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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.

Come together, right now

Golden Eagle in flight - 5 by Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Golden Eagle in flight – 5” by Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tomorrow is my first convocation at my new university. For my international readers, a convocation in this part of the world is usually a ceremony in the autumn where faculty, students, and the schools that serve them are welcomed into the new academic year. (Although sometimes “convocation” is a graduation, which I suppose makes it a contronym, and it is also the collective noun for eagles).

At Holy Names, convocation was a student-centered event, and began with the university community, dress in its finest, climbing up the 100-plus stairs to the dining hall for speeches and a lunch. I do not know entirely what to expect from tomorrow’s event (except there is no lunch, and it is held in the largest theater on campus, and relatively few students will be present), but I know that it will be different and that in its difference I will learn new meanings, symbols, and ways of being.

All weekend I have had the last four lines of Yeats’ “A prayer for my daughter” running through my mind:

How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

There is a saying on the Internet, “do not read the comments,” and when it comes to major poems, I extend this to “do not read the commentary.” I made the mistake of browsing discussions of this poem, only to discover that rather than the sky-wide reflection on chaos versus order I know it to be, it is actually, among other flaws, a poem advocating the oppression of women. The idea that the poem is a product of its time, or that a father would want to be protective of his daughter, or that there is something to be said for the sanity of a well-ordered home life, is pushed aside in favor of squeezing this poem through a highly specific modern sensibility, then finding it wanting.

Higher education has been described as irrelevant, in a crisis, in need of great change, overpriced, stodgy, out of touch with the world, a waste of effort, and most of all, in need of disruption. And yet every fall universities around the country unite the stewards of academia in a ceremony that is anything but disruptive (convocation: convene, come together) and reminds us that the past, however conflicted and flawed, is the inevitable set of struts for building the future. Convocation tells us that the work of summer is done, and now it is time for students to matriculate, spend a few days having fun and learning the campus culture, then settle down to work. The clock is wound, and begins to tick:  professors teaching, administrators administrating, and librarians librarying and otherwise being their bad (as in good) information-professional selves.

When I think about the harsh words tossed at higher education, I am reminded not only of the dishonoring of great poems by forcing them through a chemist’s retort of present-day sensibility, but also how some leaders–and I have been guilty of this myself–are in such a rush to embrace new ideas (particularly our own new ideas) and express our pride in our forward-looking stance that we forget that many times, things were the way they were for a good reason that made sense at the time; and we also forget that in a decade or two our own ideas will be found ill-suited for the way things are done in that new era. When we do that we hurt feelings and body-block the gradual changing of minds, and for what purpose? We can and should continue the hard work of making higher education better, but we should also honor and embrace the past. Give the past its due, because for all of its failings, it birthed the present.

I see now that part of the thrill of convocation for me is how it fills a necessary void: the honoring of my own conflicted past (and all human pasts are conflicted), as well as my commitment to movement into the future. We have events honoring our own birth and also the calendar year, but too many cultures lack a Yom Kippur or Ramadan to help us reset and recommit. Lent comes close, but it is now nearly ruined by Secular Easter and muddy symbolism; as Sandy observes, it is strange behavior to celebrate the Lamb of God, then roast him for Easter dinner. I am also impressed by how many clueless people schedule ordinary events for Good Friday, which is the religious observance that makes Easter Easter.

So onward into the academic year. The spreading laurel tree of academic custom, framed by convocation in early autumn and graduation in spring, gives my life well-framed pauses for introspection and inventory, pausing the slipstream of dailiness, stirring memories, reflection, atonement, and even where warranted, a little quiet praise. Births and deaths, broken friendships and promises, things (to borrow from the Book of Common Prayer) done and left undone, achievements big and small, harsh words and kind actions, frustrations and triumphs, times of fear and times of fearlessness, critical moments of thoughtlessness and those of careful consideration: tomorrow morning, dressed as one does for signature moments, I will tag along behind librarians as they wend their way to a place I have never visited and yet will come to know well, and learn a new way of coming together, in this autumn that closes one book and starts another.

The well of studiousness

KGS.Pride.2015

Pride 2015

My relative quiet is because my life has been divided for a while between work and studying for exams. But I share this photo by former PUBLIB colleague and retired librarian Bill Paullin from the 2015 Pride March in San Francisco, where I marched with my colleagues in what suddenly became an off-the-hook celebration of what one parade marshal drily called, “Thank you, our newly-discovered civil rights.”

