What I Learned about Life at Library Camp

This last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the New England Library Leadership Symposium (NELLS) for the 2nd time, but as a mentor this go round. In library land, we call NELLS, Library Camp. We meet at a gorgeous retreat center for five days and we have discussions about leadership and libraries while networking with our colleagues from 4 or 5 other states. There’s good food, great company and a smidge of a party atmosphere in the evening. (Had my first gin and tonic here!)

My experience this time around is very different than two years ago. It’s a little odd attending as a mentor just after being a “regular” participant. I’m still not sure my knowledge and experiences were sufficient enough for me to be a mentor, but I’m a damn good listener and superbly empathetic, so I think that was a good enough starting point. The experience was different because I didn’t concentrate on my own “thing” this time, but just tried to be there for others. Yet within the discussions and lectures, I found myself struggling with the same issue I have for the past few years–the home life/work life balance.

I got a very interesting viewpoint from someone I deeply respect and admire, but a view I didn’t want to hear or even consider. Making my library the first priority in my life is not something I want to do. Ever. I don’t want to be a librarian 24/7. True, I often post things on Facebook about libraries or suggest reading materials for my friends, but I am also a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a writer, a reader and a runner. I will always endeavor to be a better librarian. But in order to become even better, if my only choice is to give up more of the other parts of my life, I refuse to do that.

I started thinking about this issue and my continual frustration with it, and I tried to sort it out as I walked through the stone labyrinths that are at the retreat center where NELLS takes place. I kept following the path around and around and every once in a while I’d stop and look around me and would start to feel very anxious. “How in hell am I going to get out of this damn thing? Will I really find the end or have I seriously messed this up?” Then I’d take a deep breath, stop second-guessing myself and just focus on the path in front of me that I knew in my heart and my head was really the right one.

 I recently took a seminar on “managing my emotions.” It’s something I need to work on not only in my professional life but my personal life. We talked about a large variety of things at the workshop but it basically came down to this: You have a choice on how you react to situations. You might not feel like you do, but with practice, you have the tools to step back from any situation even for just one second to breathe and think. At that point you’re not reacting, but acting on the situation.

My anger has controlled me for most of my life. As a child, I didn’t know what to do with all the anger I had at my parents and at my situation, so I ate something every time a little flame of anger ignited inside of me until the fire was suffocated from all of that food and finally fat. As an adult I managed my anger by just letting it all out, yelling when I needed to and feeling free and light as I did so. Yet I now realize this just passed on all that aggression to others so I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. I’m now working on repairing those relationships.

The key thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks, is that ultimately, we all have a choice in what we do in and with our lives. There are always limitations, of course, whether it be financial, mental, social or emotional.  But within those boundaries you still have a choice to make your situation better. That might mean throwing yourself into your work and climbing that ladder up through management and beyond, or it might mean stepping off that ladder completely and going in a new direction. Or it may just mean you choose to be happy in the path you chose long ago and it’s ok not to go up or left or right. Others may try to persuade you into  doing something they think you should do or that it would be most rewarding for you to do so, but you’re the only one who really knows.


Stone labyrinth at the Rolling Ridge Retreat Center. Photo borrowed from the Center’s FB page.

Trust me when I say that choosing what is right for ourselves can be the most difficult thing to do. We may never, in fact, choose that path. We may always pick the right thing for someone else or for our family or for our job. But someday, I hope you can make at least one decision that is exactly right for YOU.  Whether it’s the taking the job everyone wanted you to or going on the trip that everyone tells you not to take. If you know it’s the thing that would make you happy and just feels right for you, then do it. Don’t look around and start second-guessing yourself. Just focus, feel it, and follow that path.


One thought on “What I Learned about Life at Library Camp

  1. Beautiful post, Holly! This year’s NELLS group was lucky to have you as a mentor. You’re so right about choice, acting and reacting, and making decisions that feel right to you, no matter what other people may think. Everyone’s ideal work/home life balance is different. And especially in the library profession, life experience (from outside the library!) can actually increase or enhance the level of service you’re able to provide.

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