Diary of a New Foundation Employee: On Not Knowing

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Come (virtually) close, my friends, I must be very honest with you. I’m not good at change. There are a great many psychological reasons for this, none of which it would be appropriate to get into now. (I was going to write “in public,” but I’m working on a memoir. Make of that what you will.) What I will say in this professional-context-public, is that my dislike of change has to do with an appreciation for predictable outcomes. For example, I kept my previous university job for so long (in part) because I understood its rhythms, knew who I would encounter on a daily basis, what they would want, and could even predict the ways in which these requests would irk or please me.

Unfortunately, just as I was getting cozy in library-land, the world got whomped with the mother of all unpredictable situations, and so much of what I was beginning to feel comfortable doing disappeared. A large part of my job is running programs in physical library spaces, and I still am not sure what that is going to look like down the road. Another part of my job requires that we, as Library Strategies, can go be in other cities doing work with groups of citizens with a stake in the library. We hope that some of that work can be done in a remote environment, but we don’t yet know. That has been the biggest challenge: being comfortable saying “I don’t know.”

However, The Friends have been, dare I say it, downright nimble when it comes to finding ways to respond to our new normal. That is, of course, my colleagues being brilliant and creative and just understanding the library-city ecosystem in a way that amazes me, but it is also something to do with the nature of libraries. Last week, one of my colleagues (shout out to the indomitable Liz), said that one of the things that inspires her most about libraries is the way they have moved “to pick up the important things the rest of the world has put down.” That speaks to adaptability. To a field full of people who are compassionate and creative. These are the sorts of people I am happy to work beside when faced with planning in an era of “we don’t know what we don’t know.”

So yes, planning will be important, even when our minds feel muddled at the prospect of long-term anything. I know I’m in that boat, but can I quote Sam Jackson as Nick Fury in The Avengers, here? Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on.  

We will look for the things the community needs, and we will find a way to “pick up” those things. Hidden in this hopeful language is the unspoken flip-side of I don’t knowWe’ll find out. In our particular lane, finding out might mean a bit of making things up as we go, but before you know it that improvised program, or virtual community retreat, has worked and becomes something known. And the world spins on.

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