on knowing (not) what I am doing…

I’ve been struggling to figure out what to write about this month. While I’ve been doing a lot of professional development, I don’t know what to do with all of it yet, which is nothing new. Therefore, what follows is a lot about the reality that, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”

I’m guessing that some of you are probably on summer break, and some of you may be finally finishing up with school year 2015-2016. Our school calendar is a bit of an oddity in that we finished school in May, had a week off, and are already in our second week of summer school.

As a very young child, summer for me meant “summer fun” (day camp). As I got older, it became pretty clear that I was a student for whom learning didn’t come very easily–old report cards indicate that I read extremely poorly until sometime in about the 5th grade. I think that starting sometime around the 4th grade instead of summer fun, I was always enrolled in summer school classes to help me catch up to my peers. School wasn’t easy, but I was blessed with good teachers and enough parental cajoling, love, support, and demand that I always managed to make it through.

I know that others’ experiences may be different, but it’s pretty clear that, for me, the adult that I’ve become is, fundamentally, not so very different than the struggling learner I was as a child. I’ve wondered recently, whether all of those schooling and learning struggles were just ways for the universe to prepare me for life as a school librarian because I don’t know about the rest of you, but…everyday I wake up, get dressed, and come to work, and spend most of my day secretly feeling deep down inside that, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”

As of the end of May, I’ve been an educator for 29 years–16 of which have been as a librarian. As a 20 year old with a newly minted BEd, I stood in front of my 22 first graders on the first day of school and thought, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”

I SO MUCH didn’t know what I was doing that I kept taking classes to figure all the teaching and learning stuff out until I ended up with a second Ed degree and still, I thought, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”

Through a whole bunch of weird twists and detours, I ended up in library school and a job as a middle school librarian and thought, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…” and then 14 years later moved into my current job where we’ve already established that, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”

I actually feel like I could probably end this post right here with “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…” but clicking the publish button here would take more guts than I actually possess so I’m going to qualify this a bit before pressing publish.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…” because in a world where the way information is created, published, disseminated, accessed, and used is, literally, changing everyday…

  • What does it mean to be “information literate?”
  • What does it mean to be “college ready?”
  • Are colleges truly doing a good job of preparing young adults to be thoughtful and productive citizens?
    • If no, do we continue to build PK-12 curriculum around helping students be “college ready” or do we bravely go where other schools have not?
  • How much of my collection should be eBooks vs. print vs. databases vs. audiobooks?
  • What platforms should I use to host my eBooks and audiobooks?
  • How many eBook and audiobook platforms is too many?
  • Should I have my own “library research process” like Big6 or ISP or should we be aiming to contextualize library skills/concepts/tasks into a broader framework like Design Thinking?
  • Is it okay to rip the DVD of our legal copy of Supersize Me so students can view it within Vialogues on our Moodle site?
    • Guidelines don’t count. I want someone to tell me yes or no and if they’re wrong, they get fired or sued instead of me.
  • Is the return on investment for EBSCO Discovery worth it by measurably getting many more student eyeballs on my expensive database content or is it still a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time thing that everybody is excited about and signing on for until two years from now when we’ll all want to move on to something else that is still not-quite-ready-for-prime-time?
  • I know library research skills are necessary and important for students’ future success, but how do I get teachers to believe what I believe?
  • Why do we have to change libraries into “Learning Commons” rather just calling them libraries and adding/evolving the functionality and work that happens within a “library?” (Modern hospitals seem to still be called “hospitals” without the messy historical baggage associated with the fact that physicians used to use leeches to suck blood from sick people. Things change, people, move on!).
  • Is coffee bad for me or is it good? What about salt? Butter? I’m a librarian. If I can’t figure out what to eat or not eat, how am I supposed to teach students in a health class what sources of information are to be believed?
  • MLA 8 has landed. Should I stay with MLA 7 for this year or make the jump in August?
  • Easybib Schools got murdered. Easybib Scholar didn’t look worth the cost difference for my school needs so we planned to migrate to NoodleTools, but now Easybib whatever it is called now is, supposedly, free. Go or stay?
  • What am I not doing that I should be doing? I don’t know what I don’t know…

Okay, so, that’s just a small sampling of my particular brand of crazy-librarian-mind-thinking and that’s what I mean when I say, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…” 

Please click on the comment link and weigh in.

