Dane Ward: Teacher, Leader, Friend

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Craig Gibson, Professor & Professional Development Coordinator, Ohio State University Libraries.

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope.”—Reinhold Niebuhr

One bright summer day in 2002, I saw in my email box a message from longtime colleague and friend Mary Jane Petrowski, informing me about her excitement about making a new hire for the ACRL Immersion Program. “We’re getting Dane Ward to join us,” she said. I could sense her anticipation about someone special joining our group and bringing talent and a new perspective to our discussions, and to our collective vision for the program.

I first met Dane Ward at one of our Immersion faculty meetings, and was immediately impressed by his genuineness, sense of humor, and easy grace in relating to others.  He listened carefully to our wide-ranging discussions in Immersion faculty meetings, made pointed observations in those discussions, and quickly earned the respect and admiration of colleagues for his quiet but assertive confidence in his beliefs. He had obviously experienced enough of the world, and of our profession, to have firm convictions about what our larger purpose should be as librarians and as professionals.   

Of course, all of us on the Immersion faculty learned quickly about Dane’s sense of humor and his willingness to take risks and be fully engaged in some of our experiments in creative programming.  As many participants in Immersion from those years know, our group coalesced around a “Wizard of Oz” theme in pursuing the path to knowledge and information literacy enlightenment (a trip to the Emerald City, but ultimately, returning to home with much learning and growth).  We invented numerous skits and followed the “Wizard of Oz” theme in performances.  In his very first year as faculty member, Dane was asked to play the role of Munchkin with another long-term friend and colleague, Beth Woodard, and he was totally game for it. His performance in that role demonstrated his willingness to take risks, be vulnerable, and engage with our faculty group and participants alike in learning that builds a community through laughter and the sharing of vulnerable human moments. 

Part of what I learned about Dane, and the immense respect I quickly developed for him, drew from my reading of the book The Collaborative Imperative: Librarians and Faculty Working Together in the Information Universe, which he co-edited with Richard Raspa. I found the book compelling because Dane had already imagined what is possible for academic librarians through that book, which continues to influence the thinking of many. Dane possessed an early and profound intuition about what true collaboration means, as opposed to what we often refer to as “collaboration”, which is more often performative and may be nothing more than coordination and protection of turf.  For Dane, authentic collaboration involved reimagining roles in higher education in a transformative way so that a shared energy and collective work emerges from partnerships.    

For years afterward, and beyond his time on the Immersion faculty, Dane and I would often share a hotel room at ALA conferences, and we had an ongoing discussion about cultures of organizations, the role of librarians, the concept of information literacy, and what matters in leading a good life that would encompass our professional and personal selves. I have often thought that I learned more from Dane in those conversations, over dinner or just talking between meetings or in extended discussions in the shared room, than I did from many of the conference speakers.  Dane was an extraordinarily reflective person who could delve deeply into questions that he cared about, and he cared much about librarians becoming more integrated into their institutions and making a difference for students and faculty.  I could often sense his impatience with the technocratic aspects of our work and how it might limit the imaginative and the productively ambiguous dimensions of it. For him, we need the wellsprings of creative thinking to energize our relationships within our campuses, and he was totally dedicated to those spaces and times within which creativity could flourish. 

Dane’s influence on my own thinking, about the role of librarians as educators and as change agents in the academy, grew out of those many rich conversations.   The way he conversed and listened, and offered insights that would cause me to pause or rethink some statement I’d made, were part of a continuing pattern of learning for me, of helping me to understand where I was falling short in my own thinking.  He sometimes challenged me, quietly and humanely, and I grew better after each conversation.  Conversations with him were like a tonic, sparkling and energizing and full of brightened prospects for even further learning together.

Dane was the best kind of colleague and teacher for me—one who was interested in working alongside me in a collaborative spirit as we searched for a more compelling understanding of information literacy and the role of libraries. He also understood, in a very fundamental way, that teaching and leading are relational activities that draw on the full emotions and imaginations of the teacher, who leads students in discovering their previously unknown talents and in knowing themselves better; and of the leader, who teaches others through example and building community.   In the words of Henry Mintzberg, Dane believed in “communityship,” not in models of leadership that focus on the single heroic individual at the apex.  

At various times in the past fifteen years, my conversations with Dane have shown me his character and wisdom.  Dane and I co-taught the “Leadership” track in the  Immersion Program, and our conversations about that large topic while planning the curriculum and teaching it together showed me that his ideas about the collaborative search for meaning in the academy are integral to the practice of leadership; that leadership is not a formulaic, technocratic,  practice; and that disciplined character and judgement, combined with humanity, kindness, and cultivation of others through listening, are crucial in leading, guiding, and mentoring others.  Dane did not care about the trappings of leadership or those who use the word “leadership” too carelessly, because he believed that leadership is always a journey, a disciplined practice of becoming more human in guiding others and helping everyone develop a shared purpose and meaning.   Dane’s wisdom, intuitively gained, mirrored that of Parker Palmer, who was part of our Immersion journey.  Palmer wrote in his Courage to Teach that “the power for authentic leadership is found not in external arrangements, but in the human heart.” 

