In a meeting a few days ago, someone asked me how long I have been at Keene State College. Just over five years, I said. Usually when I tell people that they say it feels like longer (I am not at all sure how to interpret that). But then they often ask why I decided to make a chance, especially after 22 years at my previous library where I got my first job as a librarian and left after having been the director for 12 years.
When I got to Maryland in 1992 I figured I’d stay for 3-5 years and look for my next job. But the next job found me there, a promotion giving me some supervision and budget responsibilities. Then the promotion to director came and with it more opportunities to learn and contribute. And, eventually, a pretty serious enrollment and budget crisis, way back in 2012, gave us all a sense of what was on the horizon. I loved my colleagues in the library and on campus. I loved the students. I had the opportunity to teach Religious Studies courses and mentor students which allowed me to use all of my pre-MLS academic training. Things were good.
So why, at age 57, did I consider a move? After over 50 years of living in the same place, my partner was ready for a change. More than ready. And she wanted New England. Me – not such a fan of snow and cold, but really, really committed to public higher education and someplace small. I visited Keene State for a COPLAC (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges) conference in 2008. It seemed like a good fit. The job became available, so I thought why not. And here I am.
I have been thinking a lot for the last couple of years about this later in career move and how important it has been for me. That crisis of imposter syndrome I had during my interview and first year here helped liberate me, and provided the space I needed to radically rethink what it means to be and to work as a leader in the library and on campus. I struggled to learn new ways of doing things (just the daily mechanics of working in an organization), worked at understanding and supporting my library colleagues, and owe my commitment to Open Education to some amazing comrades on campus and in the region.
Here are some things I have learned in the past five years:
- Give yourself time to adjust to a new climate and demographic.
- It’s OK to bring “a vision,” but don’t expect it to be “the” vision.
- You can learn to run a half-marathon at age 58 (I have now run four of them).
- Everyone is adjusting to you as much as you are adjusting to everyone and everything else.
- It’s OK to compare – it’s a good idea to stop doing it out loud too often, but previous experiences always inform what we do (not always in positive ways).
- Be ready to learn! Ask lots of questions. Policies, procedures, and local customs vary.
- Figure out which hills you might consider dying on. You may discover there aren’t many.
- If there is a mountain nearby you should climb it with a friend.
The transition was tough. Staying in one place for so long left me unprepared for how different things would be. I (thought I) knew how to be a library director/dean. And I was right . . . and wrong. My identity as a librarian (which is always what I tell people I am – because it’s true) has changed, my concept of myself as a leader has changed, and my sense of what our library is has changed. Some of that is because our profession and higher ed are changing. But much of my evolution I owe to my colleagues and our amazing students here where I am now. And for all of that, I am grateful.