I remember the march, but I also remember the  hours before our contingent started marching, chatting with dear colleagues about all the important things in life while around us nothing was happening. It was like ALA Council, except with sunscreen, disco music, and free coconut water.

Work is going very well. Team Library is made of professionals who enjoy what they do and commit to walking the walk. The People of the Library did great things this summer, including eight (yes eight) very successful “chat with a librarian” sessions for parent orientations, and a wonderful “Love Your Library” carnival for one student group. How did we get parents to these sessions? Schmoozing, coffee, and robots (as in, tours of our automated retrieval system). We had a competing event, but really — coffee and robots? It’s a no-brainer. Then I drive home to our pretty street in a cute part of a liveable city, and that is a no-brainer, too.

I work with such great people that clearly I did something right in a past life. Had some good budget news. Yes please! Every once in a while I think, I was somewhere else before I came here, and it was good; I reflect on our apartment in San Francisco, and my job at Holy Names. I can see myself on that drive to work, early in the morning, twisting down Upper Market as the sun lit up the Bay Bridge and the day beckoned, full of challenge and possibility. It was a good part of my life, and I record these moments in the intergalactic Book of Love.

And yet: “a ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” I think of so many good things I learned in my last job, not the least of which the gift of radical hospitality.  I take these things with me, and yet the lesson for me is that I was not done yet. It is interesting to me that in the last few months I learned that for my entire adult life I had misunderstood the word penultimate. It does not mean the final capper; it means the place you go, before you go to that place.  I do not recall what made me finally look up this term, except when I did I felt I was receiving a message.

Studying is going very well, except my brain is unhappy about ingesting huge amounts of data into short-term memory to be regurgitated on a closed-book test. Cue lame library joke: what am I, an institutional repository? Every once in a while I want to share a bon mot from my readings with several thousand of my closest friends, then remember that people who may be designing the questions I’ll be grappling with are on the self-same networks. So you see pictures of our Sunday house meetings and perhaps a random post or share, but the things that make me go “HA HA HA! Oh, that expert in […….redacted……..] gets off a good one!” stay with me and Samson, our ginger cat, who is in charge of supervising my studies, something he frequently does with his eyes closed.

We have landed well, even after navigating without instruments through a storm. Life is good, and after this winter, I have a renewed appreciation for what it means for life to be good. That second hand moves a wee faster every year, but there are nonetheless moments captured in amber, which we roll from palm to palm, marveling in their still beauty.

Between a noodle and your favorite dress

So a little over a week ago Jeff Jarvis tweeted about the German pilot who may have committed suicide by crashing a commercial plane:

I tweeted back. He tweeted. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. Etc. And then:

Quickly followed by:

I was less upset than puzzled and bemused; even if I was completely wrong, all I did, as someone pointed out, was mildly disagree with Jeff over something I do happen to know something about.

With the day job and the doctoral work and other things going on, I decided to wait to respond until I could respond with a fey blog post tweaking Jeff for what other Twitter user called his Saran-wrap-thin skin. Then I thought, I’ve had bad days. Maybe, just maybe, he had one too, and everything I had been saying had been passing through a filter of something much more serious going on in his life. Perhaps this is a situation that can be repaired. So I tweeted, “so a few days have passed. Is it possible to revisit my comments through MRI (Most Respectful Interpretation)?”

Followed by three more tweets from me, explaining how I know him (through a conference in Boston in 2004), offering an olive branch, creating the possibility for pushing past that incident.

Crickets chirped.

I get it.

It’s not that I miss Jeff Jarvis. I haven’t had any sort of collegial relationship with him. I didn’t have a heroic image of some Jeff Jarvis for this Twitter thread to debunk. He was just someone I had once encountered whose public opinions I sometimes read and sometimes did not read. In my personal firmament, Jeff Jarvis has hovered between Japanese noodle soup and extra-nice shoelaces… something I wouldn’t go out of my way for, but would be happy enough to encounter. Unless the options were better, like an oyster po’boy or socks with a kitten pattern.

