Last month, I attended the spring Association of Research Libraries (ARL) meeting in Toronto. It was my first conference as the Rochester dean, but also my first time attending this meeting. And since the ARL has not met in person in about two years, there was a palpable excitement as people reconnected and mingled among peers. I saw a few old friends and even made a few new ones. I forgot how much I missed having those impromptu conversations.
After the conference, I thought about how most higher education institutions can choose to take one of three paths going forward. The first path has you picking up where you left off and doing what you have always done. The second path has you returning to familiar practices, but also incorporating the lessons you learned from COVID. The final path is a hard reset, a radical deviation from what you’ve always done.
From what I have learned about Rochester, we’ve never been a first-path institution. Meliora puts us firmly in the second pathway—we’re always learning and changing, striving to be ever better. However, the pandemic forced us to temporarily live on the third path, an experience that compelled us to reconsider everything. And the libraries did what Rochester does; we adapted. We created new policies. We installed new practices. So, today, we are a reflection of the innovation and invention that allowed us to weather the past two years.
At some point on my drive home from Toronto, I thought I’d like for us to take a “fourth” path that runs between “adaptation” and “radical deviation.” I would like for us to be comfortable with being uncomfortable more often. I’m thinking of something along the lines of “radical practicality” or “radical pragmatism.”
Let’s allow our experiences to guide our practices, but let’s also challenge the things we do because “it’s the way it’s always been done.” Let’s continue to think about how we can take small steps toward improvements and short-term goals, but also large steps and even leaps toward our aspirations. Let’s think about what would be hard, what would be uncomfortable, and what it would take to succeed in spite of the challenge.
An important caveat: We can’t walk this path as individuals. We won’t get anywhere if we don’t go as a community. That means we all have to buy-in to being better. And that means we all have to be dedicated to our goals, collaborative in our work, and generous with our time and support. To me, that feels like the right path, and I’m excited to see where it takes us.
Vice Provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean
University of Rochester Libraries