“Inertia of Newness”

So, I took a new job not too long ago, and it’s been going pretty well. I’ve been lucky enough to start strongly (at least, I feel…) with the opportunity to plan my next year’s slate of activities and projects within about the first month. The pressure to develop things so quickly was pretty nerve-wracking at first, but I’ve come to appreciate how that initial push set the tone of what I hope to do in the position as a whole. In the space of about 3 weeks I had to pull together some semblance of a year-long plan for “digital services” (broadly defined) in my area, and submit that for approval in a grant. Since I was lacking quite a lot of background research and couldn’t manage it myself in the crunched timeframe, I had to sort of go with my gut on what I’ve seen happening in the community and abroad, and I think I did ok – we’ll see, the grant is still under review. However, that same pressure to ideate and plan so far ahead with such short notice really kick-started my expectations of what I can do in this job. Unfortunately, since then (another 3 weeks or so) I’ve been a little down, feeling like my hands are tied waiting on approvals, and more occupied with administrative work rather than brainstorming, or actually getting things up and running. I wholly expect things to perk up again once approvals come in and I can start to work in projects rather than just on them.

Since I’m so new, I’ve actually seen a lot of people get really excited for “fresh blood” on the team (and in the area as a whole), and I’ve heard a lot of interest in developing plans for the future. I absolutely love that that sort of positivity, creativity, and/or excitement (whichever it is) is coming up, but I’m still waiting to see if these are the sort of things that end up going anywhere or not. Interest and spit-balling ideas is fantastic, but so far all the things I’ve talked to people about have been vague, nebulous, and pitched in the hushed tones of “we should do this… but only if/when I have time outside of my normal overbearing workload,” which is a bit less inspiring. I really need to start asking around for how people in positions such as mine approach these kinds of situations; where interest is high, and great ideas are being brought up, how do you move from “in planning” to “in progress”?

Another thing that’s pretty nifty in my current situation is the circumstances of my collegial network – a large number of people around me are not only in positions of opportunity (like me, they can be agents of action – can get stuff done), but also new or new-ish in their role. This means that a sizeable cohort of us in the area are all at once trying to prove ourselves with great ideas, distance ourselves from predecessors’ work, and/or just have refreshed enthusiasm for what we’re doing. It helps that this cohort too is a bit younger (meaning we’re generally on the same page in terms of what’s hot in the library world) and seem to (so far) have the same sorts of ideas for what should be going on in the profession. This enthusiasm makes what I’m trying to do a lot easier, since I have a group of people to bounce my own ideas off of, and I have tried as much as possible to garner ideas from them. So I’m really excited to see what is going to happen when that network starts to expand and incorporate some real movers and shakers to see what we can do!

This brings me to my title – unlike its colloquial connotation, “inertia” in the classical sense can mean not only resistance *to* movement, but also resistance *from* movement. Once things are up and running (in the current case, the great ideas being pitched by colleagues), I’m finding a phrase a colleague said the other day rather appropriate to describe my current situation in the new job – “the inertia of newness.” I think it’s rather appropriate, since this liminality between [not being able to get plans off the ground since I’m new and don’t have the networks, labor currency, or resources to do so myself] and [having a surfeit of ideas and plans that are shaping up nicely since I’m able to bring new energy into a stagnant system] is really two sides of the same coin. It’s a pretty weird dichotomy that I’m really wrestling with. I took this job (which is brand new and has a very wide-open description & assignment of duties) with the understanding that I am 100% responsible for getting out of it what I put in – if I have nothing to show after my tenure here, that is completely on me for not pushing plans through; likewise if I have a CV bursting at the seams with projects and publications (!?), that’d be due to programs I was able to conceive and put into practice. How to balance the two and not pull what’s left of my hair out is going to be the real challenge, I think.

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A(n academic) year in the life

My new blog post is up at the FSU Libraries blog! It outlines all the cool stuff I’ve done over the course of the past academic year and should be a real insight into what I’ve been doing and thinking about.

