Posted by: Steven Harris | July 12, 2010

The 50-year Old Librarian and the Temple of Doom

MirrorsIt’s been 3 months since I last blogged. There are probably a few reasons for that. I have not really become a habitual blogger. I tend to ponder quite a bit about possible blog topics before getting anything down in bits and bytes. Sometimes I ponder the topic right out of my mind and forget to blog it at all. Sometimes they just become moldy and stale to me. Another reason I haven’t blogged much this Spring is that Spring is the cruelest season for collections and acquisitions librarians. We are scrambling like mad to figure out what we need to do before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. We have to make sure all our collections funds are spent and do a lot of year-end close-out juggling. Shift these funds there. Figure out what is outstanding. Hound vendors to hurry and send invoices. Pay some invoices early if you can. It’s a fairly hellish time of year.

Another reason I think I haven’t been blogging much in recent months is that I just turned 50. Typically, I don’t give much credence to the notion of “important” birthdays. 21…whatevah. 30? Meh! But 50 has me thinking about all kinds of doomsday scenarios. It kind of puts one in a mood of really examining your career and your accomplishments. Honestly, there are a lot of things I would have liked to have accomplish by now that I haven’t, both professionally and personally. Where is that 500 page post-modern novel? When will I ever visit the Outer Hebrides? And why am I not the LeBron James of academic library collection development? More so though, I begin to think about what else I want to do in my career and how much time I have to do it. Realistically, I have to think that I have about 15 years to do significant things in librarianship. I will probably work beyond 65, but I’ll likely be the guy they stick off in a corner to putter around on his odd little esoteric projects. I won’t be leading the charge.

So, I think I need to come up with a personal strategic plan. What do I want to do? Where do I want to do it? What are the steps along the way? All of that is still fairly nebulous for me. I want to continue investigating how we can make academic libraries transition from an archival kind of philosophy to a service philosophy. How to make library collections more responsive to immediate user needs, rather than simply accumulating a huge pile of stuff and hope that it serves the local population adequately? How can we get both library organizations and campus communities to buy into an on-demand or patron-driven collecting model? (Because, honestly, even the user community doesn’t quite accept the model. Every faculty member wants their library to be Harvard or Yale.) All of that requires that I think honestly about myself and about the leadership qualities I need to bring to this plan. I need to think about whether I have the skills I need to make a significant impact in this area, how I go about getting the skills I might be lacking, and whether I have enough career left in me to pull it off.

There. That all sounds a bit like a downer, but I don’t really feel that way. It is something of a crossroads for me. I need to make some serious decisions, but it’s all what makes this career interesting. But I guess I’ll put off working on that post-modern novel until next year.



  1. A mere fifty! Oh, my beamish boy…

    I have been hit base over apex by the knowledge that this is probably the job I’ll retire from. It clarifies the mind wonderfully.

    Most of my professional goals right now are pretty straight forward and, now that I’m out from under the tenure beast, I actually have enough energy to pursue them.

    Now I’m trying to reinvent my personal life so that, when I no longer have to show up at a library at 8:30 in the morning every day, I’ll have interesting things to occupy my time, and enough cash to afford them.

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