little disappointed they weren’t more embarrassed when I told the driver it was my first Uber ride. I am still remembering that roast lamb sandwich. And late-night conversations with George. And early-evening cocktails with Grace. And a proper pub pint with Lisa. And the usual gang for our usual dinner. And a fabulous GLBTRT social. And breakfast with Brett. And how wonderful it was to stay in a hotel where so many people I know were there. And the hotel clerk who said YOU ARE HALF A BLOCK FROM THE BEST WALGREENS IN THE WORLD and he was right. It’s hard to explain… unless you remember the truly grand Woolworth stores of yesteryear, such as the store at Powell and Market that had a massive candy counter, a fabric and notions section, every possible inexpensive wristwatch one could want for, and a million other fascinating geegaws.
Sometimes these days I get anxious that I need to get such-and-such done in the window of calm. It’s true, it’s better to be an ant than a grasshopper. I would not have spent Saturday morning tootling from store to store in search of cilantro and pork shoulder had I known I would have spent Saturday afternoon and evening looking up “four beeps on a CO monitor” and frantically stuffing two days’ worth of clothes into a library tote bag (please don’t ask why I didn’t use the suitcase sitting right there) as we prepared to evacuate our home.
But I truly don’t have that much control over my life. I want it, but I don’t have it. Yes, it’s good to plan ahead. We did our estate planning (hello, crow!) and made notebooks to share with one another (hi crow, again!) and try to be mindful that things happen on a dime. But if I truly believed life was that uncertain, I couldn’t function. On some level I have to trust that the sounds I hear tonight–Sandy whisking eggs for an omelette, cars passing by our house on a wet road, the cat padding from room to room, our dear ginger watchman–will be the sounds I hear tomorrow and tomorrow. Even if I know–if nothing else, from the wide shadow of wings passing over me–that will not always be the case.
Onward into another spring semester. There aren’t many students in the library just yet. They aren’t frantically stuffing any tote bags, not for their lives, not for their graduations, not for even this semester. They’ll get there. It will be good practice.

Speaking about writing: I nominate me

I have been immersed in a wonderful ordinariness: completing my first full year as dean, moving my doctoral work toward the proposal-almost-ready stage, and observing the calendar in my personal life. In November I pulled Piney III, our Christmas tree, out of his box in the garage, and he is staying up until next weekend. We missed him last year, so he gets to spend a little more time with us this season.

Meanwhile, I spent a few spare moments this week trying to wrap my head around a LibraryLand kerfuffle. An article was published in American Libraries that according to the authors was edited after the fact to include comments favorable to a vendor. I heard back-alley comments that this wasn’t the full story and that the authors hadn’t followed the scope, which had directed them to include this perspective, and therefore it was really their fault for not following direction and complaining, etc. And on the social networks, everyone got their knickers in a twist and then, as happens, moved on. But as someone with a long publishing history, this has lingered with me (and not only because someone had to mansplain to me, have you read the article? Yes, I had read the article…).

Here’s my offer. I have been fairly low-key in our profession for a couple of years, while I deal with a huge new job, a doctoral program, family medical crises, household moves, and so on. My term on ALA Council ended last summer, and while I do plan to get involved in ALA governance again, it’s not immediate.

But once upon a time, I made a great pitch to American Libraries. I said, you should have a column about the Internet, and I should write it. I had to walk around the block four times before I screwed up enough courage to go into 50 East Huron and make that pitch (and I felt as if I had an avocado in my throat the whole time), but thus the Internet Librarian column was born, and lo it continues on to this day, two decades later.

My pitch these days is that American Libraries steal a page from the New York Times and appoint a Public Editor or if you prefer, Omsbudman (Omsbudwimmin?), and that person should be me. Why me? Because I have a strong appreciation for all aspects of publishing. Because I’ve been an author and a vendor. Because I may be an iconoclast, but most people see me as fair. Because a situation like this needs adjudication before it becomes fodder for Twitter or Facebook. Because at times articles might even need discussion when no one is discussing them. Because I came up with the idea, and admit it, it’s a really good one.

A long time ago, when I was active in Democratic Party politics in Manhattan, a politician in NY made himself locally famous for saying of another pol, “He is not for sale… but he can be rented.” One thing about me, despite two books, over 100 articles, being a Pushcart nominee, being anthologized, etc.: I am not for sale or for rent. That has at times limited my ascendancy in certain circles, but it makes me perfect for this role.

If you’re on the board of American Libraries, or you know someone who is, give this some thought. We all have a place in the universe. I feel this would be perfect for me, and a boon for the profession.

