By Meredith Farkas | May 22, 2011
Greetings from Portland, Oregon! I’ve been wanting to post about so many things in the past two months (especially just about everything Barbara Fister has been writing over at Library Babel Fish — gosh she is insightful!), but it’s been difficult to find the time. The learning curve at my new place of work has been steep and I really hit the ground running (which I actually appreciated, having been in jobs where I spent weeks just reading policy manuals). Also, I’ve really needed to focus on ensuring that Reed’s adjustment to Oregon, daycare and everything else went smoothly. Fortunately, Reed’s really taken to the area and his new school. He love all the playgrounds, museums and activities geared towards kids. Living somewhere with more opportunities for Reed was a big part of why we wanted to leave Vermont. As for me, I’m loving Portland. The city is unlike any I’ve been to before. I love the interesting neighborhoods, each with their own unique culture. I’m loving the food trucks, farmers’ markets, and the local food culture. It’s really got everything I’ve always loved about cities without many of the things that previously made me never want to live in/near one (noise, rude people, smelliness, etc.). I’m so happy we made this move!
As for the job, gosh, what can I say? I’m amazed by how busy I already am. It’s going to be an exciting challenge, that’s for sure. I really like the people I’m working with; they’re smart, thoughtful and argue passionately for the things they believe in. I think it’s going to be more challenging than I’d anticipated to accomplish the things I need to do as the Head of Instructional Services. The culture at the library (and the University really) is very decentralized and everyone doing instruction is used to doing their own thing without oversight or coordination. Coupling that with the departure of some key people at the library and it’s going to be hard to do anything more than keeping up the status quo. But we, as a library, urgently need to change. We need to create a culture of assessment where we can demonstrate the value we provide (in terms of student success and faculty research) to campus administration. Over the past decade, the library has sustained funding cuts and little growth in personnel while the university has grown tremendously. This indicates pretty strongly that the library has not been an administrative funding priority and we need to find ways of telling our story to those administrators that will convince them of our value. It certainly indicates a strong need for my position, which everyone I talk to recognizes. Even with that recognition, it’s difficult to make cultural changes, especially at a time of upheaval at the library. I’m optimistic though; I like a good challenge.
As someone who is very interested in organizational culture, it’s exciting to work in one so different from my previous experiences. At Norwich, we had very few meetings and were more of an adhocracy where if someone had the drive and initiative to make something happen, they usually just did it. If I had an idea, I’d just pop into my Director’s office and ask her if she thought I should give it a try. In four weeks at Portland State, I’ve probably been to more meetings than I went to in my entire last year at Norwich. Everything is decided by committee or task force, and it seems like there’s a real effort to come to a consensus on things. There are many policies and procedures for how things are done, which is certainly more necessary at a large library. As a result, things move more slowly. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing; we did some things at Norwich with very little forethought that probably could have been better planned out. I’ve really appreciated the thoughtful discussions we’ve engaged in on the Library Guides Taskforce already; it’s a bunch of really smart people coming at the topic from different perspectives. On the other hand, so much red tape leaves much less room for experimentation and innovation. I’ve always felt like the mark of a great administrator is to be able to get things done in any sort of organizational environment, since, more often than not, organizational culture is exceedingly difficult to change on a grand scale. Since I hope to be an administrator in the future, I’m thrilled to have the chance to try my hand at working within this very different culture.
Right now I’m engaged in a survey of our instruction program. I’m interviewing every individual involved in any aspect of library instruction from tours for high school students all the way up to discipline-specific classes for grad students. I want to have a very clear picture of what our instruction program looks like, what’s working and what isn’t, what could be improved, what people would like to see change, and how I might be able to create more of a team mentality among this diverse group of individual instructors. I’ve done four interviews so far and it’s been extremely valuable to get their perspectives, since each individual has very different views and priorities. Every instruction coordinator should do something like this when they come into the position, even if they were promoted to it from within their library.
I’ve got a ton of stuff going on right now — preparing for a keynote I’m giving in Missouri on June 7th, getting ready for the class I’m going to be teaching for SJSU this summer, and trying to figure out what I want to research so I can actually stay in my tenure-track job — so I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post. But I have so many thoughts swirling in my head about instruction, especially the best way to provide information literacy instruction to first-year students, and blogging has always been a great way for me to process my own ideas and get valuable feedback from other members of the profession. I really miss blogging as much as I used to. I just need to find a way to fit everything into my life. I guess this is what every working parent deals with and while I feel like I have struck a much better work/life balance than I had in the past, I’m still struggling to find a sense of balance that doesn’t leave me constantly questioning my choices. When I’m with Reed, I feel like I should be focusing more on work. When I’m focusing on work, I miss Reed horribly. And time for me? That isn’t even part of the equation right now. While I’m optimistic about a lot of things in my life, I’m not optimistic that I’ll ever feel balance in my life again (at least until Reed’s in college). Is it worth it though, to have a wonderful child and a wonderful job? You bet!