  • Do you actually feel like you know what you’re doing? How did you get to that space?
  • What do you do to make decisions when you feel like you don’t yet know all that you need to know, but have to make a decision one way or another?

Somebody at least post a comment if only because otherwise I’ll spend the rest of the summer worrying that:

  • I have no idea what I am doing…

and that

  • I’m the only one that has no idea what he is doing…

Happy summer, all!

By the way, the AISL Summer Institute Design Thinking @ Your Library hosted by Katie Archambault at the Emma Willard School in Troy, NY starts in a week! Hope to see you there, but if you can’t make it this year follow the goodness at #aislSI16

18 thoughts on “on knowing (not) what I am doing…

    – for making me feel normal
    – for articulating so clearly what I deal with every day
    – for asking the hard questions
    I found all of this debilitatingly scary until someone much higher up than me commented on how he just hopes to ‘fake it until he makes it’. Crazy how many creative, accomplished, dedicated types out there have this crisis of confidence – let’s keep sticking together!

    Will be thinking of you all in Troy 🙂

  2. I read this at 6:30 a.m. EST and laughed out loud (scaring my dogs and neighbors, I think). I want to THANK YOU.

    Librarianship is a second career for me and I just finished year two of being a full-time librarian. I wake up every morning wondering how to solve problems and trying to decide what my position is on research skills, makerspaces, Google Scholar vs. databases, Discovery Services, copyright laws and streaming requests, and the list goes on. It just seemed like other librarians knew exactly where they stood on everything. Or, they had already tried it and it didn’t work. I often miss the certainty of theories that we explored in grad school.

    So David, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your honesty. Sincere conversations like this makes me glad I’m a librarian. Because, I too don’t know what I’m doing. And all along I thought it was my lack of experience that fueled my nagging sense of uncertainty, making me feel sorta like I was already failing before I had even really started. Thank you for your bravery and please keep writing! I need to hear this!!

  3. David-You’re not alone! I think many of us feel these same feelings and thoughts if not every day then often during any given school year. Rapid changes in technology, new colleagues with new ideas, budget cuts, and on and on and on makes for an ever changing landscape for those of us the library land. Keep doing what you’re doing-network, attend conferences, read professional journals, blog, etc. I’m pretty sure we’re all faking it a bit until we figure things out.

    Thanks for your honesty and humor!

  4. Favorite post ever! I have no what I’m doing. I’ve known this fact for some time and recently tried to confess to someone at work. She didn’t get it (at all), so I was thrilled to read this. Thanks for making my day!

  5. Hi David and thanks for your thoughts and post. Like you, I’m always asking “What?!” MLA8 would be great if faculty agreed in the value of using MLA any version; Chicago style is part and parcel of our students’ lives; NoodleTools continues to be our go-to but still convincing faculty of the value of giving it a try; how to embed ourselves into the research projects throughout the year?; is our collection developmentally appropriate?; how much new fiction do we really buy?; how do we get overly busy high schoolers to read for fun?; I could go on and on about basic questions I ask over and over. However, then I take a deep breath and remember the most important thing of all: connecting with our students one-on-one. Then I remember the senior who thanked me for making the library a place he and others wanted to be, not just to hang out, but to be able to read, think, and work. And it all comes back to the fact that I’ll never feel like I know that what I’m doing is enough or right or “just the thing” but I will know that if I remember to talk with, laugh with, hang with and empathize with the kids, they’ll keep coming back and asking questions and trying to figure it all out knowing that they have all of us in the library to support them and guide them. After all, if our students remember the library and the librarians as the ones that help them search for their truth, isn’t that what we’re doing above all else?
    Will see you at AISL Institute too – look forward to catching up.

