Rambling about possessiveness
I’ve been in the President’s Leadership Retreat for the past two days, with the rest of the College’s senior administration. Lots of big picture thinking about strategic goals, long-term planning, student recruitment and retention, fundraising, and finances. And a lot of cameraderie, too; this campus has a very strong community in a lot of different directions, and the goodwill and general affection that resonate between this group of people is an indicator of why that’s true through so many other facets of campus life, as well. Trickle-down attitudes, if you will.
One interesting facet of these two days, as I reflect on them, is that I haven’t talked about the libraries nearly at all, in our big-picture discussions. I’ve set up two appointments, talked to another Director about a mutual problem, chatted with several colleagues about construction issues, and reconnected with faculty members who were gone for the summer — all in my role as the Director of Libraries. But I haven’t talked much about the libraries. I’ve listened, and studied documents, and when relevant, talked: about student retention and recruitment, about campus programs, about finances and goals… I know I’ve contributed substantively to the discussions about our campus, just not by insisting we speak about my area of expertise.
And that’s absolutely okay. If the libraries and our skill set and services were relevant to the discussion of our campus needs, I’d be sure to make certain that was brought up. But in these particular moments, it wasn’t relevant. What was relevant was having a group of engaged, interested, and dedicated administrators looking at issues that matter to our communal future in broad, orer-arching strokes.
In a recent meeting, a library staff member referred to a library project as being “mine” while describing it, and I stopped and corrected, “It’s not ‘yours’, it’s the library’s.” I felt a bit mean correcting that comment, because in some contexts, I honestly appreciate that kind of perspective and understand it — I sometimes think about projects as mine, of the Libraries as mine, about new ideas as being mine — because I think it indicates a certain kind of dedication and investment that’s both personal and proprietary, usually in good ways. The things we take ownership of and cherish are things we give of ourselves to promote. But there are limits to possessiveness, productively, which is why I chose to make that verbal correction. We may do things because we’re personally invested, but we must always also know that what we do, we do for the College, in service of our mission to educate students.
Which is why I like days like today. I’m in this group of planners and thinkers because the Libraries, and by association, their Director, are a valued part of the institution. I’m participating in these discussions not because the Libraries are key to them, or set to gain or lose from the direction of them, but because even though my responsibility is for management and leadership of the Libraries, my responsibility in doing that is ultimately in serving the greater good of the College.
Because the Libraries aren’t mine, or even ‘ours’ in the context of the staff: The Libraries belong to the College, which supports them in service of our students.
It’s a good reminder in the week before those students return. When they show up, our world changes, both for the better and for the more chaotic. Things are going to go wrong, be messy, be hectic, and stress people out for the next two weeks. Students will have holds on their accounts because of library fines, users will appeal existing fines, we’ll push our technology to its limits and see where it fails, and we’ll spend a lot of time assisting with email accounts and Blackboard and the printers. We’ll get frustrated, and stressed, and at times defensive. We’ll also get the satisfaction of helping a student get to their next class on time, of providing that friendly face that makes someone’s day a little bit better, and of giving a job to a student worrying about money. We’ll go home each day knowing we helped our users.
We do it for them. Not because the Libraries are ours, but because the College is theirs.