Scholarship Breakfast Remarks — 2015 ACRL National Conference

Thanks

Hi everyone. I’m so grateful to be asked to be here today and I’d like to extend my appreciation to the 2015 ACRL Scholarship Committee for the invitation, our Conference Chair, Lori, and the countless people who have pulled together what is sure to be an inspiring few days in Portland. And thanks to all of you here for coming. There are a few of you scholarship recipients in this audience whom I already know, and I feel humbled that there are so many more of you in this room that I would like to know.

Imposter Syndrome and Storytelling

True confession: I don’t feel qualified to be here today.

Since I was invited to speak here I have been experiencing imposter syndrome. I don’t know what I could possibly share with you that you do not already know, and in fact I probably have more to learn from this room of people than you from me. With the help of many colleagues who have listened to me ramble about what I might say, however, I have concluded that what I can do with our time together is share with you my own struggle to frame my thoughts, my personal stories, my own narrative, in the hopes that after I share mine that you will share yours.

Because in the end it’s our own stories that, when shared and heard and considered, can become foundation blocks of community. And I think it’s that when we stay true to these narratives, both individual and collective, that our communities remain sustainable.

So throughout this talk I ask you to reflect, what is your story? What do you have to share?

Embodied Care & The Point of This Talk

What I hope to talk about today is the connection between leadership and building sustainable communities. And in thinking about how I could make these connections I was searching for theoretical frameworks in which to share my story. Because theory provides context. I’ve always wanted to know the why. And I search for meaning and purpose in what I do; I believe in praxis over practice.

So as I was searching for theoretical frameworks to chew on, new to me ideas that would help me bridge leadership with sustainable community building, I stumbled up on a theory or idea called “embodied care.” Embodied care is a feminist ethical theory stemming from the work of Jane Addams and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. I’ll talk more about this in a minute.

But I also wanted to frame a discussion about you all as leaders, and how we can all work to build sustainable communities, and for me that comes back to my basic understanding of what is a library.

Students in PSU Library Protesting.

Libraries are a Human Enterprise

Libraries are a human enterprise. They are about people. (side note: The reason I chose this image for this slide is that it shows people using my library, the Millar Library at Portland State University, in a way unlike many of the google-able images of people in libraries show. )

I think back to R. David Lankes’s and his Atlas of New Librarianship: “…a library is not a library without a librarian.” Libraries are not about the collections they hold. They are not about the physical or virtual spaces they manifest. It is the human that makes a library. If you know this you are already a library leader. And I think in order to be a leader you have to understand that it comes from being human, from humanity, and an awareness of what it means.

Mind & Body

So what does it mean to be a human in a human enterprise?

In order to answer this question we have to first think about what it means to be human. Humans are sentient beings. We have a brain and we have a body. In the West these two things have been separate: the mind has opposed the body and the body has opposed the mind.

But that separation is not human. In the words of my colleague, Kimberly Pendell: “We’re all just fancy monkeys.” And that funny and flip statement really resonated with me. I think we’ve all been struck before by how “human” our fellow primates are. To me, sometimes, they seem MORE human.

Koko’s Kitten

When I was a kid I was obsessed with this book. Do you all know it? Do you know who Koko is? I think either my school librarian or my public librarian showed me a movie about Koko and gave a book talk about it and, being the person I am who loves all furry animals, I was immediately taken with her story.

Today Koko is a 43 year old gorilla, who was abandoned as a baby and a doctoral researcher, Penny Patterson, adopted her for what has become her life’s work to understand inter-species communication. She taught Koko ASL, and has been Koko’s “mother” since she began her studies in 1974.

So the book Koko’s Kitten tells the story of how Koko came to have a kitten, who was later tragically killed in an accident. In video footage of Koko learning about her kitten’s death, she uses her body to communicate to her grief and her thoughts. She signs frown and folds her lower lip over her chin. When she was alone she cried. It’s heartbreaking. To me, this is an exquisite example of how physicality and embodiment are fully intertwined with knowledge and our intellectual capacities.

I was at dinner with some public health colleagues the other night celebrating the end of the term and I brought this up. I was particularly excited to ask them about it because one of these colleagues is a mind/body medicine specialist. (On a side note, I think it’s interesting that what we call mind/body medicine, or integrative care in the West, is just called “medicine” in the East.) Of course we all concluded the same thing: Any separation of the mind and body is a false separation.

Definition of Embodied Care

The theory of embodied care corroborates this for me. Maurice Hamington’s operating definition in the book Embodied Care, is that:

“…care denotes an approach to personal and social morality that shifts ethical considerations to context, relationships, and affective knowledge in a manner that can be fully understood only if care’s embodied dimension is recognized. Care is committed to the flourishing and growth of individuals yet acknowledges our interconnectedness and interdependence.”

Benjamin Franklin

Although we are all librarians working in a human enterprise, we are also all librarians working in academia, an institution that has been wholly dedicated in service to the (white male) mind. It’s about knowledge, right? Going back probably since before the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, humans (at least in the West) have valued reason of sentience.

