At a recent end of year All Staff Meeting our excellent Interim Dean was sharing work anniversaries — and then she said my name. Apparently, somehow, a decade has flown past for me at UIC.

I have distinct memories of those first days ten years ago– sitting in a cubicle w/ door trying to figure out if I was going to be able to fill up the day and unsure what to do with myself; attending a faculty retreat and finding out who was the pontificator and who had a dry sense of humor; trying to figure out where one went for lunch.

Today, on the other hand, I’m still trying to wind down a semester that has been non-stop, during a year that I’ve frequently referred to as an up-waterfall climb. (And I but one salmon.) Those coworkers I first remember meeting have mostly retired or moved to other jobs; I haven’t seen my office (with walls and windows–I miss it!) since March; and, well, lunch has been easier to navigate since we all moved home, though I’m eating at my desk too much.

It’s been quite a lot in a decade. I showed up just as data management became a foreground, must do now thing and that is still actively shaping and changing my job on a regular basis — the new NIH policy easily setting giant new obligations before me for the next two years. I started collaborating and writing, working with amazing colleagues to develop my research agenda. I grew much more at ease as a part of interdisciplinary teams, bringing my own expertise as a co-author and partner. I’ve taught courses in informatics and evidence-based dentistry in other colleges and my own graduate data management course for students spanning disciplines.

Ten years ago if you’d told me that this year:

  • I’d be detailed to our Office of Research to work on data policies
  • I’d be on the third year of a 8-investigator grant where we’ve brought a rich new discourse to the concept of library learning analytics
  • I’d have students asking to do independent studies with me — and I’d take them on to help me tackle the giant data sets I’ve gathered
  • I’d have stepped away from a national level workshop that MSN and I created and launched
  • I’d be One of the Senior Faculty who is a Keeper of “Why Was That Decision Made? Oooooh, right…. let me tell you about X”

I’d have laughed and would have said it wasn’t doable. It wouldn’t have sounded real. And yet here I am. Making progress every day. It’s been 10 years since I did a toddler storytime. Odd, that.

There continues to be work to be done; that has emerged as the constant. In the next year there will be significant changes at my Library, with a new Dean and other new leadership coming in both inside and beyond the Library. Research projects will finish; new ones I cannot possibly imagine yet will arise. There’s at least one possible Large Looming Project in the future, waiting to see if it’s actually a go.

I have been so deeply blessed in those who have supported me through this far. Colleagues who have been beyond generous; peers and those in positions of authority who helped to clear the way for me; students who have taught me so much; friends and family who have listened to all of the stories; a Philosopher who has always had my back when I come home with an idea, a thing I want to break and remake, a problem that I have to try and solve, or a lot of yelling.

A couple of years ago I realized that “early career” didn’t apply to me anymore — not even in academic libraries. It doesn’t mean a lack of growing and learning, but the comfort in ability, the established relationships professionally, the knowledge of the problems and feeling like I have actual authority to make some changes — that has been slow to show up, and even some days still does not.

I won’t attempt to predict the next decade — what it will bring, if I’ll be at the same institution, if universities will look the same. Having just watched a year where changes came so fast that none of us has had time to process them, forecasting into the future feels incredibly naïve. But I’m grateful to have gotten this far and I’m looking forward to what unexpected things (hopefully all good/exciting/etc) I’ll get to do next.