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Strength in Interdependence

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Published inLibraries and Librarians


  1. […] are that doesn’t include librarians. At the recent ACRL Conference I heard lots about our relationships with faculty, which many of us still find to be unsatisfyingly one-sided. There are a variety of strategies we […]

  2. Sounds like such a productive time, except for the first session. I’ve come to the conclusion that most problems with professional identity stem from how we’re acculturated into the profession by our respective organizations. In library schools of yore, many of us absorbed this feeling that those who teach do and those who do not become librarians–that librarianship is a haven for ABDs and burned out classroom teachers. At least, that was my experience. And then, though I didn’t get the vibe in any paraprofessional work I did, once I ascended to the academy and was acculturated at that level, the folks with whom I worked who felt very unworthy, for whatever reason, and infected me with that virus. I’ve since recovered, but it took some time and a lots of self-medication. Our organization, however, hacks up bloody phlegm and the disease still negatively affects relations with other units on campus.

  3. I think in part this comes from having dual roles on campus: we’ve got a pedagogical role and a service role. It’s really hard to be in a service position and also feel like you can assert yourself and be something that the people you serve don’t think you are. I’m aiming to concentrate on how my pedagogical role can actually enhance my service role rather than hoping the reverse is true.

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