Teaching an old dog…change is always good…stepping out of my comfort zone…or

Have you restarted your device recently?

In early June of 2022, I accepted a position as Director of Libraries and Archives at a world-renowned arts boarding school and summer camp.  It was a big upset to the apple cart for my family and me.  I didn’t like change much and was afraid that the change would be more than this old lady librarian could take.  

I spent the first 15 years of my professional life as a full-time performing opera singer. I have a doctorate in Voice and Opera and currently work as an Archivist. I love the location, and the facilities are beautiful and well-funded.

So, I jumped into the deep end! I was scared.  What if this is not the “right fit”? What if I’m too old to change?

This is what I’ve learned so far:

Change is okay!  It’s a wonderful opportunity to repackage things that haven’t worked well in the past and reestablish your “brand”. It allowed me to view faculty, staff and students, campers, and the community with new eyes, and they can do the same with me.  Twelve years in one place, and I think I was stale. I saw people as statues and created silos with different personality types.  I felt that I was no longer taken seriously, and my frustration appeared as indifference.     

I was able to think long and hard about what was important to my new community. I have a variety of stakeholders: campers as young as 8 to veteran staff — many of whom have been here for more than 30 years.  

Establishing my “brand”. 

I immediately went to the Provost (head of Education) and asked:

  • “Do you want rigorous research as part of your curriculum”?  And, if no is the answer, no is fine.
  • “What would a “portrait of an Interlochen graduate” look like to you”?  Is information literacy an important part of the portrait?  Are you willing to stand behind me in my efforts?
  • Will you support my efforts to work with each faculty member to achieve these goals?
  • I know all about the “artistic personality” Will you support me in some “necessary conversations?”

Establishing my boundaries, and letting the administration know what my priorities were has paid off in countless ways. More on that in another post…

Supporting my staff.

I’m managing a staff of ten now…I’ve not done that in years; even then, it was with college students.  Here’s what I’m learning:

  • You need a mission statement and collection policies we can all point to when needed.
  • Boundaries are essential – please don’t talk badly about each other to me (unless there is a serious problem)
  • This is not 1st grade – do your best to work out your problems yourselves (use your words 🙂).
  • Laugh  – a lot! 
  • Food always helps 
  • Be your staff’s advocate, and make sure they know that.

Access is important in the Library. 

  • Thousands of old books no longer supported current curricular needs. Crowded shelves with old books make the new ones hard to find.
    • When your staff spends more time filling ILL requests for other libraries than working on requests from students, faculty, and staff – you’ve got a problem. WEED. Ruthlessly.  
  • A poorly maintained catalog makes things almost impossible to find.
  • A radical welcome. A beautiful space, which like the collection and the catalog needed help to make it more accessible and supportive of student work.

I think the best part of the change for me has been the opportunity to “restart”.  I’ve always envied my phone and computers in that we could just push a button, and a fresh beginning would often clear out the nagging little problems. Here, I am able to do just that, and the results (for me personally) have been remarkable. Here’s to change!  

One of this year’s other changes is that I will miss seeing you all in Sante Fe. I look forward to hearing all about it. 



3 thoughts on “Teaching an old dog…change is always good…stepping out of my comfort zone…or

  1. Thank you for this, Elizabeth – how very fortunate your new community is to have you! I love hearing about your experience, and how beneficial it’s been to your professional and personal growth. I’ll miss seeing you in Santa Fe for sure!

  2. [This is good] Thanks for sharing your experiences, Elizabeth! Loved your framing of branding and I was intrigued by your thoughts on feeling “stale” after 12 years. I’m on year 10 at my current school and it sure feels a lot harder to find fresh, exciting ideas than it did when I first arrived here. I’m wondering if it’s natural for librarians to have a “best if used by” date or if it’s just me. Thanks, again, for your perspective on things!

  3. Just getting caught up on my blog reading…now I know why you weren’t in Santa Fe! You were missed, Elizabeth, but it is so exciting to hear of this new (super challenging!) adventure. I’m certain that you are sleeping well at night. Love the insight you shared and can’t wait to hear how your efforts pay off in future blog posts.
    I too have a major weed ahead of me…ugh.
    Take care!!

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