2015! my favorite year yet.

madison street art

2015 was markedly different (and remarkably better) than 2014.

I’m not particularly good at appreciating the recent past or savoring things just as they are. I’m often eyeing up the next step, scheming about how to get there. So today I thought I’d reflect on this wild and wonderful year that was filled with personal and professional shifts, mostly as an exercise for myself. This certainly isn’t everything but it’s what came to mind when I thought chronologically through my year. It feels like ages since I wrote. I’ll admit that I miss it.

January

My year begins in a strange new place. I’ve just gone through a breakup with someone I dated for many years. My world expands overnight. I go from being a caretaker to shifting that care onto myself. I start to recognize the loneliness and isolation, the protective walls I’ve built to just get through it. I said, I’m so lonely, and he said nothing, and for me it was all over. Everything became pretty clear for me after that.

I was on autopilot for many months. When I look back at the few pictures taken of me in fall 2014 I almost instantly start tearing up (still do, in fact). It’s hard to reconcile my current self with that girl. I see the vulnerability, I see the hardheaded strength, the matter of factness of my attitude – just keep keeping along. Mostly, though, I see any remaining vibrancy disappearing. I feel a sliver of sadness and a whole wedge of pride and the surest conviction I’ve ever had that I will never go back to living like that.

I have a striking realization: without being directly cognizant of it, my joyfulness has dimmed. Left to my own devices I am creative, silly, irreverent, spontaneous but instead I was wracked by worry over money and logistics. Bizarrely, I’d forgotten what it felt like to have someone ask me how my day was, forgotten that this was an expectation I should have.

I reconnect with old friends who exclaim, “Bri! It’s about time.” I look at my family in a completely new way as I think through the transactional nature of relationships, of how we balance out giving and receiving. I think of the sweetness of my parents and siblings, who are solid and steady, their reliability suddenly highlighting how lucky I am to have them.

It is a sad time but it is ultimately so fleeting.  I built barriers, I had a reawakening, I emerged, and the world opened up to greet me. I decide that I need to be a fun person myself if I want to find a fun person to share my life with. I can’t be holding on to anger or resentment over anything that came before.

February

Work starts to pick up steam again. I am asked to be a keynote speaker for the LIS Education Symposium along with Annie and Micah from Hack Library School. I am approached to do my first paid webinar for LYRASIS.

I attend a training in Austin, Texas, and the entire experience is magical. In the time outside my training I manage to visit old friends, bask in warm weather, bring my camera out and explore the city. I discover that my beloved QuiltCon starts the day my training ends; when I show up I get the chance to ask Melody Miller the origin of her beautiful mauve hair color. I fall in love with the city and I move closer to a more authentic self: lightweight, open to the world. I am not broken as I had sort of thought I might be. It’s nice to feel better.

I give a talk with my then-assistant Elliott Shuppy on data curation skills for information professionals – now one of my top viewed talks at almost six thousand views (though I couldn’t tell you why, exactly).

March

At around this time I begin seriously undertaking a web redesign project for Research Data Services, a total makeover of the information architecture, content, and look and feel of the website.

I give my first presentation on open data for RDS’ Holz Brown Bag series, drawing significantly on the inspiring and informative experience I had in Washington, DC, at OpenCon 2014.

I venture to Portland, Oregon, for ACRL. I attend a data management preconference, present a poster with my colleague Bronwen, enjoy terrific programs, and catch up with old friends. I take a few days off of work to travel up the Washington coast. It is by far my favorite conference. Exhilarating.

April

I give my first keynote talk at the LIS Education Symposium in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. You can read my overall thoughts on the conference or check out an annotated version of my slides. Going beyond the standard type of presentation I’ve been giving thus far – heavily based in conveying best practices (which I still love to do!) – helps open my eyes to new opportunities to share ideas rooted in my experiences.  I realize that I like telling stories. I recognize that for me it’s important to bring the the messiness of the psychological and emotional, all the feels, into how we talk about our work. After all, that’s what I crave when I go out rooting around the internet. That pinch of realness that helps me figure out how to shape my own journey.

I give a talk at the North American Data Documentation Initiative conference, which RDS co-sponsors.

I also give a talk for the Digital Humanities Research Network. I enjoy my short and sweet seven minute talk but it is also fairly nervewracking. It’s a hard audience to read. I try to inspire, amuse, and spread the RDS gospel while on a panel with two other people who are much more focused on the data visualization rather than management aspect. This is the only talk of mine that my bosses have ever witnessed.