What do you do to remain human in this long-standing Western tradition that values the intellect and the mind over the body?

But it’s heartening to know that in the 20th century we’ve had a move in academia from cognition to more embodied, and I think more liberatory corporeal frames. We moved from positivism to post-positivism to interpretivism.

Interpretivism

For example I think of my colleague Robert Schroeder’s recent explorations of indigenous research methods that we published at In the Library with the Lead Pipe. He’s explored to find a different research paradigm based on personal experience, storytelling, and community of shared experience. In his recent book, too, Critical Journeys, he set out to learn from other librarians, to hear, document, and share with our community, individual stories from librarians engaged with critical theory.

And of course, it was in speaking with Bob about today’s talk and the ideas of embodied care and leadership and sustainable communities, it was he who helped me solidify the relationship between embodiment and leadership. It is passion and engagement. Passion and engagement are powerful because they are more likely for us to notice physically. They are “more” embodied than other facets of what would fall into “leadership” qualities. (*and by this I don’t mean more, because in the theory and in what it means to be a human, there is nothing that is more or less embodied, it all is embodied. It’s just that we have been socialized and taught to not notice embodiment. My colleague, the mind/body medicine specialist, over dinner said that the problem is that most of us just aren’t aware or trained to notice how our mind is embodied.)

Passion sustains us as individuals, but as a collective and as we share our passion and our caring, we can create and discover communities and networks. We have a heart, a body, and a community. Passion grows through stories to connect human to human. And I think that passion and engaged connectivity is an embodied connectivity. Just think of how your heart beats faster when you’re excited, or how you grin when you’ve accomplished something that you didn’t think you could. You might even just shout YES! And make your body big. Without thinking about it. Passion becomes embodied.

What are the things that you’re so passionate about that you embody them?

I’m going to share with you two of mine.

Union Organizing-telling stories and listening and sharing experiences.

One year ago the faculty at Portland State University overwhelmingly approved a labor strike. Now, getting thousands of academics to agree on, and show up to vote for a singular issue is definitely not an easy feat. So, after months of working without a contract and months at the bargaining table, how did we achieve this?

We did it by telling stories. We did it by listening to stories. Union organizers created a face-to-face network. The network asked a group of core activists to speak with 10 people. Then these 10 people committed to speaking to 10 other people. We shared with one another our stories, making space for others to share their stories, and the stories grew and grew, and all of these people became united into a community. Because of human connection. Because of face to face coffee dates and dropping by offices and checking in, and listening, and caring, and embodying our passion and engagement for what we thought was right. That core group of people, 25 of them, set the ground work. They embodied their passion, they shared their stories, and the 250 people they spoke to, and then the 2500 people from there. Everyone who told a story or heard a story was part of this immense and powerful united community that we created. And we came out strong, able to defend what we believed in and what we knew was going to be right for our community.

Lead Pipe

The second story I have to share with you what I think we accomplished by founding In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Seven years ago I was invited to join a group of librarians who wanted to have a place for new voices in librarianship to start a conversation. None of us felt like we had a platform to share our passionate ideas, or a place where we were welcome to and wanted to engage in conversation and share our own stories. So we decided to create such a space, and In the Library with the Lead Pipe was born.

We started out publishing lengthy posts by the founders. We shared our stories and our thoughts. We tried to think critically, question assumptions, and offer creative solutions. And we were all passionate, spending long evenings writing, weekends meeting or emailing, time in Google Chats (this was before hangouts) planning how to move forward. We just wanted to share our stories. And in time, we reached out to people asking them to share their stories in our community. And over time people approached us wanting to share their stories. We, collectively, with our passion and engagement and human need to share stories and to connect with other stories, had built a community where it was possible.

So I just stepped down from the Editorial Board of In the Library with the Lead Pipe. And it was time, but it was hard. The day I deleted myself from the email list and our internal wiki and as manager of our Facebook page and Google+ page I felt it like a knot in my stomach and in my neck and I went home and crawled into my bed by 6:30pm and had a little cry. I think the other thing that we have to realize about embodiment of passion and engagement and leadership is that IT’S OK.

But to bring this back to something more positive, I’ve seen that this is how I’ve been able to lead. By working for a space to share stories. And I continue in this work with communities of other passionate and engaged individuals. I’m proud to be a founding board member of Library Pipeline, a nascent organization that aims to support structural changes by providing opportunities, funding, and services that improve the library as an institution and librarianship as a profession.

Conclusion

So, before I ask our community in this room to share your stories, what you’re passionate about and how you embody it, I have just a few thoughts I want to leave you with:

First, it is not possible to objectively lead. Embodied care results in leadership, but it is an unintended consequence. It’s almost an afterthoughts. It is being and aware and present human that makes one a leader.

Everything that I hope to convey to you today comes down to this: when we eke out space to be human—to embody—our passions and curiosities, and when we can share our stories with others who have also embodied their passions we’re able to create safe and sustainable communities. And I think it’s a beautiful thing and it makes my heart glow.

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