Title

Changing Seasons

Starting a new chapter instead of a new semester.

August 28, 2019
 
 

It was time for a change. Well, I actually didn’t think it was time quite yet, but the clock jerked forward unexpectedly. As Medicare eligibility was approaching and I was beginning to give some thought to retirement, the Little College on the Prairie made a buyout offer to faculty who met certain criteria, which I did. After reading all the fine print, talking to others in the same boat, and doing the math, it seemed doable. A bit like having an unplanned sabbatical without an end date.

So this is the first August in many decades that hasn’t been a weird mix of looking forward to the start of classes and an underlying sense of impending doom, an almost visceral dread that seemed a throwback to third or fourth grade when summers were freedom and school was not. (Yes, I grew up in another era. We ran around the neighborhood like feral packs of children until the sun went down.) I would normally be updating a syllabus, arranging library sessions with faculty, organizing my calendar, and going to all those meetings that have to be crammed in before the semester starts. During the years when I chaired the department or directed the faculty development program, I’d be planning some of those meetings myself, as my inner child lamented the end of freedom.

It has affected my dream life in a strange way. For weeks after my official retirement date I spent a lot of time in dream-meetings and filling out dream-forms, as if the parts of the job I liked least wouldn’t let go. Fortunately, those faded away. Throughout August I relished the thought I wouldn’t have the usual classroom nightmares – the ones where, for some reason, I was holding class in my bedroom and didn’t have a syllabus ready and wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to be teaching. Then I had one, but  it faded away as soon as I woke up, leaving no residual anxiety in its wake.   

Retirement comes with some regrets. I’ll miss teaching. I won’t be ordering books with students in mind, so when I read book reviews I’m mostly looking for what I want to read instead of what fits the curriculum. I won’t be creating on-the-fly displays or making guides or discussing research with students. I won’t be in the stacks, looking for books that are ready for retirement. I know weeding can be controversial, but for an undergraduate library with a teaching mission it improves the collection, and I loved doing it. I’ll miss working on the new writing requirement and capstone courses that are part of a revamped general education curriculum that finally passed in my last semester after many, many meetings. I won’t miss the forms for everything that seemed to be multiplying like kudzu.,

A larger-scale regret is the fact that so many people coming after me won’t be in a position to retire at all because they didn’t get the start in life I got when jobs were steadier, rent was lower, taxes were higher, and you could pay tuition at a public university working part-time without taking out loans. I’m cautiously optimistic things will eventually change, but I recognize the chronological fluke that makes this new chapter possible.

I’m not retiring from my profession. Though I’m as skeptical as anyone about the idea librarianship is a calling, the kind that comes with a vow of poverty and an unending supply of cheerfulness, I’ll keep up with the field, I’ll keep writing these columns (thanks, IHE!), and I will get back to that book project sometime in the coming year - which is another thing: I still think of the year as ending in May. Will that ever change?

This fall will be busy; as a Scholar-in-Residence with Project Information Literacy, I’m up to my elbows in learning how the research I’ve been a fan of for a decade is actually conducted. I’d be thrilled to work on anything with Alison Head and her research team, but thinking about what information literacy means in the age of algorithms is my hobby horse, something I’ve been banging on about for a very long time. So this is a rewarding opportunity in every way, and perfect timing for me.

Happy fall, everyone, whatever chapter you’re opening. May your inner feral child find solace in the freshly-sharpened pencil scent of a new academic year.

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