The importance of important questions

2015-08-10 19.00.21Pull up a chair and set a while: I shall talk of my progress in the doctoral program; my research interests, particularly LGBT leadership; the value of patience and persistence; Pauline Kael; and my thoughts on leadership theory. I include a recipe for  cupcakes. Samson, my research assistant, wanted me to add something about bonita flakes, but that’s really his topic.

My comprehensive examinations are two months behind me: two four-hour closed-book exams, as gruesome as it sounds. Studying for these exams was a combination of high-level synthesis of everything I had learned for 28 months and rote memorization of barrels of citations. My brain was not feeling pretty.

I have been re-reading the qualifying paper I submitted earlier this year, once again feeling grateful that I had the patience and persistence to complete and then discard two paper proposals until I found my research beshert, about the antecedents and consequences of sexual identity disclosure for academic library directors. That’s fancy-talk for a paper that asked, why did you come out, and what happened next? The stories participants shared with me were nothing short of wonderful.

As the first major research paper I have ever completed, it is riddled with flaws. At 60–no, now, 52–pages, it is also an unpublishable length, and I am trying to identify what parts to chuck, recycle, or squeeze into smaller dress sizes, and what would not have to be included in a published paper anyway.

But if there is one thing I’ve learned in the last 28 months, it is that it is wise to pursue questions worth pursuing.  I twice made the difficult decision to leave two other proposals on the cutting-room floor, deep-sixing many months of effort. But in the end that meant I had a topic I could live with through the long hard slog of data collection, analysis, and writing, a topic that felt so fresh and important that I would mutter to myself whilst working, “I’m in your corner, little one.”

As I look toward my dissertation proposal, I find myself again (probably, but not inevitably) drawn toward LGBT leadership–even more so when people, as occasionally happens, question this direction. A dear colleague of mine questioned the salience of one of the themes that emerged from my study, the (not unique) idea of being “the only one.” Do LGBT leaders really notice when they are the only ones in any group setting, she asked? I replied, do you notice when you’re the only woman in the room? She laughed and said she saw my point.

The legalization of same-gender marriage has also resulted in some hasty conclusions by well-meaning people, such as the straight library colleague from a liberal coastal community who asked me if “anyone was still closeted these days.” The short answer is yes. A  2013 study of over 800 LGBT employees across the United States found that 53 percent of the respondents hide who they are at work.

But to unpack my response requires recalling Pauline Kael’s comment about not knowing anyone who voted for Nixon (a much wiser observation than the mangled quote popularly attributed to her): “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” 

In my study, I’m pleased to say, most of the participants came from outside that “rather special world.”  I recruited participants through calls to LGBT-focused discussion lists which were then “snowballed” out to people who knew people who knew people, and to quote an ancient meme, “we are everywhere.” The call for participation traveled several fascinating degrees of separation. If only I could have chipped it like a bird and tracked it! As it was, I had 10 strong, eager participants who generated 900 minutes of interview data, and the fact that most were people I didn’t know made my investigation that much better.

After the data collection period for my research had closed, I was occasionally asked, “Do you know so-and-so? You should use that person!” In a couple of cases colleagues complained, “Why didn’t you ask me to participate?” But I designed my study so that participants had to elect to participate during a specific time period, and they did; I had to turn people away.

The same HRC study I cite above shrewdly asked questions of non-LGBT respondents, who revealed their own complicated responses to openly LGBT workers. “In a mark of overall progress in attitudinal shifts, 81% of non-LGBT people report that they feel LGBT people ‘should not have to hide’ who they are at work. However, less than half would feel comfortable hearing an LGBT coworker talk about their social lives, dating or related subject.” I know many of you reading this are “comfortable.” But you’re part of my special world, and I have too much experience outside that “special world” to be surprised by the HRC’s findings.

Well-meaning people have also suggested more than once that I study library leaders who have not disclosed their sexual identity. Aside from the obvious recruitment issues, I’m far more interested in the interrelationship between disclosure and leadership. There is a huge body of literature on concealable differences, but suffice it to say that the act of disclosure is, to quote a favorite article, “a distinct event in leadership that merits attention.” Leaders make decisions all the time; electing to disclose–an action that requires a million smaller decisions throughout life and across life domains–is part of that decision matrix, and inherently an important question.

My own journey into research

If I were to design a comprehensive exam for the road I have been traveling since April, 2013, it would be a single, devilish open-book question to be answered over a weekend: describe your research journey.