It’s something larger and more ineffable. Maybe it’s the person I was in 2004, before the wind-down of Librarians’ Internet Index, the huge mistake of the move to Florida, the amazing return to California, and a few triumphs and heartbreaks and losses along the way. Maybe it’s the times in my life I have taken umbrage (that evil nostrum that sits on a far-too-convenient shelf), flamed into an angry response, and not opened myself to reconsidering my reaction.

But more likely it was hearing on Tuesday that Gail Schlachter had suddenly died, and feeling drenched in grief and wishing I could just spend a few minutes with her again, even in one of those charmless windowless conference rooms where Gail spent so much time patiently, cheerfully sharing her gifts with others. Just to watch her walk up to me on the floor of ALA Council and tell me how happy she was to see me. Just to see her smile, as bright as the sun, and listen to her wise and funny comments on all things LibraryLand. Gail had the gift of making every person she encountered feel special and welcome and the smartest kid in kindergarten. She was witty and kind and beautiful and patient, and entirely her own person. She had a heart the size of our galaxy, and so many of us will miss her.

Gail was way above soba noodles and special shoelaces. Gail was that sort of person that if you knew her even slightly, she was more than equal to the best oysters on the half-shell you ever had, or that special dress you will remember forever. She had the knack for saying things so kind, things I so needed to hear at just that moment, that I would fold her comments into a small square and tuck them forever in my heart. Gail was powerful and astute, but I don’t know if she fully realized how much she meant to so many people.

So in the end, I have a twinge of sadness that I have become to Jeff Jarvis what my dad, may he rest in peace, referred to as P.N.G., for persona non grata. But it’s not about who I have been to Jeff, since in all honesty to him I’ve just been some peon out there in the vast online galaxy, and now I am in minus-peon zone, in that strange parallel galaxy you go when you have dutifully followed orders and fucked off. It’s about that person I was in 2004, and the places I’ve lived and the cats Sandy and I have outlived and the people I’ve served and the others who have left us. It’s about all those times when I wish I could have just a few minutes more with the people I care about, and how I curse myself for the times I have been “too busy” to have that moment with someone who I can no longer have moments with again, or too proud or too angry to mend a fence. It’s about the way life breaks our heart simply by moving forward.

Snowglobes and my research quest

First rose of springToday I was stopped at a red light in downtown Santa Rosa, and I looked over to see a tough guy in a muscle car with sheer delight plastered across his face. We were enjoying the same magical scene: thousands of tiny white petals scudding across the avenue, swirling in the air, drifting onto benches and signs and people.

This could explain the sneezing fit I had last night, but that snowglobe moment was worth it. When we were contemplating this move, no one said we would experience this beautiful warm snowfall. No one has commented on it to me at all. I guess it’s just me and Tough Guy, thrilled by the floor show.

I had no idea how beautiful this small city, and our neighborhood in particular, would be in the spring. The neighbors’ gardens are not even in full bloom, yet every block is resplendent with color and redolent with fragrance. My rosebushes, brave little souls who survived five years on a cold, partially shaded, windswept deck in San Francisco, are stretching their limbs toward the warmth and the light, their foliage thick and lush, their buds fat, the first rose gorgeously impeccable.

I am stretching my own limbs to the light as well, professionally and in my growth as a scholar–and with leadership studies, of course the two are ever entwined). Coming back from some reasonably tolerable conference, I realized I was happy to walk into the library. It is a human institution and not the Good Ship Lollypop, but it’s filled with caring people determined to make a difference in other people’s lives. (I wonder what things were really like on GSL, anyway. Probably lots of dental issues.)

Last night I turned in my last short homework assignment for the doctoral program. Assuming it doesn’t bounce back to me with a request for revision (Lord please no — I cannot write anything more about net neutrality), I have completed my last class for this program. Up next: completing my qualifying paper, studying for and taking comprehensive exams, developing and defending a dissertation proposal, then doing the research for, writing, and defending my dissertation.

Piece of cake, eh?

Yes, a lot of work, and the doctoral work is folded under a lot of work-work, and (since some of you may be wondering) compounded by my mother’s health care crisis, which has its four-month anniversary in two days. It’s one of those life crises many of us will deal with at some point — a foreign land that, when you get there, you find populated with a lot of people you know.

But I get a lot of sustenance from my doctoral work. My qualifying paper is about the lived experiences of openly gay and lesbian academic library directors. (A friend of mine teased me that I should interview myself, which reminded me of a stern lecture everyone in my class in the MFA program received about The Crime Of Solipsism, which sounded like something we should stand in a corner for.)