I present to the UW Retirement Association about how they can archive their legacy work. SIXTY PEOPLE SHOW UP and it warms my cold, accustomed-to-low-workshop-attendance heart.

May

ProjectCSgirls wraps up. I tear up.

The Research Data Access and Preservation Summit in Minneapolis comes and goes. I am one of the conference organizers. I see some of my favorite #datalibs (honestly the best community I could ever imagine – fun, supportive, knowledgeable). I present on struggles facing Research Data Services and my strategies for dealing with them.

I deliver my LYRASIS webinar on ways that libraries can develop meaningful online engagement strategies. I’m lucky to have my dear friend Michael cheering me on.

And in my personal life, I decide to try online dating. I am not enthused about the process but I find myself spurred on by a mild curiosity. I spend the process of creating my dating profile in perma-grimace, vigorously shaking my head at my mom and brother who look on in amusement. Is this what the dating pool looks like? I don’t know how to date. I end up writing my prompt responses in a handful of sentences apiece. I care a lot about my work, I like to travel and take pictures, I love my family and my cat Frank. True stuff but generic as the day is long – it feels way too intimate to share anything more. The whole experience is at times amusing, flattering, creepy – but mostly it’s overwhelming. Or should I say underwhelming? My favorites are the one word messages from dudes in California or Italy: “Hot.” Truly enthralling, let me tell you.

June

I am sent to Open Repositories in Indy at the last minute. I meet some of the gang at Figshare and we get into heady, intellectual discussions about repository functionality, libraries, changes in scholarly communication, UK vs US perspectives on all of the above. They’re a fun bunch.

I meet my new practicum student, Cameron. I hadn’t necessarily anticipated having another student but RDS was on a list of potential practicum placements for the School of Library and Information Studies and one day I get an email asking if we would like to take someone on for the summer. I agree to meet the student to see if it’s a good fit, and sure enough, she’s amazing. I put Cameron to the task of wrangling website redesign work and strategizing about RDS marketing and outreach.

I begin working less. There’s a serious seasonal component to my workload. There’s the frenzied, well-over-40hourworkweeks leading up to and through conference seasons/semesters (March-June, September-November). I regularly bring my work home with me. I set aside full Sundays to head to coffeeshops where I tend to my inbox and hack away at bigger projects. As summer rolls around things relax and my delineation between work and home grows clearer, though generally I have accepted that they’ll slosh over into one another; it is not a clear pristine separation for me.

Now there are more meetups after work at the terrace. Sunshine, warm breezes, fewer pressing deadlines. Time to think, rethink, prioritize. I am seeing someone already, casually; he lives far away and he’s anything but reliable so eh, I decide to go on a few local dates. It’s a begrudging decision. I am bored in advance but curious if I can bolster my amusement by seeing what this dating thing is really like.

This is my mindset when I say yes to an early evening date on a random Tuesday. I am wearing a mint green blouse and as I walk to the coffeeshop work is all that’s on my mind. My first thought about R: he’s taller than I thought he would be. Handsomer. I ask for tea and he shamelessly copies my order. He tries to seat us at the bar near the window but that’s a little close for my tastes, so I reroute us to a table instead. We sip at the too-hot tea and trade stories. I cautiously wait for him to pronounce his name again so I can get it right; every time he says it I repeat it in my mind, sometimes to the point of missing what he’s just said. So this is a date. He confesses he’s a little nervous.

I unpack the miscellany of duties that fall under “Digital Curation Coordinator” for him and he tells me about his move to Madison (preceded by an adolescence in Brooklyn, NY, and originally Turkey, where he was born). R describes how much he adores Madison, how he loves being by the water, how friendly everyone is. He is full of joy and animation and positivity. Refreshing. I find myself smiling and laughing and the entire experience feels heightened – I have twinkles of nerves in my stomach – but it’s also startlingly easy to talk to this guy.

As we discover that our tea will not improve with time, he proposes ice cream and we meander down to the union. I tell him I’ll be going to Parade of Homes, a builder showcase in the Madison suburbs. Without missing a beat he says, “I love homes. Do you have an extra ticket?” thereby arranging our second date in a mere three days. Sitting by the water with dripping ice cream cones we talk about the multiple variations of baklava that exist, our cameras, our religious beliefs (in his case) and lack thereof (in mine). He insists on meeting my grandfather after I boast one too many times about his exploits. Meanwhile, students are lining up on the dock dipping their feet in the water, hula hooping, flirting. The sun sets. We keep talking.  At the end of the night, R tilts my face under a streetlight and deems me spectacular. Something has changed but I don’t want to acknowledge it, give it a name, give it power, not yet anyway. I drive home exultant on the simple happiness that somebody so cool exists in a world of people that frankly I just don’t like that much.

