Reflecting on 2021: Staying in and looking to the future

As a year comes to a close I try to make some time to reflect and synthesize some of what I’ve been up to across my work here on my blog. I’ve done this almost every year for the last decade. You can see my reflections at the end of 202020192018,  2017201520142013, and 2012. I’m a big fan of metacognition, so I get a lot out of taking time to round up, reflect, and try and synthesize things at least once a year.

Continuing to stay inside

Last year I was reflecting on how strange and abrupt the shift to “going inside” was at the start of the Pandemic. When we were able to get the vaccine in the spring, it felt like things were really going to start to change. The realities of the pandemic ended up meaning that “going outside” came in strange fits and starts and with a lot of uncertainty.

We were able to make it to a few film festivals to support Marjee’s documentary and to be able to get back to the midwest to see family, but we certainly haven’t gotten back to anything that I would think of as normal. I was physically in the office one day this year. I’m increasingly thinking that there really isn’t a normal to go back to. Our dog Iggy joined our family, and he brings us a lot of joy. We lost our dog Zelda in June, and have been processing a lot of grief. I read a lot of books this year, more than I read last year which was more than I read the year before. Whatever is coming next, I believe we are going to bring what we found going inside along with us. I think we are also going to keep reading a lot more too.

Getting out of the startup mindset

When I came back to work at the Library of Congress in 2017, I was focused on starting up a whole new unit. That was a lot of fun. As time has gone on, it’s been critical to make a mindset shift away from that kind of start up phase. I’m really proud of how my colleagues have been working to further make our work maintainable and sustainable. Earlier this year, I wrote a bit about developing our community of practice.

When the team was forming, we had a lot of ambitious goals to support the organizations first digital collecting plan. This year, I had the honor of being able to help steer the successor to that plan, the Digital Collections Strategy. I’m really proud of the work that the team on this project did together. The new strategy builds on a lot of the successes from the first plan. With that noted, the scope of this strategy is a lot broader than the previous plan. The new strategy is focused on how digital collections work becomes more integrated across the whole organization. With that strategy in place, I’m putting a lot more time and effort into trying to help line up the things that need to happen over the course of the five year period for the plan.

Futures of cultural memory work

I am really proud to join the distinguished list of scholars who have won the Kilgour Research Award from the American Library Association. I’ve won a fair number of awards in the past, but this is the first one that I’ve received that “recognizes a body of work probably spanning years, if not the majority of a career.” It is deeply validating to get that kind of recognition, not just for a specific project but for the broader body of work I have done in my career so far. With that in mind, the scope and focus of my research and writing has also started to broaden out a bit too.

Toward the start of the year I presented Caring for Digital Collections in the Anthropocene as the Dr. Elizabeth W. Stone Lecture. That talk builds off the conclusion of my digital preservation book, exploring broader issues for the future of cultural memory institutions. I had the chance to reflect on my work and career a bit in an interview for Contingent Magazine. I also shared out a bit about what tools I use for my work on Use This.

I had a few new articles and essays come out that I think illustrate more of where I think my scholarship is going in the future. I published the essay A Good Jobs Strategy for Libraries in the journal Library Leadership and Management. I also published Collaboration, Empathy, & Change: Library Leadership in 2020, an open access book of my student’s essays on organizational theory and leadership in libraries. In both cases, this work focuses on how to help make memory institutions better and help support memory workers to both do good work and live full lives beyond their work.

As part of this broader shift in my work, I also got a contract with the University of Michigan Press to develop my next book, After Disruption: A Future for Cultural Memory. I’ve got about half of it drafted, which I plan to post here for input and comments early in the new year, and my goal is to have the whole book finished at some point in the fall of next year.

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