After the whirlwind spring of finishing things off there and graduation (and a wee decompression break) I’m ready to get back to the grindstone and work on my Keystone DH conference paper with Sarah. Lots to think about there.

Sunshine, stale coffee, and serendipity

[Full disclosure: I wrote most of this post right after returning from THATCamp and I’ve been too burnt out to do anything with it. So now, over a month later, I’m finally getting down to finishing it up and getting it out there. Thanks in no small part to recently reading several articles about burnout in DH (new post soon about that, too!), I’m somewhat ironically energized to finish this one up. The details here were written right when I got back, but I’ve edited things slightly since then to temper some of the strong feelings I had immediately after the conference.]

 

Now that I’m back from THATCamp and had some time to reflect on how things went (and catch up on sleep/emails/homework) I’ve had some more thoughts on what I think went well and what didn’t. As a whole I thought the experience was great, and I came away with a lot of positive insights. There were some things I found incredibly interesting, some I really didn’t care for, some I thought were a bit superfluous, and some I absolutely loved. I think I got more out of the total experience than I did from any one session, which is OK. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I do things differently if I had any say in organizing it? Definitely. But I also appreciate how hard it is to coordinate a large (“un”)event like this so I really do want to say thank you to the folks as UCF that organized this, if they ever see this post!

Things I liked:

  • Breadth of experiences people brought to the table- the handful of undergraduates that showed up (which was super unexpected and really awesome!), grad students in both library school and in history-ish departments, librarians, non-library faculty, administration folks,  and even a few department Chairs and Deans! This let a lot of different ideas shine through in discussions, and really helped to get things out in the open (like when discussing my grant funding thing – it was cool to be able to share my own expertise to grad students who were interested, while also myself learning from the the Chairs and Deans).
  • Variety of sessions – ranging from “lets talk about GIS” at the most basic & open – learned a ton of new, cool things at a very basic level; to project specific stuff like the very interesting WWI in Florida project. There was just enough to keep things constantly moving, but (for me) there was a nice variety of levels of seriousness.
  • Got to network with a bunch of different people – including a recurring online classmate I’d never actually met, head honchos and honchettes from local organizations, and just generally folks doing DH in the region. Way cool.
  • (BEAUTIFUL weather & super fun time roadtripping with FSU folks. First real day of spring-like weather I had experienced for a while, and that was super nice! Sunshine!)

Things I didn’t so much care for:

  • Scheduling conflicts – since it was a one day event with concurrent, overlapping sessions, I only got to see 5 sessions (counting my own). Staggered start times would have been an amazing way to break up the “session” vibe. There were just so many really cool things going on I wished I could have seen them all.
  • Quick turnaround on a lot of stuff. I know it’s sort of antithesis of THATCamps to run several days, but it would have been awesome to just have like 3 leisurely days of getting to talk to people about DH in sessions like this. (Compared to the only other academic conference I went to, admittedly, that had a socialized opening dinner night, presentations all day, and another social event that night.) Our travel plans meant we were in and out of town in just over 24 hours, which just felt rushed to me.
  • Lack of collegiality from some members – several in particular were very hostile to what I felt was the spirit of THATCamp, where everyone could do their DH Yacking (which I strongly feel is a good thing) and get it out in the open without criticism. One example sticks out: the last talk of the day before mine featured my colleague and friend Jamie trying to discuss techniques for collaboration in digital pedagogy and the classroom (at least, I’m pretty sure that was the topic – I’m sort of unclear, cause that’s definitely not what was actually discussed). One of the present members kept drawing the discussion away from anything related to pedagogy or collaboration, and ranted quite angrily for almost the entire hour about faculty resistance to technology and the futility of getting DH into traditional departments’ tenure review. While this is definitely a discussion that needs to happen (things are changing) this person’s insistence that faculty would never allow for DH project to “count” was met by lots of questions gingerly stepping along the lines of “well you’re at a DH conference, and have a respected voice in your department, why don’t you speak up and champion the legitimacy of DH?” After all, isn’t that sort of what we should be doing anyway?