July

Final work on the RDS website takes up a lot of my time at work. I’ve been telling the team that I’m aiming at a new and improved website for my birthday present. By the end of the month we’ve made it: the website makes its debut. I am gratified by the praise from the broader data librarian community but mainly I’m just happy we have something to hang our hat on, so to speak. As a group we have struggled mightily to advance projects and now we carry the knowledge that we did this.

Concerts on the Square kick off and I attend enthusiastically, this time with my new fellow. There is nothing quite like Madison in the summer. Anything seems possible. I realize I am happy: this thrum of work and friends and family is really all I ever sought out anyway.

August

I give a talk on scholarly communication at the Teaching and Learning Forum in early August. I get a little bold. This is the first time I’ve presented in front of my colleagues en masse and it’s nice. In my dream world, we would all be presenting (even just casually!) to each other throughout the year. I have a lot to learn from my colleagues and I’d love to figure out how to do this better. It has been such a shift coming from the IU Libraries – where there’s tenure and therefore always a batch of librarians presenting, collaborating, and applying for grants – to the UW Libraries, where that is just not the case.

This talk sparks an idea. I cook up the idea for my digital scholarship workshop series. I have something like two weeks to arrange logistics, commit myself to coming up with content, figure out how to get the word out – and I dive in. Round one of poster printing is a fail but Cameron and I don’t notice that the word “management” actually reads “mangement” until we’ve shared out excited photos on the interwebs. One typo fix and a few hours at the poster printers later, we’re back on track. This is the beauty of rapid iteration.

September

R and I both find that work shifts into a more pressing state. He travels often to see his client. We compress work into the workweek if possible, meaning late nights at coffeeshops or splitting takeout in the living room, typing away. It’s not ideal but it allows us to sprite away for weekend trips to nearby cities, wander about, photograph things and each other. I not only finally found my fellow adventurer but it also turns out his work ethic dovetails with mine quite nicely.

I start a data information literacy reading group, which meets monthly through the fall semester.

I give a talk at UW’s Openness MeetupA Gentle Introduction to Open Data.

My assistant Cameron and I head to the BIOCORE class three times in the span of a single week to give a quick talk on managing research data. I cheekily title my talk Research Data Management in Five Easy(ish) Steps and I hunt down memes to make my salient points. It’s Cameron’s first time teaching, so she observes me the first two days. I share the wonderfully embarrassing pitfalls of my first times teaching, encourage her, tell her she’s totally got this.  On the third day it’s her turn. I stand at the back of the classroom and almost burst with pride. It’s a joyful thing to see someone so sharp gaining confidence in a new domain.

The first of my digital scholarship talks debuts: Productivity and Project Management Tools.

October

While carousing in a dirndl at Oktoberfest I pick up a cold that lingers and lingers and lingers, swapping from exhaustion/sniffles to the worst cough. This cough just chills with me up until the middle of the month when it’s time for the Midwest Data Librarian Symposium, which I founded with Kristin Briney and co-organized with a rad crew of data librarians. MDLS is totally exceptional. I lead the section on creating partnerships on campus; view the resulting documentation here.

Spurred on by a beloved mentor, I write about my move toward openness in The Winnower.

I am asked to be one of the “experts” at the Personal Digital Archiving Day at the Madison Public Library, organized by the SAA student chapter at UW-Madison SLIS. I give advice on how community members can manage their digital stuff, generally digitized family photographs.

Digital scholarship talk #2 is up: Crafting Your Digital Identity.

I also head to Bronwen Masemann’s metadata class to discuss metadata for research data.

At the very end of the month, I take the quickest two day trip down to Indiana to see Bloomington friends and grab some doughnuts from Rainbow Bakery. I give a talk at EDUCAUSE in Indy, Drivers and Responses Toward Research Data Management: Transatlantic Perspectives, with colleagues Jan Cheetham, Robin Rice, and Rory Macneil.

And then Halloween! I dip dye the ends of my hair pink and blue for a turn as Harley Quinn.

November

A final wave of presentations as the year wraps up. Building Community Around Openness, mainly reflections on the UW Openness Meetups, at the Wisconsin Library Association conference. I present at LITA Forum with my UW-Milwaukee counterpart Kristin Briney on how we are collaborating to develop data services at our institutions. I give an overview of best practices around file organization and naming for the UW Hope Lab. And my third digital scholarship talk, Data Management + Sharing.

