I would love to see more conversations about the importance of friendship in academia. Speaking just from my experience, it matters. A lot.
— Jessica Preece (@jrpjrpjrp) January 14, 2019
I first saw this tweet in a direct message between myself, Chelsea, and Charissa, after we got back from a little writing weekend in Austin. It seemed so appropriate that would see that tweet after spending four days eating breakfast tacos, running through the rain, and writing our LibParlor ACRL paper.
In the following days, I couldn’t stop thinking about that tweet. So, I want to spend this post creating a little space to talk about and celebrate friendships in academia. Spoiler alert: the goal of this post is to confirm that yes, these friendships are important. For me, my friendships in academia are also bound up in the fact they almost exclusively female friendships, so this post also seems apt with Galentine’s Day approaching.
When I think about who knows the most about my day-to-day, it’s friends who are either are at the institution with me, or at another academic library somewhere in the United States. The common thread that pulls us together is how we, as professionals, navigate the ecosystem of higher education. What we’ve learned through our friendship is that despite being in different places, departments, or stages within our careers, there is still a lot we share in common as we figure out how to work within and disrupt this system. And from that common thread, our friendship expands, into the rest of our lives.
Last year I read Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen Schaefer. I couldn’t put it down, mainly because Kayleen’s thesis of the importance and recognition of female friendship really resonated with me. In seeing that tweet about friendship in academia, I immediately thought of Kayleen’s book. I think a lot of the conclusions she comes to could be transposed into an academic context.
For example, Kayleen states that, “We’re reshaping the idea of what our public support systems are supposed to look like and what they can be” (6) through female friendships. Both in graduate school and now in my job at Penn State, I look to my gals to celebrate successes and work through challenges. When I first “became” a librarian, I use to get frustrated that my family didn’t understand what I was doing. I had been taught that a close family meant they would understand all the intricacies of my job. I finally realized that my family wouldn’t get why I did outreach, would not understand the full extent to which I tried to build community in an academic library, and would forever to fuzzy with what tenure was and how I was trying to achieve it. That is okay. Instead, I realized it was more meaningful to turn to my friends who are also in this academic space. They are my support system; they keep me in check, talk through ideas, cheer me on, and show up when I need them. And in being each other’s support system, we all find ways to show up for each other; if they shine, I shine.
To bring these ideas together, I do want to share one friendship in academia story. When I first started at Penn State, I was lonely. I didn’t work typical, 9-5 hours or even the normal Monday-Friday work schedule. In the beginning months, as I stayed true to my hours, I missed opportunities to get to know other librarians who were in my department and across the library. However, as I got acquainted with the library during those off hours, I also got to know my closest friend at the library: Rachel. Rachel works in our Lending and Circulation department and in those first months, she taught me so much about the library. I could count on her to help me with just about anything — from looping her employees in on how to get a hold of me, to understanding the ins and outs of closing the library, and more. It was nice to have a gal working similiar hours. Eventually we our work friendship became just a good old friendship. While my job doesn’t overlap as much with hers anymore, we still find ways to collaborate and since she has just as much passion as I do around training student employees, we have found our own ways to make our jobs cross paths. If something is bothering me at work, you know she’s the one I’ll send a Slack message to or hope that I see her when I go pick up a book at the desk. Our friendship is one big part of my work-life narrative and I know my thoughts about the library would be different if we weren’t friends.
And Rachel’s wasn’t the only story that came to mind when I saw that tweet; I’ve got a whole little collection of friendship meet cutes stories. I feel lucky to know so many wonderful women, doing great things in academia and I’m glad I get to be there to watch it all unfold. In the beginning chapter of Text Me When You Get Home, Kayleen says, “I look to my friends for the kind of support that comes from wanting only to be good to each other”(5). This idea feels important for academic friendships, especially when we are in an ecosystem that can be competitive, especially between women. Female friendships within academia can be a way we can subvert that competition aspect. Sure, at times we might be in competition, but these friendships remind us that at the end of the day, we want the best for one another and need to show up for our friends. Having good friends who can help you through academia does count and does make a difference. So, what does friendship in academia mean to you? How do you celebrate these friendships? Let’s keep this conversation going.