Friday, November 25, 2011

Ambition is not a dirty word, and neither is change

One of the most comforting things about NELI was being around other people who are driven to make a difference in the library world(s). I honestly had a moment: wait, you mean these people are like me? There's nothing wrong with me?

In other circles, this is called enthusiasm. In still other circles, it is called ambition. In many of these circles, these are derogatory terms.

Ambitious people seem to thrive on change. I've been thinking a lot recently about my past, and about how the library world is at a bit of a turning point that perhaps my whole life has helped prepare me for. My next (home) move will be my 12th; my next professional move will be the 13th different job title I have had in libraries, since starting as a library assistant in the Marianopolis College Library in 1998 (and I'm not even counting working at Vanier during Rideau's renovations, or temporarily supervising Rockcliffe Park, but I did count Westmount 3x, since I had about five different job titles there - whatevs. Read more here).

I kind of hated moving houses so much: making friends and losing friends was difficult for me. I was painfully shy for a long time, until my early teens (ya. I know. Libraries totally never attract shy people. Don't get me started on how this kills us....). At that point, having spent several awkward years alone at (different) church coffee hours, waiting for my mum's parishoners to be done with her so we could go home, I saw years of more of the same stretching ahead of me, and decided that the only way to make this all less awkward was for me to change. I began initiating converstions, learning about the parishoners, asking after their children; in many ways, although it isn't a time I look back on exclusively fondly, it made me a better person: more thoughtful, more compassionate, and more independent.

I talked about these skills at NELI, crediting my mother as a role model, which she certainly continues to be. I entered the library profession as a young adult familiar with organisational change, comfortable coming into a new situation and evaluating the dynamics. I also saw my career as a vocation, something I felt I was doing because I believed that education and lifelong learning were vital to our modern world. I quickly had my heart broken, having to leave the library at which I had made my home (the longest I had been in a community, in any capacity, my entire life). This ended up being the best decision I ever made. It taught me that sometimes the best decisions are the hardest ones, and the most unlikely; it also taught me that sometimes you might be ready to change, but you need a kick in the pants.

I arrived in Ottawa wanting to stand out. Because my talented mother was treated like crap by the church. Because I felt I had a lot to offer, and I was sick of having my heart broken. Because I am by nature someone who gives everything to a project or a person she believes in. Because, because, because.

And now that I am perhaps entering the mid-career phase, I am attending this slew of retirement parties, and we're all dancing along the cliff edge of baby boomers leaving the workforce. The world is opening up, career-wise, and it's both a fascinating and a truly dynamic time to be in libraries.

I'm also feeling the backlash against that. Many of us are scared, facing the first changes in staffing or organisational structure they have ever faced. I understand that. Many are saying, "gone are the days when someone worked for one institution for 40 years," and I'm thinking, when were those days? My parents never did that (but then, my situation is a bit, ahem, weird, right?) I've lived through a lot of change - and hated it at the time - but I've come through the other side more or less intact.

And now, as they say, I have a taste for it: in my own career, I have been so lucky to work with great people, and I have also sought out opportunities for diverse projects and new challenges. You only get one life: you might as well not get bored. I inherited a strong work ethic, and I am proud of my parents for instilling that in me. I have a fierce passion to make public libraries the most amazing places that they are capable of being, and I am proud of myself for that. I will go anywhere where I can do that (I almost wrote, "preach that gospel" - see? Can't shake your roots). I also have come to believe in myself, and each new change has shown me how much more I have to develop, and how much more I can grow.

It's not so bad over on the other side of change. You grow a lot. Life is rich.


  1. Thank goodness that you DID have so many changes in your life, because on the journey to where you are now, and where you are going, the people you touch with your infectious personality, and unwavering support leaves a lasting impression. It makes each and every one of us want to strive to do better, think of new possibilities, stretch our limits, and look at life, both personal and professional with an eager anticipation of what’s to come next. The toughest thing, watching you on your journey, is the loss of you when your world morphs once again.

  2. Leslie, thank you! You guys have been such a pleasure to work with, really.

    And you have a way with words.....