Reflections on One Year at CDL

It’s hard to believe I’ve been back in California for over a year now. My one year anniversary at CDL was April 11, and it’s been a full year, with a lot of challenges, and a few bright and shining moments. My work now, and my day-to-day professional life, is very different from my previous workplace. There are times when it’s been a difficult adjustment, and times when I really miss my former colleagues and the work that I was doing. And there are times when I am very excited by what we’re doing at CDL, and the opportunities I’ve been afforded being where I am now. So, like everything, there have been ups and downs.

The main project on which I was hired to work, building the PAPR system, has been rolling along, full steam ahead. We analyzed and ingested more than 2 million MARC records into a relational database, from over 85 institutions. I learned more than I ever thought I wanted to know about serials cataloging. We had to work through some very complicated programming issues that originated in the quirks and failings of the MARC format, and I think we did so successfully. We were working with an unfortunate lack of sample data, and we really didn’t know what we were going to get once the WEST archiving cycle got rolling, but we worked hard and managed to meet our deadline with time to spare. Our programmers came up to speed on the MARC format so quickly, I was really impressed. And in the end, we built a pretty robust system that can do some incredibly complicated analysis. My colleagues were wonderful about making me feel appreciated and integral to the project when I had moments of doubt, and I’m proud of our work. We’re about to wrap up the last bits of Phase I development, and over the summer will be providing some of the final reports to our partners. I’m not sure what the future holds for this project, but I’m grateful that I had the chance to learn as much as I did.

I’ve been slowly expanding my work load to become involved in a few other projects. The UC Libraries are trying to grapple with some issues around Shared Print, and I’ve been unofficially appointed as the Shared Print point person for our small team at CDL. I’ve been trying to come up to speed on the CDL Services that are (or might be) touched by Shared Print, and it’s challenging. Many UC services and systems have been built up over a long period of time. There are a lot of unspoken history around how and why things work the way they do, why certain decisions were made, what policies affect what decisions, that kind of thing. Trying to wrap my head around the big picture, when the big picture has been so scattered…well, it is not easy. I’m often totally stunned when I see how many committees, task forces, work teams, all-campus groups, and other advising bodies exist in the UC Libraries, and when I realize how many channels any single project or decision has to go through before it gets the rubber stamp of approval, or even becomes part of someone’s strategic thinking. It kind of hurts my soul sometimes, but I think this is just one of the side effects of working for a large institutional body. A lot of people have to be involved in decisions, because a lot of people are affected.

I think the biggest and most difficult change has been shifting from a relatively flat organizational structure, which I enjoyed at my last job, to the infinitely more hierarchical structure of CDL, and the UC Libraries generally. I feel much more removed from decision making, strategic planning, and big picture organizational things, and that is sometimes really hard for me. But it has also been good to learn to operate in an environment like this, because, frankly, I think a lot of academia, and a lot of libraries, are exactly like this. I’m learning patience, and the necessity of soliciting a wide range of opinions about what I do, and understanding who a lot of different players are and why they need to be consulted.

I’m still thinking a lot about the Leading from any Position workshop I took in December. A small handful of my colleagues and I have been meeting semi-regularly to talk about some of the things I’ve learned. But so far it doesn’t feel very productive or focused. And when only three or four people, out of about 15 team members, are interested…well, it feels much more theoretical and impractical than if everyone is engaged in trying to build a stronger and more strategic team structure. I know the workshop is about Leading from ANY Position, but sometimes it really feels like it’s impossible to build on some of the workshop goals without more team member buy-in.

The last few paragraphs sound like a lot of complaining, and I suppose there are some weeks when that’s all I feel like doing, but overall, I’m enjoying the new challenges and opportunities I have here. I’ve been able to do some really cool things, like get to know librarians from all over while working on WEST, and writing a paper for a journal, and yes, I just submitted a book proposal (!). And being in California means I get to attend lots of neat things like the DPLA West session last Friday and seminars at the Berkeley iSchool.

I feel that I’ve been able to accomplish some cool things in the last year, and I’m looking forward to what my colleagues and I get to accomplish in the year ahead.

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