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Reflections in a Golden LIAL

Early in August I attended the Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I returned just in time to get out my Orientation surfboard, on which we ride the waves of a new school year, heroically finishing summer projects (hi, WorldCat Local! Hello, Overdrive! Howdy, new website!), welcoming new students with classes and events (including a successful Gaming Night that hilariously featured Colossal Playing Cards), welcoming a brand-new librarian (an entire new position!), and so forth.

LIAL 2011 (Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians)

LIAL 2011 (Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians)

Even during those long, exhausting, wonderful days, I felt confounded by my lack of time to blog about LIAL–I so yearned to capture the event before it faded.

Fortunately, John Dupuis of York University wrote a post that has firmly pinned LIAL 2011 in place and time, capturing it both logistically and as an actual experience we lived through, from the late nights frantically choking down the next day’s homework assignments to the Beer Affinity Groups where we quaffed a brew or two. It was a powerful analog experience–with chalkboards, no less–where in John’s words, we were “too damn busy and too damn engrossed” to be distracted by technology.

We were advised to “unplug,” but I had to temper that advice by the realities of running a tiny university library, so I did check work email first thing in the morning, at lunch, and again in the evening, and take action as needed. But overall, I spent that week in a mindset I remember from my MFA classes–where I was fully and corporeally present, luxuriating in that 21st-century indulgence, the completely face-to-face learning experience.

(Oh, irony: I write that as the politically-attuned administrator who in post-LIAL mindfulness took a deep breath and volunteered to run a campus-wide, semester-long online learning pilot of Collaborate [nee Elluminate].)

Most of the instruction was through the Harvard case study model. I would choke down case studies the night before (sometimes finishing them first thing in the morning, after waking face-down in my readings, my tongue glued to the paper), and then arrive at my most excellent front-row-center seat wearing an invisible dunce cap. The instructors were brilliant, and moved at a snappy pace; my brain, not so much. There were a couple of moments when I realized my conclusions and judgment were actually spot-on. Just a couple, but that helped.

I arranged two “directors’ dinners,” and it was good to break bread with people in similar institutions. I used the walk to and from LIAL, the breaks, the lunches, and other opportunities to graze experience from my peers. I ran on a path beside the Charles River several mornings, when the sun was striking broad golden bands on its surface; I lunched with a charming poet-librarian; I scooted into bookstores; I let the stroll to campus become familiar to my feet. I stayed up too late, got up too early, stretched too far in all directions, and was tremendously sad when it was all over, and yet happier than ever to return to my home, my job, and my life.

So six weeks in, what is LIAL’s legacy for me? I have an internal trip report (for my boss and her eyes only), but here are a few share-worthy bits.

One thing I will work harder at: slowing down to get the full story; analyzing situations with all four frames; and whenever possible, “get off the dance floor and go to the balcony” to assess situations from a higher viewpoint (q.v. Heifitz, Leadership Without Easy Answers). A “situation” could be as small as ensuring we take pictures at an event, or as large a major relationship I need to nurture.

I am now more intentionally managing my political “map” (also called “constituent map”) of relationships at MPOW, and carefully monitoring the political landscape,  using it as a touchstone for decision-making.  I am working to develop intentional relationships with all stakeholders—not just the ones I feel a natural affinity for, or easily get along with.

Like John, I feel more empowered to operate in the political and symbolic framework. I have sometimes felt conflicted about activities that take me away from the daily heap. I know these are the right thing to do, but it’s good to be validated–just like it’s good to be validated about devoting that extra 5% of attention to the “political” details, or talking up the positive spin on things whenever possible.  Validated At Harvard, No Less.

LIAL dovetailed with some key campus milestones I have been monitoring since my arrival. Next stop: to project a vision and build buy-in. Again, it’s one thing to know intuitively that’s the direction you need to go in. But it’s another thing to have that direction validated. I had the same validation last week from our new VP for Advancement. All roads lead to London.

I feel very much the symbolic value of having been sent to LIAL in the first place. My boss was very enthusiastic about me attending this institute. But even more than the functional value of a crash-course in HigherEdism, I feel the value of her affirmation, and I feel she believes in me and sees my commitment to my job.

It didn’t hurt that today, at a reception for math students, a long-time professor talked about the changes we had wrought at our library in the last two years. I had to go back to my office and focus on Important Memos, because I had something in my eye.

So forward, and onward. I cup this part of my life in my hands, watching its wings flutter, feeling its heart thrum.  I am doubly blessed, not only by my good fortune, but my awareness of the same.  Joan Didion wrote, “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” Far too often we cannot prevent the end of life as we know it, but we can elect to be present in the fullness of our best days. LIAL, of all things — 100 or so academic librarians, squeezed into a classroom, pushing their way through a one-week class — is forever part of these times.

Embarrassingly, I still miss my small group (the group I met with every day at 8 a.m. to review case studies, including our own). The first Monday after LIAL, I felt bereft. How could I possibly navigate the universe without them? But their absence reminds me how much I enjoy librarians, how we all face the same challenges, and how good most people can be to one another–at Harvard, and everywhere else.

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