A Whirlwind of Transitions

WillseTabletsAppsLibrariesBy Elizabeth Willse

I squeaked this submission for the Bridge to Excellence in just barely on deadline (thanks to the editors for being so understanding!) I had trouble getting it written, but not for any lack of material. The chance to write about transitions couldn’t come at a better time. It’s been quite a year so far!

The sheer number of transitions this year has included doesn’t feel huge until I have the chance to catch up with friends and fellow librarians I haven’t seen in a while. Or until I have to write them all down for a B2E article about transitions. Here’s a brief recap:

January 2015: Wondering what to do next as my MLIS studies wound down, and with the reality of the job hunt looming, I said yes to the opportunity of a huge writing project: a guidebook about using tablets and apps in libraries. I began with an outline, some ideas, and a lot of questions to ask, and I dove in.

By the end of April, I had turned in the entire manuscript of a book. (After a little more than three months of learning and writing and drinking coffee and talking to librarians and writing more and drinking more coffee…) I had learned a lot both from the librarians who shared insights and from the process of turning those insights into a finished manuscript.

Also, in April, I interviewed for, and got a job as a librarian at Berkeley College. I’ve gotten to do a little bit of everything: helping students with reference, circulating books, DVDs and laptops; copy cataloging; and helping plan events and displays to make the library a more inviting space. By now it’s starting to feel familiar; I’ve gotten to know the collection and the students and staff.

September 2015: My book, Using Tablets and Apps in Libraries, was published. I got my copies just in time to head to the second annual SLA NY Expo at Baruch, where I was helping keep things running smoothly as part of the planning committee.

In the middle of October, I took on a second library job at ASA College. Because both jobs are part-time and located close to one another and both supervisors are very understanding, I’ve managed to make the combination work.

When I began to learn the procedures and get to know the students and staff at ASA, it dawned on me: The year wasn’t over, but I’d managed to be an experienced librarian who is part of the life and routine of Berkeley College. Give me a few more months, and I hope to be as much part of my new library.

Writing this all out makes me understand the stunned look I’ve seen on the faces of so many friends and fellow librarians when I answer the question, “What have you been up to lately?”

But here’s the strange part: the day-to-day experience hasn’t felt quite so enormous. At least, not recently. Now that I’m past the frantic pace of writing the book, the memory of late nights and long days organizing notes, churning out pages, and forgetting to eat lunch has lost the raw panic that I know I felt a few times. The book was a huge project, daunting while it was happening. In a matter of weeks, I needed to get in-depth knowledge about devices, operating systems, apps, hardware, logistics and different ways librarians in public, academic, school, and medical libraries were using tablets to extend library services. To gain that knowledge, I was able to make amazing connections with librarians from Pasadena to Maine, who took time to share their insights over email, over the phone, and even over Twitter conversations.

There were times where I stared at my notes and my blank laptop screen and had trouble catching my breath let alone writing the next sentence. There were days when I found a groove and the hours sped by as a chapter came together beautifully. There have been stressful times at both library jobs, too, of course: juggling details, making and trying to learn from mistakes. No matter how hectic book writing or library juggling has felt on the busiest days, it’s much, much less frightening than confronting the question I was asking in January: What do I do next?

As a writer and as a librarian I want to find the narrative arc that provides structure and makes sense out of all of these transitions. One thing I know is that none of the things I’ve been able to do would have been possible without the larger community of librarians. As I said, librarians and tech experts all over the country were generous with their time and their expertise to help me pull together what I needed to write the book.

The book project itself came together because of a connection I made through SLA New York. Ellyssa Kroski and I had enjoyed passing conversations about science fiction in the halls of Pratt, but the inaugural SLA NY Expo was what cemented our friendship. I saw her give a terrific presentation on free tech in libraries, and after we’d bonded over a quest to find flip-flops to replace her cute (but miserably uncomfortable) shoes, I knew that I’d been lucky enough to find a mentor and a friend. In the months that followed, she gave me a chance to write some blog entries for a site she was launching. And then, in January, she reached out to me to ask if I was interested in working on the book.

Being surrounded by a great community of librarians is one common thread, but I know that another is the fact that I kept saying yes. I said yes to the opportunity to take part in the SLA Expo Planning committee and jumped in to learn and offer ideas. I said yes when Ellyssa told me about a blog project that sounded interesting. And yes again when she asked me to be involved in writing the book. (Okay, with the book my exact words were “what? Really? Um… yes!”) Even applying for a new job is an act of saying yes: Yes, I believe I can do this job, please agree and hire me.

It gets a lot easier (and less terrifying) to be brave and say yes when you know you’re part of a community of great people, who are willing to take the time to share their knowledge and be amazing mentors. When I had moments of doubt, I reminded myself of the mentors, committee members, and professors I admired: they believed in me. That, more than anything else, has made it easier to say yes to new challenges and tackle all the transitions I’ve made this year.

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