I got asked at Midwinter what I thought about the decision to move Librarians’ Internet Index to Drexel, from a project run by paid contractors to a student-run project. The person who asked me sounded as if there were concerns I might be annoyed or upset.
I gave the questioner one-third of my full response.
The first slice of that three-piece pie is that I had left the project, so it wasn’t my call what happened to LII. Nobody likes the former boss who lurks around the office, complaining that people are Changing Everything. I had a good talk with Joe Janes about how good it was to know that our projects had new homes (he is the founding father of the Internet Public Library).
LII has been around since the early 1990s. How amazing is it that it even survived? If I wanted to ensure its survival, then I should have stayed on at the helm, regardless of the personal cost. That’s what it means to be in charge.
The middle slice of the pie (usually the best one, ay?) is that my lesson with LII is about the value of “open” — open source, open data, open leadership. There was a time that I was trying hard to figure out how to take LII into nonprofit status, and my vision was to leverage the openness of its data. But there were countervailing forces pushing against that vision. According to this view, we just needed to figure out how to make the data MORE private and monetize it. My failure of leadership was never coming up with a good-enough argument that would both let the Powers relax their reins while maintaining some semblance of funding during the transition period.
The final slice of the pie is, to me, amusing-but-weird, or weird-but-amusing. One reason for my profound silence on the subject was embarrassment.
Remember when I quit my job in 2007 and was looking for work? I wrote Drexel about the possibility of teaching there as an adjunct… and they turned me down. Not even with an interview or with further discussion; I sent them an email and they very quickly responded to say,
Thank you very much for your interest in adjunct teaching at Drexel’s College of IST. The adjunct search committee has received your application and carefully reviewed. We appreciate your time and effort in sending us these materials. However, we have determined that your background and experiences do not provide a match for our College’s needs at this time.
Quite honestly, I had never been turned down for adjunct instruction (I’ve taught at two schools), and I’ve been solicited to teach in some nice programs (when life allows, all I’m going to do is teach library science, offer writing workshops, work on literary essays, and take up more amusing hobbies). Not to brag on myself too badly, but I’m a very good teacher who would do it for a living if life had that trajectory (and not to snipe too much at their email, but that second sentence isn’t even grammatical).
Being jobless at the time, and feeling incompetent and lost in middle life, and missing our old golden world in California — which of course was not as golden as it seemed in retrospect — running a grant-funded project is always a bit of a ride, and so forth, but I was full of regret at that time in my life… the email from Drexel proved what I already knew: I was just a stinky ol’ pile of dog poop.
So I did what I knew would make me feel better: I forwarded the rejection email to some friends, and they made me laugh. Within a couple of months, I was working at My Place of Work Minus 1, a very nice group of folks where I got to do some neat stuff and felt valued and useful, and a year after that I was in my current very-kewl job. (Once in a while I even get asked about teaching, though it will be a couple of years at best before I can do that… I’m steeping in ginormous barrels of new knowledge right now.)
So after that conversation at Midwinter, I stopped by the Drexel table in the exhibit hall and said, “Hey, I used to run LII. Thanks for taking it over.” The nice ladies in the booth didn’t really know what I was talking about, or that I sometimes wished I still ran LII, or that I still had a bug in my bonnet about what I couldn’t do with LII back in the day, or that when I was down and out Drexel made me feel even worse, and that sometimes I run across that rejection email and force myself to laugh, because if you can’t laugh then you need to hang it up.
The nice ladies in the Drexel booth just smiled and we had a nice chat, and as I needed to do, I then moved on.