Thursday, October 31, 2013

30th Year Reflections/60: Next Steps

“The Road goes ever on and on | Down from the door where it began. | Now far ahead the Road has gone, | And I must follow, if I can, | Pursuing it with eager feet, | Until it joins some larger way | Where many paths and errands meet. | And whither then? I cannot say.” — J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

On June 14, 2012 I posted the first of what quickly became a series of posts floating under the title “30th Year Reflections.” In that first post I noted that

Thirty years ago this October I entered the library profession. Over the course of those thirty years I have held five positions, four of them in an academic setting: instruction/reference librarian, library director, medical librarian, director of archives, and curator of special collections and rare books. The path I mapped out for myself at the beginning of my career was altered a bit along the way. But for the most part I ended up where I hoped I would end up: in a large academic research library. My initial career map thirty years ago did not get down to specific job titles or duties so it is still a bit of a surprise to me (and maybe to others as well) that I ended up where I am, in the world of archives and special collections as a curator of special collections and rare books. The question I’m facing at the moment is: will I stay here?

I went on and observed that this was a good moment for me to reflect on my career. “The time for such a reflection is perfect (for me if for no one else): by my reckoning I am about two-thirds of the way through my career; I have worked for thirty years and anticipate retiring after another fourteen to sixteen years of labor.” The calculus on my retirement date might change, but as it now stands I plan on retiring sometime between 2024 and 2027. Young whippersnappers with an eye on my chair can plan accordingly.

This is my last post in the series. I’ll continue to write and post things here, but will orient my gaze more to present and future concerns and less a remembrance of days past. For the most part, I met what modest goals I had for this series: to remember, reflect, and celebrate thirty years in the library profession; to energize a flagging blog; and to maintain a discipline of weekly writing. Along the way, I picked up another writing project that morphed into a book on the closing of the University of Minnesota library school. The manuscript for the book is finished. All I need now is a publisher.

I want to emphasize, as I did at the beginning, the celebratory nature of these posts. As I wrote over a year ago, “I am glad to be a librarian; I have no regrets. It is, to borrow from the religious world of my father (and also my second son) my ‘calling.’ This is the profession I was meant for, that I was created for.”

The opening quotation to this last post is from one of my favorite authors. Tolkien expresses, better than I ever could, my mind and being—professional and personal—at this moment in time. Like Bilbo of the Shire, a great part of my adventure is over. I’ve confronted dragons, riddled in the dark, seen many parties come and go. Also, like Bilbo, there are times when “I feel all thin, sort of stretched…like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” And yet, my days are far from over. “I want to see mountains again.” There is much still to do. “I must follow, if I can, | Pursuing it with eager feet.”

The question Tolkien’s song raises in my mind is: what is “it?” Is “it” my remaining professional ambitions and desires? If so, what are they? To see books or articles published? Yes. Participate in the work of professional association committees? Maybe. Continue teaching? Yes. Maintain a discipline of writing? Yes. Administer a larger unit? Probably not. Encourage and mentor younger professionals? You bet. I want to continue learning, retain my sense of humor, nurture friendships and collegial relationships. I am happy at my post (while even here there is more that needs to be done, in a better fashion). But I yearn for more.

What might this be? Is “it” an expanded vocational calling, of being stretched in new ways that grow me as both a professional and person, of joining “some larger way | Where many paths and errands meet?” I hope so. The digital world is in many ways a fearful place, full of challenges. Perhaps continuing to abide in such a world requires a hobbit’s heart: stout, brave, yet cheerful and optimistic. If so, I will cultivate those sensibilities (along with the occasional need of a “second breakfast”). I do not know what the remaining days of my professional life will bring. “And whither then? I cannot say.”

I would, in concluding this series, make one correction to an observation I made in the very first posting. There I wrote about “the path I mapped out for myself at the beginning of my career.” There was, indeed, a path and a map. But I had little to do with its making. The map was there long before I arrived on the scene. And as to the path, it was made apparent to me more by others than by me. I needed the counsel of the Wise, my own Gandalf, to help discern the way. Others in the fellowship went before me, others guided me on my way and joined me on the path. It was rarely a case of my forging ahead on my own, and when I did, more often than not it was a wrong turning. I am thankful for the companionship along the way that made this part of the journey so memorable and rewarding. I look forward to the future, until a breaking of the fellowship, and even beyond. Mára mesta! Namárië!

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