I deeply love this research project, and I earned this love. I did the hard thing — prolonging this project by over a year by torpedoing two papers that were too small, too meaningless, too insufficient, too lacking in rigor; papers I wouldn’t want to see my name on — to find my literary-research beshert, that topic I was meant to wrap myself around. The kind of topic that pulls me into its own snowglobe, where I stand arms upraised in its center, watching meaning swirl around me, its brilliant small bits glinting in the sunlight.

Later on, I hope, I’ll write a bit more about my research. I owe a lot to the great people who shared their time and thoughts about my work in this area, giving me courage to ditch the crap and focus on the gold, and to the subjects who providing fascinating, heartening, hilarious, heart-tugging, thoughtful, surprising, invigorating, and fully real interviews for my research. The Association of Openly Gay and Lesbian Academic Library Directors could fit in a hotel suite, but it’s a group I’d share that suite or even a foxhole with, hands-down.

After Epiphany

Merry Old Santa, by Thomas NastLast Tuesday, January 6, as I walked out of the hospital in New Mexico where my mother is staying due to a series of medical events — a planned hip replacement, followed by an unplanned stroke and then a very unplanned leg fracture — I saw two huge Christmas trees in the hospital lobby — the long-life kind, not living trees cut from the ground — shorn of their ornaments, which lay in bags on the floor.

At the wrong moment, or listening to the wrong music, the trees would have seemed forlorn, but to me they were expectant. For many reasons, good and not so good, this holiday season was very muted.

A year ago I remember remarking to an esteemed colleague in my doctoral program that I would stay on track with my doctoral work as long as I didn’t have anything major like a job change or a family medical crisis, a statement intentionally hyperbolic.  By this past November, as my mother was on the cusp of her own medical journey, I had accepted a position, effective this morning, as Dean of the Library at Sonoma State University — an opportunity that came with very complex emotions about leaving Holy Names, but perhaps because of those feelings was absolutely the right opportunity at the right time.

I had been on a wonderful odyssey at Holy Names, one in which I felt that our initiatives and efforts, large and small, were deeply appreciated, and where I had the unique chance to build a library and a team from near-scratch while I learned the runic ways of higher education. I  remarked to a dear friend last summer that I didn’t feel “done,” and he paused thoughtfully and commented that no one is every really done. That wasn’t the only epiphany, but it factored into many other conclusions I had about how much more I could do where I was at this point in time,  as well as what I wanted to accomplish in the last decade-and-plus of my career as a full-time library leader, and also our strong desire to remain in our beloved NorCal.

By December I was also immersed in my mother’s medical crisis.  My sister and I have become entwined with one another in ways that are surprising and salutary, speaking, texting, and emailing daily, pacing our way around our mother’s situation.  To add to it all, Sandy and I were also tangled in a massive head cold that for her developed into bronchitis and for me colored all the rituals and gestures of my departure from Holy Names, and our farewell to San Francisco as residents of five years, with a thin grey coating of exhaustion.

Thanksgiving was about apartment-hunting, wrapping things up at Holy Names, beating back the cold from hell, and packing.  Christmas was something other people were doing. Sandy and I gave away tickets for events (not wanting to be those people coughing nonstop in a theater), had a nice meal and cocktail here and there, slept a lot, and called it a season. My sister and I tag-teamed calls, emails, and travel to and from New Mexico. Sandy and I coughed and packed and coughed some more. My final commute from Holy Names was during a wind storm so powerful that the radio kept reporting traffic jams caused by trees falling on cars; I gripped the wheel of Misty, my Prius, and we soldiered on to Santa Rosa. By New Year’s we were in our new home, coughing a little less. This past Sunday I set down my Ikea allen wrench to go visit my mother again, leaving Sandy amidst the boxes in a house without Internet or television.

At some point I decided to stop flogging myself for not having the mental bandwidth to work on the data analysis for my qualifying paper. I had a perfect timeline, and then life happened. It wasn’t just chronological time that was scarce; it was the intellectual space to wrap my head around anything other than the next crisis-laden phone call or the next moving-related problem.