On Serendipity:

  • I walked away from this conference feeling way more confident in what I know than I was before. Imposter Syndrome, which has sort of plagued me extra hard in this program (since I feel like I’m cheating by working in a field outside of libraries, and still trying to get into them professionally) was mitigated hugely, even with the small interaction I’ve had with the field. I had a ton of fun with a bunch of people that were as passionate as I was about the future of digital humanities, and I saw that people in the field I’m trying to get into are actually fantastic individuals. I was somewhat worried that our cool little bubble at FSU’s ODRS was some weird outlier, but I think it’s far more the norm for this particular branch of librarianship than I thought. Digital Scholarship seems to draw a particular kind of person that I feel is very much in line with the personality I’d like to work with.

 

So, overall, a great time was had at UCF, and I felt like I actually knew my stuff pretty well for still being such a newbie in the field. Gave me a huge boost of confidence, which was sorely needed at this time of the semester!

 

 

(I swear those giant industrial coffee urns must come from the factory with Stale Coffee Taste ™ as standard, cause I don’t think I’ve ever had java from one that tasted right. But hey, free coffee’s free coffee!)

 

WHICHCamp?

So I’m headed to Florida THATCamp 2016 in just a few hours, and I’m stoked. The last non-FSU conference I went to was presenting part of my MA paper at UC Irvine (Go Anteaters!), so I’ve got some nerves mixed with nostalgia going on. Though I will say it’s nice to feel like I’m going to be back in the swing of things, “academically.” From what I’ve read and what I’ve heard from various people, this is going to be a very different setting than the formal talk I gave at UCI, but I already feel like I’m back in my element. Hopefully this experience will be as rewarding, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on it.

As for the THATCamp itself, I posted my proposal topic earlier today [Take a look!] and I’m going to try to get some good discussion going even if I don’t get selected. I feel like this this is a pretty dry sounding topic, but it would be really beneficial for me to talk about it to other folks, and if the crowd tomorrow is at all interested in this I’ll be able to get some good info. I originally expected to walk away with this fired up, brandishing a DH funding manifesto demanding more “fair” treatment from university administration, but the more I wrote that proposal the more I thought about other (slightly less revolution-y) possibilities. What if the consensus of DH people have no problems with the high rates, and are able to deal with the budget limitations? Do the few anecdotes I’ve gathered really make it worthwhile to cut into the internal funding these indirect costs provide? What if the lower rates I sought wound up being patronizing or otherwise disadvantageous to the DH folks, and they wanted no part in them? What if? That’s when I figured it best to put down my pitchfork and ask for more input, which hopefully I’ll be able to get tomorrow.

I’m really working on getting my current work experience in grants tied back to my scholarly pursuits through DH, and this is really the first time I’ve had a chance to do that outside of my internship with Micah. I’d really like to walk away from this with a better understanding of how I fit in to the grand scheme of the field, but know that is a big ask. I’m also just excited to have a chance to talk to other DH people outside of FSU to see if my experiences are actually as relevant as I think they can be. Networking is also always a plus, and I’ve always got my stack of business cards close at hand. I think printing resumes may be going a bit too far this time around, but who knows what could happen!

 

 

 

 

The “Hello, World!” entry.

“In principio erat verbum,” and in proximus should be some context.

 

This blog is begun as my attempt to put to words my thoughts, feelings, and experiences as I complete my Library School education, and enter the academic job market. If all goes well, this blog will serve as the foundation of a collection of Valid Professional Opinions. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I will use this space as my sounding board to muse about issues in scholarship, academe, Digital Humanities, and whatever else strikes me as intriguing as I straddle the line between student and professional.

Here’s to hoping that what I think is worthwhile to say is worthwhile for you, Dear Reader, to read as well.

 

Alea iacta est. Call it as it lands.