I’m currently taking a 4-week course, Fundamentals of Graphic Design, via the online learning platform, Coursera. In pulling together the content for the Data Visualization course that I’m developing for a local college, I realized that I need to include a crash course, i.e. one week in the basics of design, thus I thought taking this online course would give me some ideas for how to cover the topic myself. Plus, I could learn some things and improve my own skills. The first week we covered the image and the assignment was to create at least 10 iterations on an everyday, common object. You can see here my takes on a pencil.
Creating these images reminded me of my professional journey and in particular some of the struggles I’ve been feeling of late regarding where I fit in professionally. Since I started my career in librarianship, I’ve belonged to several related professional organizations – the Medical Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the American Library Association, the Special Libraries Association, plus regional chapters and state organizations associated with each of these. I’ve tried different groups at different times, looking for the best fit as my work changed. Among these, the one organization that I’ve invested the most time and effort (and felt the most a part of) for the past dozen years has been the Medical Library Association. It makes since, since I worked the first decade of my career in an academic medical library (and even today still work at the same medical school). Regardless of how many times that my job title and/or role changed within the Library, I still worked in a medical library and thus, MLA worked for me.
One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about being a member of MLA is attending the annual meeting. It’s where I get to see so many of my friends and colleagues, where I’m always renewed and energized by the sessions and speakers and topics, where I get to share some of my own work with colleagues, and where I remember where I belong professionally. It’s such a highlight of my professional life.
Last week, I withdrew my accepted posters from this year’s meeting and accepted the decision that I’d not be attending MLA 2016 in Toronto. I’d be lying if I didn’t say how sad the choice makes me. But it’s the choice that I had to make. As I looked through the content of the meeting this year, there simply wasn’t enough related to the work that I do as an evaluator for the UMCCTS. There aren’t any sessions devoted to librarians working with and/or as part of their CTSA offices. There aren’t enough talks about measuring research impact and evaluating programs (outside of evaluating library programs). Given that I’d be paying to travel and attend out of my own pocket, and knowing without enough related content offered I’d have to take personal vacation time to attend, I just couldn’t justify the expenses. And it makes me really sad.
Since I left the physical library to use all of the very same skills that I possess as a librarian, it’s become harder and harder to face the fact (or is it “harder and harder to ignore the fact”?) that most folks, even many I consider colleagues, don’t think of me as a librarian anymore. What makes it all the more difficult is my “new” professional home, the American Evaluation Association, hardly feels like home either. Despite the fact that our skill sets overlap in so many areas, despite the fact that I got the job I have today because I have the skill set of a librarian, it seems like evaluators are evaluators and librarians are librarians, and a librarian who happens be an evaluator is an odd duck, alone in the pond.
I don’t wish to turn this post into a pity party. I enjoy what I do, I’m very proud to be a librarian, and I know that despite the inability (or at least difficulty) of our professional pigeon holes to expand, those of us willing to seek out new and different opportunities will find them. It’s not always easy, but it’s okay. Yes, I’m sad about the particulars of this year’s MLA annual meeting and I’m grieving a little, knowing I’ll not be having fun with friends in Toronto, but more than anything, the situation has caused me to think a great deal about the benefits, the purpose, and the future of our professional organizations. Why do we have them? What do they provide? Why do we belong? I’ve been part of executive boards of these very groups, asking these very questions for awhile. It isn’t new, but it did hit me differently this go ’round.
The instructor for my graphic design course said that when you do iterations, you need to push the boundaries; work with the image until you get right up to the point where it falls apart – where it no longer resembles the object you started with. I’ve been thinking a good bit if that’s not the perfect metaphor for my professional journey as a librarian. I’ve pushed many boundaries of the profession and now I wonder if I’ve pushed to the point that the image of me as a librarian has fallen apart.