A lengthy delay in Internet access to our new home compounded issues; I spent a couple of weeks highly underconnected, which refreshed my empathy for students who lack reliable Internet and high-end equipment.  Out of desperation, because my home computer was a 17″ laptop with a dying screen (which was adequate when the laptop just sat there on my desk at home, less so when I contemplated dragging its fragile self to coffeeshops), the afternoon before my next trip to New Mexico I bought a laptop at CostCo which turned out to have a corrupt wireless driver that three CostCo support concierges helped me reinstall as I crossed the country. I could feel my ribcage loosen when I finally got fully online. I am still in awe of how expertly these support techs managed my case from airport lobbies and hotel rooms.

One morning, juggling too many things, I realized I was afraid I’d never get back on the doctoral homework horse again. As soon as I thought that, a business card with esteemed colleague’s name on it fell out of a drawer, and a minute later I received a chipper email from him, thanking me for suggesting the qualitative analysis product he was productively using for coding interviews,  and asking how I was doing. This is the sort of colleague who also juggles too many things and then sits in a chair, scoots up to his desk, and stolidly soldiers through homework, reminding us all that It Can Be Done.

So: Santa is real, and he didn’t skip our house this year, after all.

Two providers, four modems, and nearly three hours of telephone holds later, we have Internet and (because we are old-fashioned boomers) television. We have found stores and restaurants and a lovely walking/bicycling path just blocks from our home; our neighbors have been neighborly,  the area food-friendly and beautiful. The coughing is almost gone. The medical crisis proceeds as these do.  Sandy has found Meetup groups to do interesting walks around our new city.  Samson, bribed with copious quantities of bonita flakes and other cat treats, has adjusted. The mountain of boxes has dwindled, and we have found electric toothbrushes and tailor’s chalk and many other things we were looking for.

In less than an hour I drive to my new job.  My next-to-last doctoral class will begin in March. The liturgical calendar will tick through the Feast of the Ascension, then Easter, and before I know it, I’ll drag Piney III from the garage (we have a garage..!) and we’ll bedeck him and hang stockings. And yesterday, early in the morning, I refocused on the data analysis for my qualifying paper,  making excellent progress; in future Sundays I’ll resume worshipping at Church of the Tam–barring any  other crises, which in most cases, as I was reminded this Christmas season, are not mine to bar.

 

Two retirements

The Minister's Wife

Yes, this book exists

So there are two retirements in our household today. Sandy is giving her last sermon as a regular, full-time UCC pastor. She isn’t going to stop pastoring, but she’s stepping down and looking forward to consultancies, supply preaching, and interim positions.

I was a child bride… ok, perhaps that’s a mild exaggeration… but I’m a long time from retirement myself. I’m a Boomer with not the greatest retirement portfolio, plenty of years in front of me, and lots of vim and vigor, and LibraryLand will have me around in the full-time regular workforce for a very long time. (And my Uncle Bob, may he rest in peace, worked into his mid-80s, had a stroke on a Friday night, and left this world on Sunday. I may want to kick back in a couple of decades and do other things, like travel and write–but go you, Uncle Bob.)

However, I do get to retire from my role as the pastor’s wife. I do use the word “wife” deliberately, because I think if your spouse is a minister, even if you are the husband, you are the Wife, as in Judy Brady’s wife–the docile, compliant shadow behind the Main Event.

This is not a role I have embraced perhaps as fully as I could have, but in my two decades in this role, it has been a learning experience. I have some very good memories, such as the holiday reception in Albany, New York where I had purchased this well-known locally-smoked ham, and it was so good people stopped being polite and just stood in a circle around this huge joint of meat, hacking away at it and gobbling with abandon. I remember the Christmas open house in Palo Alto; our rental home, a fake Eichler, was so packed I had to slither sideways into the kitchen to refresh the mulled cider. I also have any number of heartwarming moments with children, elderly people, and the sort of folks who end up in churches these days, which is to say people who feel a need for something much larger and older and more organized than themselves.

LibraryLand is all a-buzz these days with the notion of threshold concepts. As I dutifully make an effort to understand this concept, I see it describing a point at which you do not know something, and then you do. And like a bride, you are carried over the threshold, to be forever transformed.

I don’t have any serious objections to freshening up our concepts of how we teach information literacy with this model — it’s certainly better than arguing against library instruction per se, as Michael Gorman did in 1991. (Oh yes, he did! The things you learn skimming bibliographies.) But–and I’m guessing this isn’t antithetical to the whole threshold idea–I do think some thresholds are more like train tracks you walk along for a good long while until the town you were looking for  begins to slowly swim into focus on the horizon.