  6. Oh my! This is me, for sure! In spite of having all sorts of library credentials, and having worked as a school librarian in the UK and in Canada, I still feel like a novice, and I still don’t feel entirely in my comfort zone: am I providing the best resources, easy access to information, useful instruction, a diverse collection? Am I helping students develop their information-seeking skills for school and beyond? Am I inculcating a love of reading? What am I missing? What can I do better? I still think I’m the only one who really doesn’t know what I’m doing, particularly since I always view you, Dave, as always knowing exactly what you’re doing! One of the most important things I’ve realized is that relationships are key. If you can establish friendly relationships with staff and students, you’re more than halfway there. Your post gives me a sense of hope (even while making me slightly nervous!)!

  7. I have had just this conversation with a colleague…..I am forever fearful that one day the principal will come in and say…”I’ve figured it out….no more pretending…..I’m on to you…….you don’t know what you are doing!!”
    Thank you for your courage to articulate this sentiment so beautifully and openly. This conversation can only serve to make us better at what we do, because clearly we strive to improve every day, or else we wouldn’t think “I don’t know what I’m doing”.
    “We’re all in this together”, to quote a one of our family favourite sing-a-long tunes.

  8. Always love your posts, David, but this one’s the best! I don’t know what I’m doing either, for all the reasons stated above, and am so happy that I will finally get the chance to meet you at the Summer Institute next week!

  9. I think the very fact that you continue to ask the hard questions means you DO know what you’re doing, and you’re doing it well. Our job is not one static set of tasks, so we have to continually question and change with it. When we weigh one tool over another or contemplate our success rate in growing readers or ponder copyright rules vs fair use, we are doing exactly the things we were specifically trained to do, the things that thoughtful learners do, too. When we model that positive behavior of questioning and digging deeper, we are helping grow more thoughtful students and teachers. When you find yourself knowing all the answers, that’s when you should be worried! 😉

  10. The voice of reason — thanks for being that for me, Dave. No library education, credentials or previous work experience can prepare us for the ever-changing reality of school libraries in the “Information Age” (remember that moniker?) I agree that most of us are winging it, using our best judgment to do what is right in our particular circumstances, but honestly my best resource for navigating forward is this group of AISL colleagues. It takes a village … and how blessed we are to have a forum like this with a crowd of independent school “besties” to keep us engaged, learning, and laughing. Thanks for the levity this morning – it’s still crazy days in my little corner of heaven.

  11. David, I NEVER HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT I’M DOING EITHER!!!! Oh my gosh, this is my favorite blog post of all time. So, to respond to your questions – I think one of the indicators that we DO actually know what we’re doing is that we are always asking these kinds of questions. The educators who never doubt themselves are the ones who have stagnated and we are not those educators. Our field is particularly volatile. There is no “knowing” in our field, because information is not stable. There is only questioning, seeking, considering, pondering, discussing, and yes, perhaps, deciding. This means that our decisions HAVE to be flexible. We have to be able to change our minds, admit we were wrong, and teach students that being wrong and knowing what to do in those cases is part of inquiry – a healthy, fundamental, and necessary part of inquiry. So even though I don’t know what I’m doing, I DO know that my job is to question everything. I think being in a state of suspended inquiry (and not-knowingness) is a good thing! It’s perpetual learning. So, what do I do when I need to make a decision? I consult smart people. I ask all of you, I ask the teachers who I think are amazing, I ask students (VERY critical), and than I just do it. When it’s the wrong decision, I change it. If no one uses a database even though I’ve promoted the heck out of it, I get rid of it. Here’s what I think – coffee is very, very good for you, libraries should be called libraries for goodness sakes, our collections should be made up of whatever ratio of things our patrons want and will use (not a ratio determined by any outside source), contextualizing library skills is ALWAYS better (said by the woman who’s created a process, haha!, but a process that changes every single time we use it), some teachers will never get on board because inquiry scares them, others will try it because they like and trust you, MLA8 is easy and awesome and I don’t think it will be a tough transition (more like a breath of fresh, fresh air – if you can explain what the heck a ‘container’ is), design thinking is AWESOME, you are AWESOME, and information literacy just means…..ok, that one I don’t think I can answer. Phew! I am so glad we are in the same boat. Excellent to be with you on this one, my friend. As my dad always says, “Keep on keepin’ on!”