Every benchmark in the doctoral program was a threshold moment for my development. Maybe it’s my iconoclast spirit, but I learned that I lose interest when the chain of reasoning for a theory traces back to prosperous white guys interviewing prosperous white guys, cooking up less-than-rigorous theories, and offering prosperous-white-guy advice. “Bring more of yourself to work!” Well, see above for what happens to some LGBT people when they bring more of themselves to work. It’s true that the participants in my study did just that, but it was with an awareness that authenticity has its price as well as its benefits.

The more I poked at some leadership theories, the warier I became. Pat recipes and less-than-rigorous origin stories do not a theory make. (Resonant leadership cupcakes: stir in two cups of self-awareness; practice mindfulness, hope, and compassion; bake until dissonance disappears and renewal is evenly golden.) Too many books on leadership “theory” provide reasonable and generally useful recommendations for how to function as a leader, but are so theoretically flabby that if they were written by women would be labeled self-help books.

(If you feel cheated because you were expecting a real cupcake recipe, here’s one from Cook’s Catalog, complete with obsessive fretting about what makes it a good cupcake.)

I will say that I would often study a mainstream leadership theory and  then see it in action at work. I had just finished boning up on Theory X and Theory Y when someone said to me, with an eye-roll no less, “People don’t change.” Verily, the scales fell from my eyes and I revisited moments in my career where a manager’s X-ness or Y-ness had significant implications. (I have also asked myself if “Theory X” managers can change, which is an X-Y test in itself.) But there is a difference between finding a theory useful and pursuing it in research.

I learned even more when I deep-sixed my second proposal, a “close but no cigar” idea that called for examining a well-tested theory using LGBT leader participants. The idea has merit, but the more I dug into the question, the more I realized that the more urgent question was not how well LGBT leaders conform to predicted majority behavior, but instead the very whatness of the leaders themselves, about which we know so little.

It is no surprise that my interest in research methods also evolved toward exploratory models such as grounded theory and narrative inquiry that are designed to elicit meaning from lived experience. Time and again I would read a dissertation where an author was struggling to match experience with predicated theory when the real findings and “truth” were embedded in the stories people told about their lives. To know, to comprehend, to understand, to connect: these stories led me there.

Bolman and Deal’s “frames” approach also helped me diagnose how and why people are behaving as they are in organizations, even if you occasionally wonder, as I do, if there could be another frame, or if two of the frames are really one frame, or even if “framing” itself is a product of its time.

For that matter, mental models are a useful sorting hat for leadership theorists. Schein and Bolman see the world very differently, and so follows the structure of their advice about organizational excellence. Which brings me back to the question of my own research into LGBT leadership.

In an important discussion about the need for LGBT leadership research, Fassinger, Shullman, and Stevenson get props for (largely) moving the barycenter of LGBT leadership questions from the conceptual framework of being acted upon toward questions about the leaders themselves and their complex, agentic decisions and interactions with others. Their discussion of the role of situation feels like an enduring truth: “in any given situation, no two leaders and followers may be having the same experience, even if obvious organizational or group variables appear constant.”

What I won’t do is adopt their important article on directions for LGBT leadership research as a Simplicity dress pattern for my  leadership research agenda. They created a model; well, you see I am cautious about models. Even my own findings are at best a product of people, time, and place, intended to be valid in the way that all enlightenment is valid, but not deterministic.

So on I go, into the last phase of the program. In this post I have talked about donning and discarding theories as if I had all the time in the world, which is not how I felt in this process at all. It was the most agonizing exercise in patience and persistence I’ve ever had, and I questioned myself along the entire path. I relearned key lessons from my MFA in writing: some topics are more important than others; there is always room for improvement; writing is a process riddled with doubt and insecurity; and there is no substitute for sitting one’s behind in a chair and writing, then rewriting, then writing and rewriting some more.

So the flip side of my self-examination is that I have renewed appreciation for the value of selecting a good question and a good method, and pressing on until done.  I have no intention of repeating my Goldilocks routine.

Will my dissertation be my best work? Two factors suggest otherwise. First, I have now read countless dissertations where somewhere midway in the text the author expresses regret, however subdued, that he or she realized too late that the dissertation had some glaring flaw that could not be addressed without dismantling the entire inquiry. Second, though I don’t know that I’ve ever heard it expressed this way, from a writer’s point of view the dissertation is a distinct genre. I have become reasonably comfortable with the “short story” equivalent of the dissertation. But three short stories do not a novel make, and rarely do one-offs lead to mastery of a genre.

But I will at least be able to appreciate the problem for what it is: a chance to learn, and to share my knowledge; another life experience in the “press on regardless” sweepstakes; and a path toward a goal: the best dissertation I will ever write.