I don’t recall when the threshold for my awareness of being the minister’s Wife emerged. It’s an interesting place to be. It’s not simply a matter of being that person who sits in the back pew and will do what is asked of her — serving cookies, showing up to help make the holiday jam, folding bulletins, or showing up in a dressy dress and looking interested about the wedding of two people I don’t know and will never hear from again. I am the person people remember to chat with, though never in great depth. I am the one who will not talk back if spoken to sharply;  I have bit my tongue so often I’m surprised I still have one. I am the person most parishioners will forget as soon as we move on.

Threshold theory includes the idea of troublesome knowledge: “the process of crossing the threshold commonly causes some mental and emotional discomfort (troublesome).”  I am the person who a parishioner once asked, “So, you’re the one making the real salary, eh?”and that startling moment caught me because it was an assumption that made so many things clearer to me, and was also — frighteningly for a librarian — true. While these days the trend is not to pay the pastor in “free” housing and a few chickens now and then, but in wages with pension plans, it’s still a profession that usually requires a two-salary household.

Despite the need to make a “real salary,” some unchurched people assume I have the time –and even the obligation — to be the Wife. As noted above, I do within limits, but I also need to focus on doing those things that ensure we have enough money to live on, which mean I am not available to help organize meals for the homeless at 3 pm on a weekday afternoons or joining the knitting group on Thursday mornings.  When I do volunteer for something like coffee hour, it is usually squeezed into a day that began at 6 AM with doctoral homework that will be resumed once I have wiped down the church kitchen counters and folded the tablecloths.

A threshold I crossed many years ago that can also be lost on unchurched people was the need to have my own spiritual life.  In Olden Days, the (male) minister married some darling parishioner, who then moved into the helpmate role — quite a bargain for the church to get a twofer, but in addition to the labor issues, it left these women in a strange place. I have often wondered about the private worlds of these Wives. Did they really see their husbands as their spiritual muses? The patriarchal implications of this arrangement make my toes curl in discomfort (talk about troublesome knowledge!). Who did these women turn to when they needed pastoral care?

Additionally, unchurched people — and some churched people — don’t get the nuance that when I attend Sandy’s church, I am essentially visiting her workplace. Work — even other people’s work — is not a stress-free experience. It’s a worldly place full of personalities and interactions, the stories for which spill over into my life enough to  make what you call a sanctuary often feel to me like an office, with all that entails. I always try to have  a spiritual home elsewhere, someplace I am not the Wife but just me, another parishioner. It feels so different, so unburdened.

The part I have liked about being the Wife has been its narrative stance. I watch church life unfold on its little tableaux, one of the last big volunteer activities in American life. Just like in a good novel, its inhabitants are both predictable and surprising. The Christmas play features an adorable child who will make everyone laugh. A parishioner will die, and the corner of the pew she sat in will remain empty until a clueless new person sits there, breaking the spell.   Parishioners will stand up during Joys and Concerns to share stories of illness, death, life, and global sadness. The same group of elderly women found in every church, temple, and mosque will meet to knit blankets for homeless people and gossip. A baptism, the child held aloft like a prize, will make everyone breathe with hope.

The decades I have spent as the Wife have given me a privileged observer status, one that will continue as Sandy’s ministry continues in new, different ways. I won’t miss the decades where Saturday night was a “school night” for Sandy; only on vacations do we experience secular Sunday life, and I can see its attraction. And for the most part, I won’t miss being the Wife. But I will miss observing people trying to connect with something larger than themselves, with all the awkwardness and challenge and beauty that entails.