  12. I don’t know what I’m doing either and I’m so happy to come out with that reality because I’m weary of pretending that I do! Thanks Dave! Your post and the comments following are so reassuring.

    During the school year, I don’t know what I’m doing AND I don’t have any time to figure it out. I’m constantly running to the next meeting or class, “whipping something out” to meet the next deadline, and trying all along to be friendly and approachable-to build those relationships. And of course all the time faking that I know what I’m doing! Its exhausting!

    I have a large to do pile this summer and a lot of it falls into the “take the time to figure out….” category. I know from experience, even if I work really hard, I’ll run out of summer time to figure it all out. But now at least, I’m comforted by the fact Librarians as wonderful as Dave, don’t have it figured out either. I’ll just “keep swimming”.

  13. This is an awesome post. I often feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and it turns out this feeling is quite widespread! Here’s an illuminating Onion article on imposter syndrome that resonates with me:


    And here’s (a slightly more serious) one from the Huffington Post:


  14. I feel like this much of the time, too, and thank you for articulating it so well. One thing that I take comfort from is that being in a school, is that we have the chance to reinvent ourselves, our libraries, and our programs every year. We are so often solo, or with just a colleague or two, and it’s here that I find AISL membership is worth every penny – I get so much confidence and inspiration from colleagues whom I’ve never even met. It’s reassuring to hear so many of us are muddling through!

  15. Not knowing what you are doing is a negative way of saying that you are always seeking answers to really hard questions, always pushing your practice to higher standards. Keep up the perpetual quest – your students and colleagues appreciate your work.

  16. David,

    Many thanks for your terrific and timely post. You know exactly what your are doing by being self aware enough to raise the question “I have no idea what I am doing!”

    As I am enjoying that first week where I have no official deadlines or schedules concerning the library, I’ve already spent portions of the last three days in the space – reveling in the quietude despite the barrage of construction going on all around. I, too, find myself raising the very same questions –

    Value of pursuing EBSCO’s Discovery Service
    Legality of burning our extensive DVD collection to a local streaming service
    Figuring out what colleges expect of incoming freshman regarding library literacy,
    and most importantly,
    retaining the title of librarian and libraries despite the trend to turn us and our spaces into media specialists and learning commons.

    As to coffee, it is an essential food group. Of all the perks in our faculty room, access to the Bunn-o-Matic and Equal Exchange Love Buzz beans is the most critical. When we’re down to the last five pound bag, we all get a bit nervous!!! Why I always have back up in my small library workroom area.

    BRAVO on your post!

  17. The AISL listserv is the best professional resource I have ever experienced. Thank you all for sharing.
    Dave, thank you specifically for your post – I almost always feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Your comments and questions are spot on – again, why I could not live without this listserv. Invariably, I’ll be feeling like I’m not doing my job as well as I could, or that somehow I’m just failing to do what’s needed for the students and faculty, and someone on the listserv will start a discussion on a topic that helps me see that I’m not alone! Other librarians, whose opinions I respect and who I admire professionally, are struggling with the same issues I am.
    Answers to your questions? I have some but they are constantly changing as I seek new ways to connect with the students and faculty to let them know I’m here to help them in so many different ways. Asking a question on this listserv, to find out what other librarians have tried and how it worked, is a big part of my decision-making process. Why venture blindly forward alone when you can do it with the support of like-minded people? Enjoy the summer.

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