I recently finished reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University, written by a digital humanist and scholar at Michigan State. Among much else, that book is about reinventing the university and helping us reimagine its core purposes around engagement with what we often refer to as our “constituents,” and to learn new ways of listening and talking to each other to help build community within our institutions.  I couldn’t help thinking of Dane as I finished this book, and pondering how he had identified the same search for meaning through building community.  Dane himself embodied the call to a new way of thinking—the “Generous Thinking” of the book’s title.    He was always a “generous thinker” for colleagues and friends wherever he worked and in whatever role—someone who believed in bringing out the best in us and creating new bonds for the greater good.

Dane aspired to help all of us understand how to build a new academy, based on the collaborative spirit and creative imagination, and would show us the role of the library as energizing hub within that new academy—a collegium of partners who learn from each other, who found new initiatives together, and who look outward toward their larger mission and inward in forging new bonds of friendship and community, instead of accelerating the hypercompetitive individualism and prestige obsessions rampant in the academy.  To Dane, the library had a special mission for creating conversation, community, and networks of friendship that enliven a campus and point it to a higher calling, a community of scholars, teachers, and learners.  The activated collection and library as essential partner would be integral in that new academy, where, in these fraught and pandemic times, our work aspires to great meaning and moral purpose in making a better world. Dane’s voice of leadership was prophetic: the need for greater community in these times of tribalism, polarization, and fractured institutions speaks to his intuition in what matters most in helping all of us reach for our better selves.

Dane’s own learning took him to places that he and none of us, neither his family nor his friends, would ever have wanted for him.  Two years ago, after moving to Boone, North Carolina, to accept the Dean of Libraries position at Appalachian State, he received a diagnosis of ALS, an incurable neurological disease.   When I learned of the diagnosis, I, along with all of his friends and colleagues, were heartbroken because of the nature of the disorder.  But we immediately learned of Dane’s great courage and spirit in his response. He wrote about the need to learn about the disease as an information literacy problem, the scattered nature of medical information about ALS, and his need to educate himself.   This determination to continue learning shone in all of his later communication.  He was also determined to support others, in whatever way possible, through ALS fundraising and education.   He no doubt found a new community through ALS patients, and a new bond with them and their families.   The shared recognition of human possibility and frailty alike is one of the key attributes of a true leader, and the need for compassion and bringing forth the best in people under the most challenging personal circumstances.  

Dane found meaning and purpose in the last part of his life through that community, through continuing friendships, and the love of his family.  He was, I believe, one of the most humane teacher/leaders in our profession, and it was because he lived the great questions of life. Across the years I knew him, we always returned to those questions in our talks.  In the spirit of words from the New Testament, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation,” he lived the questions across the arc of his life.

When I think of Dane, I recall the words of Rilke from his Letters to a Young Poet:

“. . . be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Dane lived the great questions of teaching, of learning, of the role of libraries, of the mission of the academy, throughout his days, and drew others into his reflections. He did not pretend to have answers when he lacked them, but he did teach me to inquire, to be curious, and to aim for better understandings, in a continued conversation with others. He also never considered himself an expert, but a teacher who helps others discover themselves. His spirit of teaching is best captured by a well-known quote about the famous art historian and part-time boys football coach Kirk Varnedoe, described by Adam Gopnik in a New Yorker article in this way:

“A guru gives us himself, and then his system; a teacher gives us his subject, and then ourselves.”

Dane Ward’s life is a testament of faith in the spirit of collaborative leadership, searching for shared purpose in forging new roles for academic libraries in the academy. As a leader and teacher, he has truly given us ourselves, and we will always remember his example and be inspired by it.

Thank you, Dane Ward, for coming our way.

Celebration Ceremony Link

Dane Ward’s family hosted a Celebration of Life in his memory on July 18, 2020.   Friends and colleagues can view the virtual event at this link:

Sources

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.

Gopnik, Adam, “The Last of the Metrozoids,” The New Yorker, May 10, 2004.  Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/05/10/last-of-the-metrozoids

Mintzberg, Henry. “Enough Leadership. Time for Communityship.” Henry Mintzberg Blog.  February 12, 2015. Available at: https://mintzberg.org/blog/communityship

Palmer, Parker. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco: Wiley, 2007. 

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. New York: Norton, 1963.

Selected Works by Dane Ward

Raspa, Richard, and Dane Ward, eds. The Collaborative Imperative: Librarians and Faculty Working Together in the Information Universe. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000.

Ward, Dane, “Revisioning Information Literacy for Lifelong Meaning,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32/4 (July 2006): 396-402.

Ward, Dane, “The Future of Information Literacy: Transforming the World.” Illinois State University/Milner Library. Faculty/Staff Publications, October 2001.   Available at:  https://ir.library.illinoisstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1031&context=fpml

Ward, Dane, “It Take a University to Build a Library.” Illinois State University Library/Milner Library.Faculty/Staff Publications, April 21, 2015. Available at: https://ir.library.illinoisstate.edu/fpml/68/

One thought on “Dane Ward: Teacher, Leader, Friend”

  1. Craig: What a beautiful, authentic tribute to a beautiful, authentic colleague. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have taught alongside him, learning all the way. His teaching spirit lives on in all those he influenced.

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