Against Shiny

So I need to talk about something on my mind but blurt it out hastily and therefore with less finesse than I’d prefer. There has been a Recent Unpleasantness in LibraryLand where a librarian sued two other librarians for libel. Normally we are a free-speechy sort of group not inclined to sue one another over Things People Said, but as noted in this post by bossladywrites (another academic library director–we are legion), we are not in normal times.  And as Meredith observes in another smart post, it is hard to see the upside of any part of this. Note: I’m not going to discuss the actual details of the lawsuit; I’m more interested in the state of play that got us there. To quote my own tweet:

But first — the context for my run-on sentences and choppy transitions, this being a personal blog and therefore sans an editor to say “stop, stick to topic.” The last two weeks have featured a fender-bender with our Honda where the other driver decided to file a medical claim, presumably for chipping a nail, as you can’t do much damage at 5 mph, even when you are passing on the right and running a stop sign; intense work effort around a mid-year budget adjustment; an “afternoon off” to do homework during which the Most Important Database I needed at that moment was erratic at best; a terrible case of last-minuting by another campus department that should really know better; and the death at home last Saturday of our 18-year-old cat Emma, which included not only the trauma of her departure, but also the mild shame of bargain-shopping for a pet crematorium early last Sunday morning after the first place I called wanted more than I felt would be reasonable for my own cremation.

Now Emma’s ashes are on the shelf with the ashes of Darcy, Dot, and Prada; I am feeling no longer so far behind on homework, though I have a weekend ahead of me that needs to feature less Crazy and more productivity; and I have about 45 minutes before I drive Sandy to a Diabetes Walk, zoom to the Alemany farmer’s market, then settle in for some productive toiling.

It will sound hypocritical for a librarian who has been highly visible for over two decades to say this, but I agree that there is a hyper-rock-stardom afoot in our profession, and I do wonder if bossladywrites isn’t correct that social media is the gasoline over its fire. It does not help when programs designed to help professionals build group project skills have “leader” in the title and become so heavily coveted that librarians publicly gnash teeth and wail if they are not selected, as if their professional lives have been ruined.

It will also sound like the most sour of grapes to say this (not being a Mover & Shaker), and perhaps it is, but there is also a huge element of Shiny in the M&S “award,” which after all is bestowed by an industry magazine and based on a rather casual referral process. There are some well-deserved names mingling with people who are there for reasons such as schmoozing a nomination from another Famous Name (and I know of more than one case of post-nomination regret). Yet being selected for a Library Journal Mover & Shaker automatically labels that person with a gilded status, as I have seen time and again on committees and elsewhere. It’s a magazine, people, not a professional committee.

We own this problem. I have participated in professional activities where it was clear that these titles — and not the performance behind them — fast-tracked librarians for nominations far too premature for their skills. (And no, I am not suggesting the person that brought the suit is an EL–I don’t know that, though I know he was an M&S.) I am familiar with one former EL (not from MPOW!) who will take decades if ever to live up to anything with “leader” in the title, and have watched him get proposed as a candidate for association-wide office–by virtue of being on the magic EL-graduate roster.

Do I think Emerging Leaders is a good program? If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have carved money out of our tiny budget to commit to supporting one at MPOW. Do I think being an EL graduate means you are qualified for just about anything the world might offer, and your poop don’t stink? No, absolutely not. I did not single out one person due  to magical sparkly librarian powers; it had a lot more to do with this being a good fit for that librarian at the time, just as I have helped others at MPOW get into leadership programs, research institutes, information-literacy boot camps, and skill-honing committees. It’s just part of my job.

The over-the-top moment for me with EL was the trading cards. Really? Coronets and fanfare for librarians learning project management and group work? Couldn’t we at least wait until their work was done? Of the tens of thousands of librarians in the U.S. alone, less than one hundred become ELs every year. The vast majority of the remainder are “emerging” just fine in their own right; there are great people doing great work that you will never, ever hear of. Why not just give us all trading cards — yes, every damn librarian? And before you conclude KGS Hates EL, keep in mind I have some serious EL street cred, having not only sponsored an EL but also for successfully proposing GLBTRT’s first EL and making a modest founding donation to its effort to boot.

Then there was ALA’s “invitational summit” last spring where fewer than 100 “thought leaders from the library field” gathered to “begin a national conversation.” Good for them, but as one of the uninvited, I could not resist poking mild fun at this on Twitter, partly for its exclusivity and partly because this “national conversation” was invisible to the rest of the world. I was instantly lathered in Righteous Indignation by some of the chosen people who attended — and not even to my (social network) face, but in the worst passive-aggressive librarian style, through “vaguebook” comments on social networks. (And a la Forrest Gump, the person who brought the lawsuit against the two librarians was at this summit, too, though I give the organizers credit for blending interesting outliers along with the usual suspects.) If you take yourself that seriously, you need a readjustment — perhaps something we can discuss if that conversation is ever launched.

