I just returned from my annual family vacation in Colorado. Amidst the forest bathing and a slower daily pace, I always experience a deep dive into relationship building on these trips. Riding in a compact Fit for the eight hours it takes to get there, and living for a week in a different “home”, does test and stretch patience. The physicality of hiking and even adjusting to new altitudes requires a certain reckoning of oneself. This year we were battling swimmers ear in high altitude and an overall slack in physical fitness. Both required accepting limitations in ways we weren’t used to and spending a greater amount of time in quiet inactivity. With each year, however, I always discover new strengths and unique differences in myself, between fathering and mothering, wifery and husbandry, sibling to sibling, and among hikers who want to push on versus those who want to rest. 😉
This thinking on relationships helpfully segues my mind to the arrival of August and the start of a new school year. As the students return and faculty prepare course syllabi, my more isolated, internal, summertime work turns externally, patron-oriented. As my library is also discussing its strategic priorities for the next two years, words like collaboration, partnership, engagement, and development abound. In every practical discussion around seeing our own work in these priorities, the actionable path forward always points to relationship building. Just me? Perhaps. As one of my favorite quotes suggests, I have come to believe relationships are key to how we accomplish real goals.
“If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to far GO TOGETHER.”
– African Proverb
I didn’t always think this way. I usually preferred fast and alone. Both personally and professionally, my default is still often internally-focused and analytical. One of the stories I tell about my path to librarianship — besides it being the only result of my junior high career test — is that in my first job as an elementary school music teacher, I was much more interested in discussion music theory than singing songs. Now, it’s true, I justifiably lacked the necessary accompanist skills. Moreover, I know preference for the analytical side to just about everything was to blame. “What a great match for librarianship!” I thought at the time, conceiving the profession as solely concerned with how things ought to be organized. Working in libraries quickly taught me that the most efficient and organized ways involved learning from others. My favorite analytical question soon became “Who?” rather than “How?” or “Why”. Eventually learning to build relationships with vendors became the best way to get what was needed on both sides of a negotiation. Understanding vendors’ relationships within their own organization helped alleviate undue aggravation and reduced miscommunication. My first aha moment as a new leader (and still a magnificent daily challenge) is what comes from just listening to others.
Taking an analytical approach to building relationships made it easier for me in some ways. But, like too much process thinking, it has sometimes kept human connection at a safe distance. I often got by using my analytical side to figure out how I respond to others and circumstances rather than in relationship together with them. Let’s be fair. The relationship business is messy and time-consuming. I’ve learned that can be OK, and how analysis is just one step of many to decluttering it. Working through problems, successes, new ideas, and ultimately changing with others creates bonds. As bonds suggest, I believe stronger relationships and work/life places result.
Thankfully, I can continue analyzing to my heart (or brain?)’s content with ACRLog and in my research. My analytical passion now focuses on seeking ways in which technical services can get beyond mere transactions to richer, more interpersonal communication and sense-making. It’s proven to be messy, challenging, and very worth it.