I start getting pulled into new committees and working groups, ever more ingrained in the fabric of the University of Wisconsin: university records, digital preservation, campuswide research assessment. Plus all of the things I have built and now must sustain: RDS, Openness Meetup, DHRN. Plus ever increasing technical expectations around the repository and beyond. The domains that I am supposed to know about grow broader. More work and less time. The curse of a digital generalist in a murkily defined “exploratory” role.

It becomes a strange internal struggle: I’m already working so much, usually 50-60 hour workweeks. Is this something I need to shrink away from, this level of investment in the work that I do? Because sometimes I come home full of rage that we aren’t keeping up with our peer institutions. We need to do more. I want to do more but I am just me and I am doing what I can. I cry to R. I tell him my dreams, the things I want to build. I wonder as I spend my evenings unable to purge work from my mind if I am wrong to give work so much of my valuable emotional real estate. And then I think about what it would mean to just show up to work. Forty hours a week. No nights, no weekends, no extras. One or two talks per semester. Meetings. Work on low-level internal documents or something. Let go of my desire to give big ideas and make new things at my workplace. It’s a sad concept but the appeal is there.

I reflect as I have throughout the year on how I now understand why people stop bringing their creativity to their work, burnout run amok. Creativity and the vulnerability that comes with it is rarely rewarded, even if it is paid lip service. You are viewed as someone who can get things done so suddenly you should do all the things you already did plus new things plus learn more things. And then when you throw your weight at all of this, you are told that you are seeking to be a leader in areas that are beyond your level. But you aren’t a director or manager, Brianna. You’re a new professional, you’ve got some more time to put in, don’t you think? 

(On the one hand, all that type of commentary deserves is a lengthy eye roll. If I expected people to take me seriously up front without pushback I would have just started being mediocre a long time ago. But just because it’s easy to brush off doesn’t mean I’m not still perturbed. This is when I realize that the only workable path forward is continuing to work hard while strengthening my values and vision for libraries. Even if that vision diverges radically from my colleagues’ ideas. Even if it is uncomfortable. The frustration is not even that I’m hearing refusal or disagreement. I’m not. It’s being so far from where the conversation is happening that we don’t even have an awareness of what is taking place, much less identifying what we can add. It’s only when I talk to the handful of other new professionals, many similarly struggling, that I feel like I’m not the crazy one. It’s both a relief and wildly enraging as you start to realize how widespread this is.)

This is all to say that I have skirted around and sometimes fallen into deep pits of disillusionment, isolation, and annoyance in my professional life this year. I have started and stopped way too many posts on the topic (RIP infuriated thoughts littering my drafts folder). This is how people give up and stop thinking big. I totally get it now. I have a bit more empathy for some of my colleagues who I think have also faced this head on. On a more positive note, I’ve found new strategies for overcoming the difficulties I know will keep cropping up. Sometimes it’s just acceptance: this is worthwhile and worthwhile things are sometimes really hard. I thrive with big challenges, an empire to build. R says he’ll follow me anywhere. I love him for his trust and understanding and respect for my work, especially when he has a career of his own to tend to.

December

After my final digital scholarship talk, An Introduction to Open Research (no slides yet), I reserve December to finish up fall projects, write reports, reflect, think big about what I want in 2016.

My very first podcast episode from LibUX debuts! Michael Schofield and Amanda Goodman first contacted me after the RDS website first went live over the summer. Recording the podcast is a bit nervewracking at first but then it gets really enjoyable.

R officially moves in. Nothing feels different; this has been the de facto situation for months. He takes up two shelves in our closet while my dresses spill out of every corner. He doesn’t mind my overuse of glitter and floral print and kitschy knickknacks or the abundance of photos from my life before him. We plot where we’ll go these next few years – should it be Turkey or Thailand in 2016? We muse on the possibility of a houseful of babies. I am a total cynic at my core, or at least I thought I was, and somehow he has turned me into someone capable of believing in forever. Nobody is more startled than me but I’ll take all of it. This is joy and this is purpose. Of the many great things 2015 contained, he was the greatest thing. Hayātım indeed.

What next?

2016 is already filling up with presentations and projects and new directions. I’ll be honest: right now I am a little more unenthused about work than I’d like to be. It has actually been quite illuminating to look back on this year because damn I did a lot more than it feels like. I am proud but it’s a pride I have to remind myself I should feel. Maybe I am feeling this way because I am just now having a moment to catch my breath after what feels like near constant movement. Maybe I am feeling this way because I have so many extras that I want to tackle on my to-do list that I haven’t touched in months. Maybe I am feeling this way because I’m prone to the winter blues. I can’t be sure.

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