I have a particularly bitter taste in my mouth about the absentee rockstar librarian syndrome because I had one job, eons ago, where I succeeded an absentee leader who had been on the conference circuit for several years, and all the queen’s horses couldn’t put that department together again. There were a slew of other things that were going wrong, but above all, the poor place stank of neglect.  The mark of a real rock star is the ability to ensure that no one back at the ranch ever has any reason to begrudge you your occasional Shiny Moment.  Like the way so many of us learn hard lessons, it gave me pause about my own practices, and caused me to silently beg forgiveness from past organizations for any and all transgressions.

Shiny Syndrome can twist people’s priorities and make the quotidian seem unimportant (along with making them boors at dinner parties, as Meredith recounts). Someone I intensely dislike is attributed with saying that 80 percent of life is showing up, a statement I grudgingly agree is spot-on. When people ask if I would run for some office or serve on some very busy board, or even do a one-off talk across country, I point out that I have a full-time job and am a full-time student (I barely have time to brew beer more than three times a year these days!). But it’s also true that I get a huge amount of satisfaction simply from showing up for work every day, as well as activities that likely sound dull but to me are very exciting, such as shared-print pilots and statewide resource sharing, as well as the interviews I am conducting for a research paper that is part of my doctoral process, a project that has big words like Antecedents in the title but is to me fascinating and rewarding.

I also get a lot of pleasure from professional actions that don’t seem terribly fun, such as pursuing the question of whether there should be a Planning and Budget Assembly, a question that may seem meaningless to some; in fact, at an ALA midwinter social, one Shiny Person belittled me for my actions on PBA to the point where I left the event in tears. Come to think of it, that makes two white men who have belittled me for pursuing the question of PBA, which brings up something Meredith and bossladywrites hint at: the disproportionate number of rockstar librarians who are young, white, and male. They left off age, but I feel that acutely; far too often, “young” is used as a synonym for forward-thinking, tech-savvy, energetic, smart, creative, and showcase-worthy.

I do work in a presentation now and then — and who can complain about being “limited” to the occasional talk in Australia and New Zealand (I like to think “I’m big, really big, in Palmerston North”), though my favorite talk in the last five years was to California’s community college library directors, because they are such a nice group and it was a timely jolt of Vitamin Colleague — but when I do, I end up talking about my work in one way or the other. And one of the most touching moments of my career happened this August when at an event where MPOW acknowledged my Futas Award — something that honors two decades of following Elizabeth Futas’ model of outspoken activism, sometimes at personal risk, sometimes wrongheadedly, sometimes to no effect, but certainly without pause — I realized that some of our faculty thought I was receiving this award for my efforts on behalf of my dear library, as if there were an award for fixing broken bathroom exhaust fans and replacing tables and chairs, activities that along with the doctoral program take up the space where shiny stuff would go. That flash of insight was one of the deepest, purest moments of joy in my professional life. I got to be two people that day: the renegade of my youth, and the macher of my maturity.

Finally, I am now venturing into serious geezer territory, but back in the day, librarians were rock stars for big stuff, like inventing online catalogs, going to jail rather than revealing their patrons’ identities, and desegregating state associations. These days you get your face, if not on the cover of Rolling Stone, as a centerfold in a library magazine, position yourself as a futurist or guru, go ping ping ping all over the social networks, and you’re now at every conference dais. (In private messaging about this topic, I found myself quoting the lyrics from “You’re So Vain.”)

Name recognition has always had its issues (however convenient it is for those of us, like me, who have it). I often comment, and it is not false modesty, that I know some people vote for me for the wrong reasons. I have my areas of competence, but I know that name recognition and living in a state with a large population (as I am wont to do) play a role in my ability to get elected. (Once I get there, I like to think I do well enough, but that is beside the point. A favorite moment of mine, from back when I chaired a state intellectual freedom committee, was a colleague who remarked, clearly surprised, that”you know how to run a meeting!”) And of course, there are rock stars who rock deservedly, and sometimes being outward-facing is just part of the package (and some of us can’t help it — I was that little kid that crazy people walked up to in train stations to gift with hand-knit sweaters, and yes, that really happened). But we seem to have gone into a new space, where a growing percentage of Shiny People are famous for being shiny.  It’s not good for us, and it’s not good for them, and it’s terrible for our profession.