Rambling about possessiveness

I’ve been in the President’s Leadership Retreat for the past two days, with the rest of the College’s senior administration.  Lots of big picture thinking about strategic goals, long-term planning, student recruitment and retention, fundraising, and finances.  And a lot of cameraderie, too; this campus has a very strong community in a lot of different directions, and the goodwill and general affection that resonate between this group of people is an indicator of why that’s true through so many other facets of campus life, as well. Trickle-down attitudes, if you will.

One interesting facet of these two days, as I reflect on them, is that I haven’t talked about the libraries nearly at all, in our big-picture discussions.  I’ve set up two appointments, talked to another Director about a mutual problem, chatted with several colleagues about construction issues, and reconnected with faculty members who were gone for the summer — all in my role as the Director of Libraries.  But I haven’t talked much about the libraries.  I’ve listened, and studied documents, and when relevant, talked: about student retention and recruitment, about campus programs, about finances and goals… I know I’ve contributed substantively to the discussions about our campus, just not by insisting we speak about my area of expertise.

And that’s absolutely okay.  If the libraries and our skill set and services were relevant to the discussion of our campus needs, I’d be sure to make certain that was brought up.  But in these particular moments, it wasn’t relevant. What was relevant was having a group of engaged, interested, and dedicated administrators looking at issues that matter to our communal future in broad, orer-arching strokes.

In a recent meeting, a library staff member referred to a library project as being “mine” while describing it, and I stopped and corrected, “It’s not ‘yours’, it’s the library’s.”  I felt a bit mean correcting that comment, because in some contexts, I honestly appreciate that kind of perspective and understand it — I sometimes think about projects as mine, of the Libraries as mine, about new ideas as being mine — because I think it indicates a certain kind of dedication and investment that’s both personal and proprietary, usually in good ways.  The things we take ownership of and cherish are things we give of ourselves to promote.  But there are limits to possessiveness, productively, which is why I chose to make that verbal correction.  We may do things because we’re personally invested, but we must always also know that what we do, we do for the College, in service of our mission to educate students.

Which is why I like days like today.  I’m in this group of planners and thinkers because the Libraries, and by association, their Director, are a valued part of the institution.  I’m participating in these discussions not because the Libraries are key to them, or set to gain or lose from the direction of them, but because even though my responsibility is for management and leadership of the Libraries, my responsibility in doing that is ultimately in serving the greater good of the College.

Because the Libraries aren’t mine, or even ‘ours’ in the context of the staff: The Libraries belong to the College, which supports them in service of our students.

It’s a good reminder in the week before those students return.  When they show up, our world changes, both for the better and for the more chaotic.  Things are going to go wrong, be messy, be hectic, and stress people out for the next two weeks.  Students will have holds on their accounts because of library fines, users will appeal existing fines, we’ll push our technology to its limits and see where it fails, and we’ll spend a lot of time assisting with email accounts and Blackboard and the printers.  We’ll get frustrated, and stressed, and at times defensive.  We’ll also get the satisfaction of helping a student get to their next class on time, of providing that friendly face that makes someone’s day a little bit better, and of giving a job to a student worrying about money.  We’ll go home each day knowing we helped our users.

We do it for them.  Not because the Libraries are ours, but because the College is theirs.


  1. … at the same time, taking ownership of a project, and petting it, and feeding it, and nurturing it to fruition doesn’t happen as easily when you aren’t allowed to feel that connection.

    I frequently say things like “my network” – sure, it’s “our” or “their” in reality, but “us” and “they” haven’t built it from a heap of trash up into what it is. I did it. Me. And honestly, if someone smacked me down midway through the project, I’d probably felt like someone took my Legos away, and found another job.

    I don’t write this to chastise you _at all_. Your organizational culture must be in-line with your expectations and/or those in your industry. In mine, we applaud people standing up and taking responsibility (good and bad) for what they do. It’s “mine” when it works great, and it’s “mine” when it’s horribly broken. Arguably, not enough people take responsibility for much of anything. Just my $0.02.


  2. Agreed, Matt. That sense of investment is vital to success. My concerns usually come up when “that’s MINE” makes people insular, or resistant to change, or defensive about how things that are ‘theirs’ integrate into the bigger picture. I have to promote the bigger picture, so there’s a balance to find.

    But I’d hate to see where we’d be if you hadn’t declared it to be your network. 🙂


  3. Oh territorial pissings are completely different, and definitely need to be corrected. Constructive criticism must occur and be received openly. Must must must.


  4. That is a tricky line to walk. Everyone must be on board with the higher purpose of what you want to accomplish. They shouldn’t be territorial about their projects and by being that way, they threaten a project’s success. It seems that there must remain a dab of ownership and accomplishment. People want to feel that their role in the library has lead to success. Perhaps the thought process of an employee contributing to the higher purpose of the organization and then being recognized for that builds the culture you want to accomplish.

    Great thoughts here!


  5. I understand your point: that librarians are in public service, that sometimes librarians think of the library as their own turf, where they make the rules, but where ideally patrons should have great influence, rather than being a big bother. But I’m not sure that the use of ‘mine’ indicates that an employee feels unusual ownership of a project.

    Even worse than proclaiming ownership, software engineers often refer to the programs they are writing as if they themselves were the program. Not even “My program writes the date to a file” but “I write the date to a file.” Not “Your program writes the name to a file” but “You write the name to a file”. Saying ‘I’ and ‘You’ is a shorthand way of referring to the programs we are working on. It’s one syllable and everyone in the room knows what you’re talking about. When an employee says ‘my project’ it’s an easy way of referring to the project that he (or she) is working on. Everyone knows what he means. If he said, ‘the library’s project’ you wouldn’t know what he was talking about, because the library has dozens, and possibly hundreds of projects going on at once.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s