“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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