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Feeling My Way

Warning. Extreme navel gazing is about to ensue.

This week has been one of those hard weeks. I’m not prone to annoyance, and I generally face life with an optimism that borders on the pathological. But what with one thing and another my personal bubble of good will and sanguinity weakened and finally burst into a shower of self-pity last night. This is probably my least favorite emotion. Not only is it distinctly on the “not happy” side of the happiness continuum, but it’s also just about as embarrassing and unhelpful as a state of mind can be. It’s the kind of emotion that makes strangers edge away to find somebody else to meet and causes friends to wonder how best to change the subject or, better yet, excuse themselves and go home.

Thankfully, in the rare cases when I plunge into intense self-doubt and questioning, I can rarely sustain it for long. But last night the question was to blog or not to blog, or perhaps to change the kinds of things I blog about. And I think this question bears thinking about even now that I’m not “in the pit of dispair” (as one albino once said, horsely).

I’ve always just been feeling my way here. There’s no plan, just a general sense that I want to explore these topics in public. At one point this blog was mostly a space for me to remember what I’d seen or learned as I finished my first year as a librarian. Then I thought for a while that it should be more “libraryland news”-ish (and I discovered two things pretty quickly: I’m not interested in writing that way, and almost nobody is interested in reading the “news” I write). More recently I’ve been writing a combination of “things I’m thinking about” and “things that are happening to me,” with the balance starting to lean toward the latter in recent months.

And I think it’s this most recent shift that I’m questioning now not only because it’s potentially not as interesting but also because it may make my task of balancing the personal and the professional even more difficult than it would be otherwise. For one thing, if I focus too closely on what happens at work, people at work (by which I mean people on campus, not just in the library) may get nervous, especially now that I have more than 3 or 4 readers. In fact, just about the only editorial criterion I use before publishing a post is one of fairness: is what I’ve written fair to the people I work with and respect. I take this criterion very seriously both because it’s, well, fair and because I really do respect and enjoy working with 99% of the people on my campus. I can honestly say I’d never worked in a place with such a large proportion of wonderful people prior to coming here. The last thing I want is for these people to get nervous.

I’m also on a campus where blogging is not the norm. Its conventions and implications haven’t been explored before. What does it mean to explore topics in public? Who is the audience? What happens when I first say Twitter seems ridiculous and then end up completely addicted, all within a few months and all in public? Is it appropriate to publicly explore work-related issues in the same way that I publicly explore social networking tools? More importantly, how far do you trust somebody who could, if she wanted, publish the goings on at private meetings? How comfortable are we, as a library and as a campus community, with the idea of letting others in on our half-formed ideas? What happens if our half-formed ideas turn out to be wrong? Do we want others to know that we had a moment of weakness? What are the implications of having projects written about as they happen rather than presented in cohesive form at conferences or in articles? Does the library or the campus have the right to ask that material be added to or subtracted from a blog? Weighing the benefit of generally good publicity against the danger of airing dirty laundry, how much should personal blogs be encouraged, allowed, or governed? What does it mean for our campus when bloggers develop ever-widening circles of friends and contacts in libraries all over the world? What does it mean when communication sidesteps the conventional (and perhaps mythological) pathway of employee to supervisor to boss to wider world? I can imagine any of these questions swirling around in the minds of co-workers and higher-ups. In fact, this is just scratching the surface of the possible questions and fears.

Just as I’m always just feeling my way with this whole blog, I’m also just feeling my way through this post. I don’t know where I’m going with this except to say that these questions are real, and they’re important, but they’re not easy.

8 thoughts on “Feeling My Way

  1. By all means, please keep feeling your way, and making it clear that you’re feeling your way. I much prefer the messy and professional way of doing things than the more common bastardized project managment “best practices” way of not doing things, which is the direction another department seems to be heading, alas. Blogging details of “private” meetings is a dicey one, but people will trust you as a thought leader as long as you lead, and think, and get things done, and remain human and dogged by self-doubt (see Reed on Orwell on Gandhi).

  2. As one who has often changed her mind in public and contradicted her previously held ideas, I think all of that is what makes a blog good.
    Sure, I probably don’t seem nearly as polished as someone who only posts things they know with certainty, but I am certain that person also went through the same negotiation to come to their conclusion.

    I like to read people’s true and sometimes half-formed impressions of things. I like to see when people change their thinking. It, in fact, makes me trust them more, because I know they are willing to admit when they’re wrong and are willing to look imperfect (since we all are). That is BRAVE. That is REAL. I love your blog for its humanity and I would not love it as much were you too “careful” about how you express yourself.

    Yes, care always needs to be taken when writing about work, but I’ve never found you to have written something questionable in that sense (as I have with some other folks). I think we all have to find what works within the culture we work in; there’s no one boundary for everyone. I think you’re asking good questions, but I genuinely hope you don’t censor yourself too much and I hope you keep publicly processing your ideas about academic librarianship. This is one of my favorite academic librarian blogs and I would say that even if I didn’t know you.

  3. I couldn’t agree more the previous two comments.

    Having an opinion about something, learning more about it, and then changing that opinion is the sign of an open and enlightened mind.

    My blog is more of a personal one, and I tend not to post much about work for the very reasons you discuss. But, don’t let the self doubts get to you (not easy sometimes, I know). I think your instincts are good, and you’re blog has certainly been enjoyable to read. Post like this one only show your humanity.

  4. Wow Iris, I recognize so many of the same questions and concerns that I have had and experienced in regards to blogging. In the online world, the distinctions between personal and the professional seems to be blurring somewhat. While I blog personally, anyone with any research knowledge should be able to find my place of employment. Because I blog about library issues and because I work in a library, I can’t entirely separate my personal views from my professional life. It makes it much more complicated when coworkers read one’s personal blog. The fact that coworkers read my blog makes me think about what I want to write in a different way.

    It is hard – and there are no easy answers. I struggle with these same issues on a daily basis. I try to be open and honest with my coworkers but is as new to them as it is to me.

    Anyway, posts like these are part of what makes your blog so enjoyable to read. Best of luck figuring it all out! If you have any earth shattering revelations, please let me know!

  5. Thanks, all, for your input. I’ve realized that simply writing these questions that always lurk in the back of my mind really helps. Now I look at them and grapple with them rather than let them all gang up on me in the dark. It also helps (a lot) to be reminded that most of us deal with this sort of thing all the time, and that nobody has the golden answer.

  6. Can I also add that I enjoy your posts? (Both the personal and the work-related.) As a cataloguer who works behind the scenes, it is interesting to me to hear about the work of someone on the reference side: what you do, how you do it, and how difficult it can be. It helps to keep things grounded that what I do is meant to serve the user as well. And I have yet to hear you say anything inappropriate.

  7. Thank you, bibliotecaria. Hearing from you and others that this space is useful really helps me as I puzzle out what I’m doing and its implications.

    I enjoy writing here very much, more than I ever thought I would when I started. And I want to make it clear that nobody told me last week that I shouldn’t blog about work. It’s just that a stressful week made these questions, which always lurk, seem suddenly and crushingly important.

    The feedback I’ve been getting, here and in private, has been both helpful and heartwarming. I can’t thank you all enough.

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