I had a great conference at ACRL 2011. And as normally happens to me at a conference, this conference developed a theme organically for me as pieces and parts of different sessions stood out and grabbed my attention — a bright shining thread spun itself out of the various sessions and strung itself through the conversations and presentations and plans. What wasn’t so normal for me about this organic theme is that it aligned with the conference’s publicly stated slogan: A Declaration of Interdependence. I normally pay little attention to slogans, so I admit being a little peeved when I had a moment of insight and then realized that ACRL had predicted it. I felt kind of like I had invented the solution to 2+2 and then been told, “Yeah, that was the point of arithmetic, silly.” But regardless, there was that shining thread materializing in front of me: interdependence is the key — it might solve everything.
Here’s how I arrived there in three chronological steps.
- I attended a session about developing collaborations with campus faculty, and the whole session revolved around this sense that faculty were somehow a problem to be solved. The conversation revolved around librarians feeling misunderstood and begging for recognition as professionals. It did not, however, tell me much about collaborative relationships. It left me feeling a little sad.
- Then I went to a session about developing our own communities of practice (presented by my new librarian crush, Char Booth). This conversation encouraged us to foster and revel in our communities of practice, appreciating them for what they are and constantly honing our practice. And this session said a whole lot about vibrant and collaborative relationships, their power, and how each piece of the collaboration strengthens the whole and strengthens the individual.
- Then came the Raj Patel keynote about the vast interdependent networks of variables that determine how things work in our world — farming, household labor, environment, policy, production, and culture all contribute to the price of a hamburger, for example. He pointed out that the Tea Party (no, not that Tea Party, the original one) hadn’t been about overthrowing the East India Company, but about “negotiating interdependence from a position of power” (a phrase I just love). No one thing works by itself, and things working together in a system are strong as a system specifically because the parts are different but working together.
And so there I was, inventing 2+2, and realizing that our systemic insecurity about our roles on our campuses and even amongst our colleagues could be one of the things that’s preventing us from really participating in this ecosystem as fully as we might. We could be just as guilty as anyone else of not appreciating the role we do or could play in that interdependent environment, so we’re trying to say “We’re like you trees in all these important ways, so value us” when in fact the trees depend on us birds to distribute their seeds and we depend on their fruit and their branches. We’re not negotiating our interdependence from a position of power, and so we’re dependent (resonance with the Big Deal, anyone?). Strength, freedom, and self-assurance lie in interdependence.