This week was supposed to be the 4th annual Student Speaker Series. The Student Speaker Series is an event that allows students to share their expertise with the larger community. With the support and mentoring of the library, students gain experience in public speaking and have a platform for synthesizing the skills they learn in a classroom setting with the ideas they find especially intriguing regardless of their major. This is a program I started in my first year at PSC, and one that I consider a personal passion project. I’m passionate about giving students opportunity to become great speakers and articulators, and I believe that my background in performance puts me in a unique position to make a difference. The first year, the Student Speaker Series made the front page of the local newspaper entirely by accident and attracted crowds of around 100. Those of you who live in small towns know that this is a Big Deal.
This year, there is no Student Speaker Series. The surface explanation for why is lack of student interest. The number of applications (one) certainly supports that theory. The deeper explanation is more complicated.
The environment changed. When I started, there were very few opportunities for students to publicly share ideas in an academically supported way outside of Capstone. In the last few years, more and more student-run organizations are providing space for public discourse, including one using the title “The Wildlife Society’s Student Speaker Series.” I did have a chat with this particular organization about naming and branding and the availability of a very similar platform through the library, but the fact remains that other venues are now available.
The Student Speaker Series has been a positive touchstone for the library with the faculty and administration. They LOVE the idea of it, but nevertheless when faculty rally about the “lack of opportunity for public presentation on campus,” they are startled when I mention the Student Speaker Series as such an opportunity. It isn’t what comes to mind for them, and without faculty support it is quite difficult to convince students to stand in front of a group of peers and talk for 40 minutes.
It is impossible to know if I could have made a stronger pitch to faculty and students about the Student Speaker Series. It is hard to get past the feeling that I could have done something better or more. But then I look at the list of places and ways I reached out and ask myself what more I could possibly have done.
- Multiple, escalating emails to students and faculty
- Posters large and small all over campus including dorms
- Digital signage
- Table tents
- Restroom newsletter spots
- Wrote a short blurb for The Apollos
- Posted to The Apollos Facebook page
- Posted to the Library Facebook page
- Announcements in large and small faculty meetings
- Announcements in classrooms
- Individual outreach to a few key professors asking for support in actionable ways
- Incentives offered to students
Sometimes the time has passed for an idea. Sometimes the right time hasn’t happened yet. It could be a great idea, but so much about the success of an initiative has to do with external circumstances and timing. The Student Speaker Series no longer has the right circumstances to succeed and it is time to consider what is right for right now.
We talk a lot about maximizing our resources and doing more with less, but the fact is in many instances that the more important and more difficult question is “what can we stop doing?” What is holding us back from serving the needs of now? What has become burdensome and more work than reward? What needs to be shelved for a year or so to be reconsidered when the right time comes? What is central to our core and what is simply pretty? Even without the threat of budget cuts and “downsizing,” we need to make space for the next great thing.
I am sad to see it go. It was mine. It had so much potential. It failed. In this time of incredible change and transition at our institution, however, it is probably just as well to let this baby go in service of other babies in progress. My days have been filled with the kind of revisioning that generally happens with large scale administrative turn-over – strategic planning (college and library), reorganizing of structures and jobs, policy and procedure. There has also been a lot of the dirty, day-to-day that is technically my job but would fall under “other duties as assigned” on my job description – hiring, contract issues, and budgets. There hasn’t been as much as I would like of the kind of work that has a direct impact on students, and I am sad to miss the thrill from seeing students rise to a challenge and exceed their own expectations this year. This is not the time and the Student Speaker Series is no longer where my effort is most needed.
Nor can I forget about this other baby that I’m growing, the one with a due date in mid-September, right at the beginning of the busiest time for library instruction. The baby that means this fall I expect to be spending a lot more time on the couch lovingly immobilized by an 8 pound weight than in the classroom challenging students to ask better questions. The baby for whom I am planning to complete my promotion portfolio 6 months early so that I won’t be doing it while on leave or while making the transition back to work. The baby for whom my effort is most definitely needed.
(And with that, a plea to other librarians and academic parents for support and advice on how one does this baby-raising thing, particularly as it relates to leave and daycare and, egads, the million other huge and tiny ways that academic life and rural living makes things both easier and harder.)
What needs to shift to make room for the next great thing? I debated for a long time about what or whether to write in this space. None of us would prefer to dwell on the initiatives and projects that haven’t gone according to plan. I suspect it would be in my best professional interest to wait for the next great thing to come along before writing and to completely omit the seismic change my personal life is about to undergo with the introduction of a child, but this space for me has always been about my personal learning, reflection, and growth. I do not write for my professional interest, but for my own.
And on that note here is a short list of great things I am looking forward to:
- Immersion, oh yes.
- Continuing to develop our faculty liaison plan and organization
- Benchmarking IL skills in our Natural Sciences department
- Working to assess library student learning outcomes, possibly in ENG101