Four things I learned from working with you
Miriam Posner left her position as a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in DiSC on Jan. 13 to start a new job as digital humanities program coordinator at UCLA. She’s been with the Digital Scholarship Commons since its infancy, starting in June 2010, helping grow the center and watching it flourish. She shared her thoughts on her time here in an open letter to the library staff just before departing.
I haven’t really been here that long — only a year and a half — yet I’m finding it difficult to say goodbye. Since it’s a new year, a good occasion for stock-taking, I thought I’d present you with a list of what I’ve learned from you, in an effort to show you how important this experience has been to me.
1. Shut up
As you might be aware, Ph.D. training does not include much instruction on listening (really listening) to other people. Scholars learn to defend their ideas, as they should, but often at the cost of finding consensus with their interlocutors. For me, working in the library has been an object lesson in the importance of hearing people out, finding compromises, and suppressing one’s ego in the service of the common good. I’m still working on all of this, but I think I’ve learned a lot from you about how to listen closely, even when I disagree with someone, and how to find a solution that makes sense for both sides.
2. Speak up
This is not to say, however, that library staff members are timid; on the contrary, they’re some of the boldest people I’ve met when it comes to standing up for academic freedom and scholarly communication. Time and again, I’ve seen you engage scholars and administrators on open access, intellectual property, and academic labor. I’ve admired your ability to invite these debates again and again, always respectfully, always in the spirit of compromise, but always forcefully.
3. Keep learning
You know better than anyone that the library world is changing. It’s important to me that people know how much you’re doing to keep up with it. You’ve taken advantage of every conceivable learning tool that comes your way, from Twitter to Lynda.com videos to enlisting each other to teach workshops. It is truly remarkable and inspiring, a testament to your ability to understand the library not as one particular thing but as a set of ideas about knowledge and access. I’m taking with me this lesson about committing oneself not to one configuration of an institution but to the larger principles of scholarship we share.
4. Do your homework
Like a lot of academics, I enjoy a good opportunity to bloviate on one thing or another, whether or not I’m qualified to hold an opinion. I learned pretty quickly that while you were graciously willing to overlook this tendency, there is a large, important, and useful literature on librarianship with which I needed to make myself conversant. I think my understanding of what scholarship is and could be has been deeply enriched by entering into these conversations. I’d like to see other academics learn to do this, too; I think we all stand to gain.
My experience at the Emory Libraries has been very special to me, and I’m proud to tell people I’ve worked here. Y’all rock. Happy 2012.
—Miriam Posner, former Mellon postdoctoral fellow